Best of the visualisation web… December 2013

At the end of each month I pull together a collection of links to some of the most relevant, interesting or thought-provoking web content I’ve come across during the previous month. Here’s the latest collection from December 2013.


Includes static and interactive visualisation examples, infographics and galleries/collections of relevant imagery.

Tableau | [Warning, the first of many ‘years in review’ posts. if you hate those type of things, in which case, why are you on here?] Tableau Public’s 2013 year in review, curated by Ben Jones

Washington Post | ‘2013: The year in graphics’

New York Times | ‘2013: The Year in Interactive Storytelling’

The Telegraph | ‘A galaxy? A supernova? No, it’s NASA’s website’

BBC News | ‘2013: A year in graphics’

Brain Pickings | ‘Britain vs. America in Minimalist Vintage Infographics’

Flowing Data | ‘Data and visualization year in review, 2013’

Post Graphics | Striking visualisation that maximises the personalisation of the data – the 91 children killed in the US during 2012

EyeSeeData | Animated and interactive visualisation of the history of the FIFA World Cup

Brain Pickings | ‘Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized’

bdon | We saw sever similar projects during 2013, now here’s one for the building ages of NYC and its five boroughs

Creative-co | Interactive Harry Potter novel search tool for locating keywords of phrases and their mention

Bloomberg | Interactive story exporing ‘how we spend’

Pew Research | Chart of the Week: Coffee and tea around the world

Simon Rogers | ‘Goodbye #NelsonMandela: visualising the response’ | ‘How the money flows in the 50 most expensive football transfers’

New York Times | The most visited page on the New York Times during 2013. Create your own dialect map – ‘How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk’

IEA | A huge project to create interactive Sankey diagrams for (seemingly) ever world nation showing their energy consumption by type, sector and usage.

Grahaphics | Motion graphic looking at ‘Income inequality in NYC’

Knight Foundation | ‘What does the civic tech landscape look like?’

Vimeo | ‘Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3’

Fathom | Launching the updated ‘Millennium Development Goals project’

MoMA | Interactive network tool to explore the connections between exhibitors included in the ‘Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925’ season at MoMA

WSJ | ‘Hollowing out a City: Detroit has watched its population contract over decades as residents have fled for the suburbs’

Fathom | Breaking down the six Rocky films, Rocky Morphology ‘analyzes the Rocky series in order to identify its key narrative elements.’

NYC Henge | Showing the best location around NYC to experience the ‘Manhattanhenge’ this visualisation ‘helps you explore and learn about the phenomenon and maybe see the NYC street grids in a whole new light’.

Rosny | (It is in French so I’m going to have to guess) Similar approach to Moritz Stefaner’s Stadtbilder project, this project maps the prevalence of different ‘lifestyle’ options around Rosny-sous-Bois (shops, bars, restaurants etc.)

FastCo Create | ‘See the 25 most beautiful data visualisations of 2013’

ESPN | ‘SPI World Cup group stage projections’

New York Times | ‘State Gun Laws Enacted in the Year Since Newtown’

Twitter | (Image of the above graphic in the print version)

Visual Loop | ‘Our 100 favorite interactive visualizations of the year’

Reuters | ‘Shark attacks since 1990’ (published on Twitter)

FastCo Design | ‘The 21 Best Infographics Of 2013’

Huffington Post | Book visualisations: Short animation to explain difficult ideas from the book ‘The Attacking Ocean’

Scientific American | Interactive visualisation: ‘The flavour connection’

Post Graphics | Infographic: ‘The most contested real estate on Earth?’

FlowingData | ‘The most unisex names in US history’ | ‘The Top 20 Interactive Visualizations of 2013’

Shoothill | ‘This gigantic image shows all the digits of the world’s largest known prime number.’

AnimatedData | ‘UK Temperature History: Explore the temperature in the United Kingdom since 1910’

USA Today | Longform digital story of ‘Behind the Bloodshed: The Untold Story of America’s Mass Killings’


The emphasis on these items is that they are less about visualisation images and are more article-focused, so includes discussion, discourse, interviews and videos

Thomas Levine | Super in depth materials to support/accompany Thomas’ talk at NYC Open Data

Sheila Pontis | Sheila was on fire in December! This piece describes ’38 Steps for Effective Information Design’

MapLab | ‘6 Reasons to Get Over Your Fear of Coding and Start Making Better Maps’

Eager Eyes | ‘A Lack of Communication and Visibility’ – Robert makes a please for new and improved visualisation web-resources to track the field (good comments/discussion too)

BBC Academy | ‘Data journalism: What’s new, what’s not, and work in progress’

BBC News | ‘Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East’

Inspire | Nice video interview with Kim Rees and Dino Citraro of Periscopic

Null School | Enchanting visualisation of the flow of wind across the Earth | ‘How Do Our Brains Process Infographics? MIT “Mongrel” Shows Peripheral Vision at Work’

Yolandama | ‘Infographics booming in China’

O’Reilly Data | ‘Interactive Visualization of Big Data’ by Jeff Heer

Nextness | ‘John Maeda: an artist redesigns leadership’

The Information | ‘Letter from the editor: Hello World’

Patrick Garvin | A discussion about the issue of infographics and memorability

Twitter | Beginning a flurry of related articles discussing the use of axis scaling in a Reuters graphic

The Functional Art | Here’s Alberto’s take (and links to others still)

Voilà | Here’s Francis Gagnon’s take

Junk Charts | Here’s Kaiser Fung’s take

Eager Eyes | And finally, for now, Robert picks up the baton

Sheila Pontis | ‘Sensemaking Activities in Information Design’

Twitter | ‘Interesting piece on why #charts in The Economist are the way they are’

Substratum | New issues in the series of inspirational interviews

Skillshare | ‘Meet Graham Roberts, a Graphics/Multimedia Editor at The New York Times who teaches an Animated Information Graphics class.’

Peachpit | ‘The Many-Faced Infographic: Brooklyn, Elephants, and the Visualization of Data’

Medium | ‘The Tufte totem in information designland: Edward Rolf Tufte preceeded the digital age’

O’Reilly Radar | ‘Tweets loud and quiet: Twitter’s long, long, long tail suggests the service is less democratic than it seems.’

Guardian | ‘Unreliable statistics of 2013’

Perceptual Edge | Stephen rallies at the ‘Scourge of Unnecessary Complexity’

Sheila Pontis | Final entry for Sheila, ‘Visualisations & the Process of Abstraction’

Learning & Development

These links cover presentations, tutorials, learning opportunities, case-studies, how-tos etc.

Booz Allen | ‘The Field Guide to Data Science’

Drawing With Numbers | ‘Creating data, multi-step recurrence relations, fractals and 3D imaging… without leaving Tableau’

Bloomberg | Another reminder of the excellent data sources available on Bloomberg’s visual data site

Stanford | Paper: ‘Interpretation and Trust: Designing Model-Driven Visualizations for Text Analysis’

Patrick Garvin | Project design narrative: ‘How’s gay marriage interactive graphic came to be’

Data Remixed | Ben takes on my observations about my love for slope graphs with a demo (and tutorial) for doing the same in Tableau

The Why Axis | ‘DataViva, Built in Brazil, Available to All’

Wiley | Companion site to the book ‘Visual Data Mining: Techniques and Tools for Data Visualization and Mining’ listing some of the digital resources mentioned, including ‘Data Visualization and Data Mining Success Stories’

Subject News

Includes announcements within the field, brand new sites, new (to me) sites, new books and generally interesting developments.

Guardian | Important market report about the growth in take up of tablets vs. PC’s – these are the platforms on which we will be consuming more of our visualisation work

British Library | ‘Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight’ – profiling the events taking place in under the libraries’ special season (including some almost sold out data visualisation workshops offered by yours truly)

Information Architects | Outlining the functions of Writer Pro

Future Everything | This year’s conference taking place in Manchester on 31st March and 1st April, tickets now on sale

Data Stories | Newly discovered site, ‘Data Stories… on India, one chart at a time’, does what it says on the tin!

Data Portraits | Connected to the NASA website story above… Data Portraits offers ‘bespoke art visualising your web presence’

Knight Lab | ‘Introducing the StoryMapJS Beta, now with an authoring tool’

Fathom | ‘The Weather’ – A post from (former) intern Tim Ripper who shares his experiences with one of the projects he worked on at Fathom.


Any other items that may or may not be directly linked to data visualisation but might have a data/technology focus or just seem worthy of sharing

Visual News | ‘How To Escalator: A Smart Traffic Control Proposition for the Busy London Underground’ – but good counterpoint made on Twitter about yellow markings also used for where not to stand…

YouTube | Sid the Science Kid – “I love charts” (PBS Kids)

Anitype | ‘Anitype invites you to animate letters with JavaScript, so we can begin to see what an animated typeface might look like on the web.’

GifPop | Rachel Binx and Sha Hwang’s new venture, building on their passion for all things gif! – ‘Gifpop is a tool to make custom cards from animated gifs, using the magic of lenticular printing.’

FastCo Create | ‘Domino’s responds to British Airways “look up” billboard with its own cheeky version’

Digital Synopsis | ‘How Virgin America Got 6 Million People To Watch A Flight Safety Video Without Stepping On A Plane’

Printalloverme | ‘Choose your object, upload your print, buy and sell your product’

Twitter | ‘One of the oldest known photographs of a man smiling’ – no good visualisation-related reason, just liked it! (and it looks like Roger Moore)

NASA | ‘Urban growth, Philippines’

Business Insider | ‘The British Library Is Putting Millions Of Amazing Images On Flickr That Probably Would Have Been Lost In Time’

FastCo Design | ‘Trippy Clocks That Challenge Your Perception Of Time’

Talk slides: Design of Understanding 2014 conference

Below you will find an embedded slideshare version of the slides used in last week’s talk at the Design of Understanding 2014 conference. I also did a similar (but longer) talk to students on a Editorial Media Design course at Hogeschool Utrecht the day before.

Of course, presentation slides are just visual props for a talk so you won’t be able to necessarily decipher the exact narrative that accompanied each subject. However, some of the subjects covered in this were also discussed in the Data Stories episode 31 podcast.

Data Stories podcast: Episode 31, a review and preview

It is always a thrill to be invited to contribute to a Data Stories podcast and last week I joined hosts Enrico and Moritz alongside Robert Kosara to review the major trends and developments during 2013 and preview the main hopes and expectations for 2014.


As ever, my sincere thanks to Enrico and Moritz for asking me back for a fourth appearance. Data Stories is a terrific podcast and during 2014 the guys want to hear more from you out there. Send through any questions you want answering or any topics/issues you would like to hear being discussed. You can get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or Email:

Interview for ‘Science Book a Day’

I was thrilled to be invited by George Aranda, editor of the excellent ‘Science Book a Day‘, to take part in an interview about a range of visualisation-related themes and to discuss my book that he kindly profiled in December.


Before you say it: (1) Yes, I need to get a new head-and-shoulders photo done and (2) my understanding is that it is no longer being used on the walls of barber shops across the UK.

Avoiding work tasks on a Sunday: Big Data puns

Big Data is a term that, according to the 2013 Gartner Hype Cycle, is reaching the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and about to face the slippery decline down the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. So a number of Twitter comrades looked into a crystal ball and determined some potential (tenuous) successors to this buzzy-est of buzzword terms. It was a Sunday. Apologies.

Google Research releases the ‘Music Timeline’

The Music Timeline is a new project from the Big Picture and Music Intelligence research groups at Google. The Big Picture group includes star names such as Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. The Timeline is updated weekly and let’s you see how different musical genres grow or shrink in popularity through the years from a starting point of 1950. It also let’s users discover artists’ libraries from within each genre.


The visualisation exists, in the first instance, as an interactive stacked area chart, with the thickness of each genre determining its popularity over time and the colours used to differentiate between genres at the top level and the sub-genres beneath. The popularity data comes from Google Play Music and is based on the number of users who have an artist or album in their library. In the ‘About‘ description we see this explained: “The jazz stripe is thick in the 1950s since many users’ libraries contain jazz albums released in the 1950s’.


When you click on a certain genre, you are then taken to an interactive stream graph including more detailed sub-genre streams within the overall shape. Beneath the main graphic you have a selection of seven prominent albums/artists from down the years, though it is unclear on what basis these are selected (possibly top seven sales figures on Google Music?). Clicking on an album will take you through to the artist/album’s library.


Read more about the project including some of the key acknowledgements about the depth and state of the data.

Microsoft’s patent for ‘Dynamic visualization generation and implementation’

I was catching up with my January RSS feeds earlier and my attention was drawn to an unusual item that had been reeled in from a site called ‘4-traders‘. The article was titled ‘Microsoft Corporation: Patent Application Titled “Dynamic Visualization Generation and Implementation”‘ and contained a summary of the key claims of a patent filed by Microsoft Corporation in June 2012 but published on 19th December last year.

“Interesting”, I said, out loud but to nobody as I work alone. “I wonder what this is about?”, I queried, still alone. My curiosity had been piqued so I did some complex keyword-term digging (you might know it as a ‘Google’ search) and came across a copy of the the full patent document.


I’ve copied a chunk of the summary text…

Embodiments described herein are directed to selecting and applying data-specific presentations, to adaptively selecting visual presentations based on historical data and to providing rendering hints for data presentations. In one embodiment, a computer system receives an indication that a visual presentation is to be applied to a specified portion of data. The computer system analyzes the specified data to determine which of a plurality of data presentations is most relevant for the specified data. The relevance is based on relevancy factors including one or more of the following: end-user profile, structure of the specified data and patterns within the specified data. The computer system then applies the determined appropriate visual presentation to the specified data.

In another embodiment, a computer system adaptively selects visual presentations based on historical data. The computer system analyzes prior visual presentation selections for specified sets of data and determines, based on which visual presentations were selected for the specified data sets, which visual presentations are most relevant for a currently selected data set. The relevance is based on relevancy factors including one or more of the following: end-user profile, structure of the specified data and patterns within the specified data. The computer system then applies the determined appropriate visual presentation to the currently selected data set.

In still another embodiment, a computer system provides rendering hints for data presentations. The computer system selects a portion of data for uploading to a data store and also selects rendering hints to be applied to the selected portion of data. The rendering hints indicate how the selected data is to be rendered in a visual presentation. The computer system then appends the selected rendering hints to the selected portion of data and uploads the selected portion of data and the appended rendering hints to the data store.

As you can gather, trying to make sense of the wading-through-treacle patent-speak is not a straightforward task but a summary of the summary leaves us with…

On the surface it sounds like an attempt at a ‘smart’ chart type selection method, taking away some of the burden of thinking about what chart type is best from those who may not know. It also appears to be something along the lines of the Tableau ‘Show Me’ panel, where only chart types that are relevant to a given set of data variable types and quantities are proposed/available for usage.

However, it goes a bit further, with dynamic ‘relevancy factors’ informing the available and recommended presentation options. These factors are informed by a combination, ‘including one or more of the following: end-user profile, structure of the specified data and patterns within the specified data‘.

So what is ‘end-user profile’? Is this data based on a single users’ charting behaviour/preferences or maybe informed by patterns from a broader base of users (maybe all?) – akin to a “users who wanted to present this data tend to use this chart” concept? The answer seems to be the former…

The user’s profile may indicate certain preferences for visual presentations. For instance, the user’s profile may indicate a preference for tables for certain types of data, and a preference for reports for other types of data.

So how will it resolve conflicts between how users are deploying chart types vs. the correct way to use such charts? For example, if pie charts are constantly being used to represent time-based data, would the ‘system’ accept this as the user’s preference, despite this method demonstrating incorrect usage, and override the standard recommendations?


There is also mention of applying different ‘weights’ to “specified users, profiles or industries” when it comes to determining the appropriate visual presentation. Perhaps this means a corporate profile would have weight to establish certain protocols that its users would inherit in terms of the recommendations they receive?

The ‘hints’ element of the patent summary relates to a kind of preview mode, perhaps a pop-up indicating how the presentation will look if this is the chosen option.

The big question, that I can’t ascertain an answer to right now, is what is this ‘computer-implemented method’? Is it a new tool? Is it an extended capability to an existing tool (maybe Excel? PowerPivot)?

Anyway, just thought I’d flag this up, it will be interesting to see what emerges. You can view a pdf version of the filed patent on Google’s patent pages.