Visualising Data – 100 not out…

It almost passed me by unnoticed but I realised I made my 100th blog post yesterday and so I felt justified to compile a self-indulgent post to celebrate the fact.

For those of you from non-cricket playing nations, 100 not out is terminology used to describe a player who has reached the treasured milestone of 100 runs, a feat traditionally marked by the player acknowledging all those in the ground, as above. With only a day to go before the first Ashes test in Australia, it seemed an appropriate visual.

Main reflections

It has taken me quite a while to reach the hundredth post, I originally expected to be hitting this mark about 5/6 months from launch but maintaining a degree of editorial consistency removes the temptation to simply regurgitate material from elsewhere or churn out off-topic content for the sake of pursuing greater volume. Still, a 1 post per 3 day ratio isn’t bad and I’m fairly satisfied with the range and depth of articles I’ve worked on during this initial period of existence. I’m delighted with the growth in readership on the site which has been consistent from day one. I’m aware that there now exists an increasingly cluttered blogosphere around this subject so I’m constantly working on plans to try and find a niche market position.

Top 5 most popular posts

  1. Visualising the WikiLeaks Afghan war logs using Tableau Public
  2. Visualisation Insights #1: The visualisation designer
  3. Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?
  4. The worst graph design ever?
  5. Visualising the World Cup: Part 1

Special mentions to the following sites for the power of their visitor referrals: Flowing Data, Wired, Smashing Magazine, WikiLeaks and Creative Review.

My favourite 5 posts

  1. Making sense of stream graphs
  2. Experiencing information in New York City
  3. Creative Review section on data visualisation
  4. All the Visualisation Insights articles
  5. My first post

Future plans

Aside from a further set of great articles for the Insights series, the most pressing priority, posts-wise, is a series I’m running before Christmas that will present an extremely comprehensive collection of tools, resources, knowledge etc. relating to the field of visualisation. It will be themed around a seven-day release, each day covering a different range of important resources. These will subsequently have a permanent presence on my (currently sub-standard) resources page but will be constantly evolving to reflect the emergence of new, contemporary references and reader recommendations.

I said a few months ago that I wanted to find time to do more design work for the site, utilising the fantastic tools and data sources that now exist to help practice what I preach. Alas, time has not been found, so I need to redouble my efforts to follow this up. I am also buckling under the weight of pressure from knowing that I’ve not yet written up my research paper. This must be done by February!

I am also hoping to launch a Data Visualisation training programme here in the UK early in 2011. More on this in the new year, however, if it is something that interests you please get in touch and I’ll be able to collate a better sense of where in the country I might wish to arrange such sessions.

Visualisation Contest

Another reminder about the visualisation contest I am running for one lucky reader to win a Full Conference Pass, worth up to $1500, to the O’Reilly Strata ‘Making Data Work’ conference. The theme of this contest is visualisations in the wild and the challenge is to take a photo of a great example of best practice information design being used in everyday life. Click on the contest link above to find out more.

Finally, a big thank you…

Aside from my family, my agent and my publicist, I would like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who has visited the site, commented on articles, shared articles, emailed me, subscribed to the site, bookmarked the site, ‘liked’ me on Facebook and followed me on Twitter. Here’s to the next 100 posts…

Reflections from BBSRC/AHRC Visualisation Conference

I spent a couple of days last week in Bristol at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)/Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Workshop on “The Challenges of Visualising Biological Data“. It was a great privilege to have had my expression of interest converted into an invitation to this (possibly) one-off event and I wanted to capture some headline reflections.

Background

The BBSRC and AHRC are two of the seven major bodies that make up Research Councils UK, funded by the Government but existing as Non-Departmental Public Bodies. Research Council funding is only awarded to the very highest quality research and so, by extension, they are very influential and powerful bodies. For them to recognise the growing emergence and importance to research of visualisation is a very positive and welcome development, signalling a commitment to promote and exploit contemporary visualisation methods for analysing and communicating research activity.

The objectives of the event were outlined as follows:

The intended output of this event will be a public available report articulating the thoughts, discussions, ideas and recommendations to emerge from the two-day event. However, the collaborative connections and relationships that may emerge from the event will also be a definite positive outcome.

Key Observations

The Buzz – I have spoken recently about my promotion of the Strata conference and one of the key aspects of this backing was my liking of the potential make up of delegates coming from a spectrum of disciplines and organisational domains. The same applied to this event with scientists, creative researchers, computer scientists, academics from the humanities fields and information scientists brought together under one roof.

A varied delegate mix is absolutely essential to ensure a conference has legs (during and after), encouraging people to step out of their domain expertise, meet with others, socialise, exchange thoughts and ideas. This unique type of energy (a curious journey through mutual suspicion, territory-crossing caution, timid connection, cross-fertilisation and finally inspiration) is almost impossible to achieve to the same extent when you only have a single group represented, which can happen with many conference occasions. The poster and demo sessions, in particular, were very loud, busy and lively affairs with energetic discussions taking place throughout the event.

Presenters - It is impossible to expect a gathering of presenters and subjects to all make a connection with all delegates and so it is not intended as any kind of criticism when I say I only really derived value from about 50% of the presented material. Typically, this was when the presentations touched on issues of theory around visualisation.

In particular, I was really delighted with the talk given by Prof. Sara Fabrikant, Head of Geographic Information Visualization & Analysis Unit at the University of Zurich, which contained many research themes relating to how users interact with visualisation on both aesthetic and performance levels. Special mention also to the opening presentation from Prof. Katy Börner, Professor of Information Science at Indiana University (amongst several other roles).

I was slightly surprised not to see the Arts and Humanities side of the event represented by a speaker. I understand it was largely a BBSRC led event but it would have been refreshing to see a non-science focused presentation at some stage.

I felt there were several occasions when an example of visualisation was exhibited in a positive light, when in actual fact they demonstrated several characteristics of flawed design. One in particular stuck in my mind: a tree diagram with the final nodes represented by pie charts of varying radius which failed on quite a few levels. On the plus side, I was impressed that there was consistent recognition of the different roles visualisation plays in exploring/analysing data vs. communicating information.

The Group Sessions – For me the highlight was the achievement of the two group discussion sessions where about 8 random (or not so random!) people were thrown together and asked to work as a collective discussing a handful of visualisation-related problems, issues and responses to statements. Rather than being paralysed by the clear perceptual differences that existed, these sessions seemed to flourish with the ingredients each person brought creating a great recipe to feedback to the rest of the conference.

The first session explored issues around complex data, how visualisation can aid the analysis and communication of it, and the second focused more on what makes a useful visualisation tool, what would be its key features etc.

The only shame is that we didn’t have chance to spend longer focusing on the key skills required in visualisation because I feel these are possibly more pressing than identifying specific characteristics of desired visualisation tools. We need to equip our scientists and researchers (both established and upcoming) with the visual thinking capabilities and broad design knowledge that helps them understand the key principles of visualisation, how the brain most efficiently processes information, why a multiple series of pie charts is not an effective method of displaying data etc. As Stephen Few remarks, these skills are not intuitive and must be learned.

There exists a pyramid of capability requirements: the ‘masses’ requiring visualisation basics, a smaller population require these taking to a more advanced level and then you move towards a smaller, upper group seeking the capabilities to author or knowledgeably commission their own visualisation tools and solutions.

I would love to see, as one of the recommendations from this session, a focus on developing a learning & teaching provision across all levels and domains of academia that equips people with the methods and inspiration to pursue better visualisation practice. Hopefully, this increased knowledge would permeate beyond visualisation alone and encourage an improvement in the design of presentation slides, which I have to say seemed to tend towards the rather bleak bullet-pointed deck at this event.

Overall, a very good event, well run by the BBSRC/AHRC, I was delighted to have been there and I keenly await the final report and the potential of future opportunities in this field.

Visualisation Contest: Send a great example from ‘the wild’

You may have seen a recent post where I published details of a great event being held in February 2011. The O’Reilly Strata ‘Making Data Work’ conference will bring together a unique blend of professionals, experts and innovators from all walks of the data world, including a very strong visualisation presence.

For those who can make it, once again, allow me to express my recommendation that you attend. To register your interest, click here, and don’t forget to use the 15% event discount code for Visualising Data readers: str11vsd.

However, if you can a short while, you may be able to attend the event entirely free of charge. I’m delighted to reveal details of a competition I am running to give one lucky person the chance to win a Full Conference Pass to the event, worth up to $1500.

The Contest

The theme of this contest is visualisations in the wild and the challenge is to take a photo of a great example of best practice information design being used in everyday life.

I’m looking for unique examples that demonstrate the value and power of good visualisation practice, designs that help to make your day go by that little bit more smoothly. It might be the display on your clock radio, the dashboard in your car, the arrivals board at an airport, maybe some food information on packaging or even the instruction diagrams to build a cupboard. It might be something so small, so minor, so mundane but equally so elegantly efficient at communicating some information.



How to Enter

To enter all you have to do is send me a photo or video of your example and accompany it with a short explanation of why you think it is a great representation.

Please keep the description brief, ideally using a maximum of 140 characters to keep it Twitter-proof.

Send your submissions to me on email andy@visualisingdata.com or via a direct message on Twitter @visualisingdata.


How Will the Winner be Judged?

The assessment will be based on two criteria:

  1. How well the visualisation functions – the accuracy and clarity of the information exchange
  2. How elegant the visual design is – its visceral appeal

The only rules are that I won’t accept examples from print or digital media nor from corporate/commercial setting. For example,  don’t send me photos of a graphic from the New York Times, screen shots of a TV graphic, nor your company’s latest monthly sales report. As I’ve said above, it is about sharing examples of the everyday information designs - visualisations from the wild – that interest me. I will let you know if you’ve innocently violated these rules to give you chance to re-enter!


Results

The contest is open now and will close at midnight on Friday 3rd December. I will reveal the winner on Monday 6th December.

Good luck and happy visualisation hunting!

Visualisation Reflections: #4 Visual Thinker

This is a follow-up post to my fourth article in the Visualisation Insights series which I published earlier this week. The purpose of this companion series is to optimise the learning opportunities from each insights article, reflecting on the ideas, issues and observations to emerge.


Why did I choose this subject?

I first came across Carlos when we established contact in June following my blog post presenting a collection of World Cup visualisations and infographics and since then I have been keenly following his updates on dMultimedia and contributions to the great graphics on lainformacion.

My principal reason for doing this article was because I am intrigued by the unique environment of working for a web-based newspaper. I wanted to understand better the specific challenges that accompany this world and specifically learn about the background behind the innovative lainformacion concept.  Secondly, I wanted to find out more about the status of the visualisation field from Carlos’ perspective in Spain – a real hotbed of information design talent – and learn about the influences/pathways that lead designers into this career.


Impressions prior to the interview?

The lainformacion web model is a fascinating digital news media and business concept – a contemporary solution to information age we occupy – which draws content from a tripartite of information sources: professional journalists, engaged users and digital robots curating news from elsewhere on the web.

Here is a short graphic video further explaining the concept:

I was already aware of lainformacion before making contact with Carlos, having seen much coverage about its launch nearly 18 months through Chiqui Esteban’s Infographics News blog. I was struck by Chiqui’s description of his ambitions for the lainformacion:

We’re still too young, with many many things to improve and keep growing. We don’t want a infographics department, we want a visual stories department. Without frontiers or prejudices: just trying to tell stories on the way the stories deserve to be told. Not taking them to our territory, but going us to where they need us to go.

This is a fantastic mindset and term of reference from which to approach all design challenges. Such clarity of purpose unquestionably has a huge impact on the quality of output coming from this team. Here is a great video compilation of some these examples over the first 12 months of lainformacion:

Prior to the interview I have been greatly impressed by Carlos’ achievements as a visual thinker/multimedia visualisation designer and consider him to be at the forefront of ‘visual journalism’, for want of a better label. His prominent contributions to the early success of lainformacion as a member of a small but dedicated team is testament to his standing. I was therefore confident that interviewing such an experienced and extremely accomplished designer would make for a great insights article.



Impressions after the interview?

As you can see from the article, I was fortunate that Carlos provided a great level of detail about his background, methods and opinions. Within his responses I have found a great number of interesting snippets that really help readers understand the world of a visual designer. For instance, there is great consistency in Carlos’ description of his design style/approach compared with the ideals set out by Chiqui Esteban, above:

My style is based on trying to purify the information in every way possible, to centre on the important aspects of news and to be clear, simple and direct. To facilitate to the reader the information they have in front of their eyes, trying to not frustrate with unnecessary useless devices or abstract visualizations. The journalistic information must be rigorous and clear.

This reveals a professional who is entirely focused on communicating for the benefit of understanding, not just for the benefit of visual appeal or distracting gimmickry. This message is wonderfully reinforced later:

I’m very motivated about technology, graphics can open doors that we would have never thought before. But I also see that we have a wolf at the door. I am sure that it’s not positive to prefer the technology to the information. Infographics, and journalism must not be subordinated to the technology. The information always must be the first.

That is not to say that there is no room for innovation and I am particularly fond of Carlos’ work that integrate sound and vision, such as the visualisation of how a Formula 1 engine sounds and the piece presenting the Spanish economic information:

I wanted to communicate sensations, that the user should measure the pulse of the Spanish economy without need to open the eyes. I defined it in three levels: one, linear and for a passive user; two, 100% interactive; and three, more playful almost as a ‘gadget’ offering a musical keyboard.

Another aspect that really impresses me about the work of Carlos and his team is the speed of the creativity, data gathering and validation, design and execution that comes with the daily demand to generate visual content to accompany news items.

There is generally a lack of sufficient praise within the visualisation field for this type of work, and indeed a lack of recognition for the unique constraints and pressures designers face in such environments. A great piece on Michael Agar’s iGraphics Explained blog echoes this.

Aside from technical and design capabilities, the key to success in this arena comes from having an excellent team environment and on this theme I really liked his description of the fluidity, the relationships and working patterns of his lainformacion colleagues:

Our team works in a transversal way, without walls that separate us. Any colleague can share or form a part of a project relying on the experience of the people in charge of every department.

Finally, I’ll leave this piece with a further interesting insight from the New Digitial Narratives blog (paraphrased somewhat):

The graphic work done [by this] small team is astonishing… they are fast like the best writers of the best newswire services. They are quick, but accurate, and always focus on “the news behind the news” trying to explain, to find out, discover new angles and delivering not just facts but graphic ideas and fast quality journalism. They have limited resources but unlimited creativity, and shows what you can do when you have real journalists.



Acknowledgement

Once again many thanks to Carlos for putting a huge amount of effort into contributing this article content. I wish him and his colleagues at lainformacion all the best for the future. You can follow Carlos’ updates on his dMultimedia blog, via Twitter and also connect up with him on LinkedIn.

Keep your eye out for future insights articles, with many interesting interviews and interviewees lined up…

Best of the visualisation web… October 2010

At the end of each month I pull together a collection of links to some of the most relevant, interesting and useful articles I’ve come across during the previous month. If you follow me on Twitter you will see many of these items tweeted as soon as I find them. Here’s the latest collection from October 2010:

Infographics News | Discussing the Independent’s launch of a new quality newspaper, called ‘i’ | Link

Creative Bits | Adobe demo’s flash to HTML5 conversion tool | Link

The Design Observatory Group | An introduction to graphic design | Link

MIT World | Crowds and Clouds: Data, sheep, and collaboration in the works of Aaron Koblin | Link

Flickr | Flickr collection of work by talented information graphics journalist Ciaran Hughes | Link

Infosthetics | Flight & Expulsion: Revealing the countries refugees flee from and to | Link

Guardian Data Blog | How to be a data journalist | Link

Fell In Love With Data | How to become a data visualization expert: a recipe | Link

Infosthetics | Impure: a new visualization programming language for non-programmers | Link

Infographics News | Video introduction to Visualizing.org | Link

Eager Eyes | Laws of attraction: from perceived forces to conceptual similarity | Link

Noisy Decent Graphics | Details of the Nike Grid project | Link

Infosthetics | Research: Lev Manovich coins the term ‘media visualization’ | Link

DataVisualization.ch | Review of the book ‘Processing for Visual Artists’ | Link

Edge.org | An extensive gallery of maps for the 21st Century| Link

Online Journalism Blog | Stories hidden in the data, stories in the comments | Link

O’Reilly Strata | O’Reilly Radar report on ‘What is Data Science?’ | Link

Smashing Magazine | The art of film title design throughout cinema history | Link

Creative Bits | The future of the book | Link

Eager Eyes | The rise and fall of Swivel.com | Link

Eager Eyes | The theory guide to VisWeek 2010 | Link

Eyesoak | Visual inspiration overload | Link

DataVisualization.ch | Visualizing the 2010 Afghan elections | Link

Flowing Data | Why everyone should learn programming | Link

Wikinomics | A visual model showing the value of open data | Link

The Scientist | “You Aren’t Blogging Yet?!?” | Link

Highly recommended conference + reader offer

I’m delighted to have agreed a media partnership with O’Reilly to help promote a great conference coming up in 2011.

The inaugural O’Reilly Strata Conference ‘Making Data Work’ will be held from February 1st to 3rd 2011 in the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara and Santa Clara Convention Center, California.

I will be announcing details next week of a special 15% registration discount code for Visualising Data readers as well as a fantastic opportunity to win a free pass to the entire event. More details to follow later, but for now here’s more background on the conference:

Big Data is here, and it changes everything. From startups to the Fortune 500, smart companies are betting on data-driven insight. Get control of the new data opportunity at Strata—immerse yourself in three full days of hands-on training, information-rich sessions, and a sponsor pavilion filled with the key players and products. This new O’Reilly conference brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work.

Why do I recommend this conference?

It is already very clear that this conference will provide a unique platform representing a balanced intersection between the congruent worlds of visualisation, data, technology and commerce. This is something which no other conference format currently offers on such a scale and with such gravity and is the key reason why I am keen to recommend it to all Visualising Data readers.

The prominent visualisation-specific conferences such as VisWeek and EuroVis are wonderful occasions which further the field academically and help debate and spark new ideas and avenues of discovery. However, it could be argued that these events preach to the converted with most of the people attending already firm advocates of visualisation.

In contrast, the Strata 2011 event provides a wonderful complementary setting to cross-fertilise these contemporary ideas and discoveries across a broader and deeper delegate demographic.

Topics and Speakers

Firm details of the topics, schedule and speakers are still emerging but there promises to be something for everybody. An outline of the key topics to be covered at this event include:

Some of the confirmed speakers include Tim O’Reilly, Jock Mackinlay (Tableau), Naomi B Robbins and Simon Rogers (Guardian Datablog/Datastore) as well as key representatives from companies such as eBay, Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn.

You can track the emerging shape and content of the Strata 2011 conference schedule here and follow updates of the conference build up on Twitter @strataconf.

Registration

I will be releasing details next week of a 15% Visualising Data reader discount and a competition to win a free pass to the entire event.

In general the key date to bear in mind is 14th December. If you register for Strata before this date you can save up to $250 on top of the discount. Please note that other better discounts may be available depending on your status/organisation.

Visualisation Insights: #4 Visual Thinker

This is the fourth article in my Visualisation Insights series. The purpose of this series is to provide readers with unique insights into the field of visualisation from the different perspectives of those in the roles of designer, practitioner, academic, blogger, journalist and all sorts of other visual thinkers. My aim is to bring together these interviews to create a greater understanding and appreciation of the challenges, approaches and solutions emerging from these people – the visualisation world’s cast and crew.

Carlos Gamez Kindelan is a talented Visual Thinker based in Madrid. He is applying his skills as a highly experienced infographic and multimedia design artist across many different platforms, most notably through his work in the graphics department at lainformacion.com, an innovative online Spanish newspaper, and dMultimedia, his personal blog.

I approached Carlos to do an interview for this article for two main reasons. Firstly, I am fascinated by the challenges and pressures that come with producing graphics in the context of online journalism, especially for a newspaper that is entirely based on the web. My second reason was that I feel there is some superb visualisation design coming from Spain, typified by the portfolio of work Carlos has produced or been involved in.


Hi Carlos, can you start off by explaining what lainformacion.com is?

It is a new journalistic media that works exclusively in the digital environment. In addition, it is a hyperway and a semantic monitor of real time information produced by ‘Factoria Diximedia Digital’.

Can you describe the graphics department at lainformacion – where you are based, how many people work in your team, what are the different job roles etc.?

Our team works in a transversal way, without walls that separate us. Any colleague can share or form a part of a project relying on the experience of the people in charge of every department. At our business are professionals from design: Antonio Pasagali; dedicated to video and multimedia: David Tesouro, Michael Fernández and Adriano Morán; graphics: Sarah Potts, Chiqui Esteban and me; and html and css programmers: Alejandro Navarro and Alberto Aranguren. In addition, we have a network of collaborators, MOJO (Mobile Journalist).

How long have you worked there?

I’ve been working at lainformacion.com from its ‘Beta’ phase, concretely for one and a half years.

Can you briefly describe your current role at lainformacion?

I define my role as a ‘Visual Thinker’: I study and analyze the information, for both short and long term, and decide which is the better narrative approach from a visual and journalistic point of view.

Before lainformacion, can you give me a brief outline of your training and career history leading up to your current role?

I began as an intern for DIARIO MARCA and DIARIO MÉDICO, Recoletos Group at the beginning of the 90′s. Later I was working as an infographic artist at DIARIO DE SEVILLA, Group Joly; as Graphics Editor at the Spanish headquarters of 5Wgraphics, and as Graphics Editor at EL PAIS, Prisa Group.

What would you describe as being the key milestones of your career to date? You must have been involved in many fascinating news projects?

  1. Work at the sports diary MARCA during the Olympics of Barcelona 1992.
  2. To form a part of a first level team in a regional diary and what this supposes in the learning of any professional.
  3. Work in a graphics agency for a lot of clients from different countries, with very varied styles and with a very high level of quality.
  4. My entry in the digital environment almost 6 years ago and how I have been overcoming the fears before a way almost not known for me.

What was your “aha!” or “eureka!” moment?

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the work of Jose Juan Gámez, the current Art Director at MARCA, and other many graphics professionals like Juan and Samuel Velasco, Fernando Rubio, John Grimwade, Jaime Serra, Rafael Estrada and some others. I was concentrating on what was being done at ELMUNDO, ELPAÍS, The New York Times, USA Today snapshots and its weather map, etc. I collected hundreds of graphics (that still I preserve today) which I studied carefully and I tried to reproduce on my first Mac, a black and white Apple Classic. This way, it is not that I was deciding to be a graphic artist but graphics had chosen me.

Which software applications do you use for creating your work?

Flash, Freehand, Adobe CS4, Cinema 4d, Poser, Bryce 3D, Final Cut and other audio and video applications, and some development applications from Adobe and Apple (SDK).

Comparing these modern tools with 15 years ago, when you first became an infographic artist, what tools did you use for designing then?

The change and the development of applications has been amazing, 15 or 20 years ago I only knew Aldus Freehand, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

How would you describe your design style?

I have been lucky to be able to learn off some of the biggest professionals of my country. My style is based on trying to purify the information in every way possible, to centre on the important aspects of news and to be clear, simple and direct. To facilitate to the reader the information they have in front of their eyes, trying to not frustrate with unnecessary useless devices or abstract visualizations. The journalistic information must be rigorous and clear.

Who would you say have been the most important authors and designers who have had most influence over your career?

Those which I have had the opportunity to work with: Jose Juan Gámez, Pablo Ramirez, Manuel Romero, Juan, Samuel, Pedro and Martin Velasco, Rafael Höhr and Mario Tascón.

Which books would you recommend as being the most important texts you have read about understanding the principles of communicating information through design?

Besides the classic ones like Tufte or Sullivan, I recommend also some in Spanish language such as Peltzer, Valero or De Pablos, as historical and introductory reference to the infographics. The three latest ones that have come to my hands are by William Cope (‘Graphics Methods for Presenting Facts’, from1919, and ‘Graphic Presentation’, from1939) and McCandless (‘Information is Beautiful’, 2009). Certainly, I recommend all the editions published of infographics and design international prizes both of the SND and of its Spanish chapter, Malofiej.

How has your design style changed over the years?

I think my incorporation to working on the Internet in 2005 and what comes with working for the screen and in a multimedia way. The design of online information, and for graphics especially, is less flexible, and remains limited in the majority of occasions for the screen and the structure of a site, the technology and the way of looking for the user. However, the Internet provides a deeper vision of the reality, problems of production do not exist in the use of the color and it combines elements such as video and audio, impossible to use in traditional media. All that pushes me towards a design of graphs where I use few colors but without fear, they help me to organize the information into a hierarchy and to present it in an attractive and clear way both for the information and for the final consumer, the user.

There are certainly strong visual themes that run through lainformacion’s visual designs, how would you describe this style or design brand? Is this something you have developed/evolved together as a team or is it a deliberate brand identity you are required to use?

The design and style of lainformacion.com is a responsibility of its Art Director, Antonio Pasagali. As for the style of the graphics that you have selected below, it has been a personal visual way based on the confidence and the freedom that Diximedia Digital offers me and for what I am very grateful.

I asked Carlos to recommend a few examples of his design work with brief descriptions and comments relating to their background, purpose, design solutions etc. Several of these are interactive so the snapshot image does not do full justice to their function, click on the title links to see the native work.

1. “Music and Economy – Different economic indicators (eg. The Retail Price Index) can be translated into musical language”

2. “How a Formula 1 engine sounds (Valencia street circuit GP)”

3. “Different visualizations can be help us attract new users and offer different and clear information – Facebook top ten games”

This work was so simple. I had the data from Facebook, and I was trying to offer a different visualization. This type of works had a very good reception from users who consumed the information in a fast way. Everything is done in Flash.

4. “Iberia´s merger with British Airways”

I am specially satisfied with this work because it shows once again the responsibility of a visual journalist to accompany latest news. Our web is characterized by the information always being alive, both in form and in the contents. One morning the front page changed its first item to the news of the merger of two of the most important airlines of the world. In less than two hours I located the information that was needed, the comparison of the numbers of the fleets of both companies by plane model. I rejected the total units because I thought that it was lacking informative value. It was not a case of comparing the different companies, but of seeing a merger, seeing the sum. The rest, the graphical part (Illustrator) and programming did not turn out to be especially complex. In less than three hours the link to this work was the hottest news on our home page for the rest of the day.

5. “Michael Jackson influences into Hip Hop music”

I love Michael Jackson’s music. It was about two o’clock in the morning. I was at home snooping around the Internet. Suddenly I noticed that something was moving in Twitter. Within minutes, the suspicion of Michael Jackson’s death turned into incredible news. TMZ, was confirming the death of the singer by Twitter. I had many doubts about the sources. I remember I was connected to Facebook and sent a very clear message: Vanessa, “Michael Jackson has died”; with a link to TMZ, which was showing different to the NYT one and to the LATimes.

On this night I discovered a blogger from New York, Ethan Heim. He was a music, technology and visualizations lover. I found something great for me, a very rough sketch with all the groups of hip-hop musicians and other modern styles influenced by Michael Jackson’s songs. So I said to myself: “I have it”. I sent an e-mail asking for permission to use his sketch and I went to bed. The following day, already we had published a chronology and a photogallery of Jackson’s life. I knew that the topic was going to be on the front pages long enough so I was kept waiting for Heim’s answer. The e-mail finally came and he said to me that he was delighted that I was interested in using it and there was no problems. I included it as an informative source. The design was based on a small drawing that I did in the margins of sheets of paper when I was a student and the class was boring. The only problem I had was technical. In these days our web was in ‘beta’ format and still we did not have possibility of embedding videos. But I thought that it was worth publishing it.

6. “Cronology of space shuttle missions”

For this graphic the difference rests on the visualization. The information were the same for any person who was approaching the NASA website. What I did was customize a simple evolution of information and used a simple programme. I knew that the information was rigorous and I was trying to show it in a simple way: the evolution of space flights in yellow, every mission in white, and the eventful missions in red (Illustrator and Flash).

7. “A simple and linear animation – How a Temporary Nuclear Waste Repository works”

There are certain kinds of information that have to be explained in a linear way. However, how do explain a process? This type of work needs exhaustive analysis and compression of the information, and an animated sequence always, always works.

8. “11-Centelles: visual hunter of the Spanish Civil War”

This graphic is based on the work of its author – Miguel Fernández – who works with us at the multimedia section. He traveled and worked over months to build this document. When he finished, he asked me to build him an interactive container for his piece. Time was very scarce. I tried to help him as much as possible, following his necessities and demands. I constructed a rather simple video player, making Miguel’s work the center of attention.

For those unfamiliar with your dMultimedia site, can you describe what it is and what your overall aims are? What motivated you to start the site?

dMultimedia is a personal and deliberately anarchic blogsite where I share a lot of things, from philosophies from academics and professionals, trying to centre on topics of informational visualization, infographics,  journalism, resources, trends and software. I began two years ago motivated by the curiosity and the need to share those questions that are strange or exceptional for me.

Recently I have been becoming increasingly aware of how much amazing design work is emerging from different parts of the world and Spain stands out as a real centre of excellence – just looking at the number of references to Spain at the Malofiej awards supports this view. Can you give any reasons as to why Spain would be so successful? Does it reflect a strong design culture or perhaps something unique about your education system?

I think that it is a cultural question that is being more valued by the academic institutions. I think that the success of Spain in these contests is for the need that we have to communicate visually and for the capacity of many professionals to adapt to the changes and to the new trends. And, certainly, to the confidence of some other editors and journalistic businessmen who endorse our work. We must not forget that we are in a business.

How would you assess the rest of the world in terms of visualisation/inforgraphics, do you see any regional differences in techniques or design approach?

There is a very positive increase in the use of infographics as a way of transmitting information around the world. Especially in the digital area and in the experimentation, as well as new formats. The differences that I see more notable are especially in the use of and access to information and data sources. Nowadays we have such an abundance of information and in so many different hands that it becomes very complex to separate the wheat from the chaff.

What are the things that excite you/make you positive about the way the visualisation is advancing? Are there any aspects that particularly frustrate or disappoint you?

I’m very motivated about technology, graphics can open doors that we would have never thought before. But I also see that we have a wolf at the door. I am sure that it’s not positive to prefer the technology to the information. Infographics, and journalism must not be subordinated to the technology. The information always must be the first.

Finally, a chance for you to recommend or promote other designers. Apart from the obvious/popular visualisation and infographics sites, which other websites or designers would you like to recommend for readers to take a look at? Are there any designers, particularly around Spain, who you would identify as producing particularly innovative work right now?

Particularly, and for professionals of Spain, I recommend people follow the initiatives of ‘Medialab Prado-Madrid’ and the ‘Camon Visualization Workshop‘ in Madrid. Places to continue the study and development of new trends and visualizations. Also I love the work of the German agency ‘Golden Section Graphics‘, USA agency ‘5Wgraphics’ and the Spanish agency ‘Servicio Telegráfico‘.


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I’m really grateful to Carlos for the time and effort he has gone to in offering a wonderfully detailed and fascinating perspective on his life as a visual thinker and relentless producer of interactive graphics. I wish him all the very best in the future wherever his career takes him. As well as his dMultimedia website, you can follow Carlos’s updates on Twitter @dMultimedia.

Hard to interpret ‘Ask America’ infographic

I’ve come across this infographic produced in a collaboration between visualisation studio JESS3 and Yahoo! News Ask America and find it difficult to interpret. This is a shame because the subject matter is clearly interesting and important to many people but it has been presented with a potentially misleading design.

Whilst the graphic scores highly on aesthetics its purpose of accurately and intuitively communicating the data is undermined by a major issue with the graphic. A similar design approach was taken for this interactive GE Health Visualizer which also had a number of issues relating to its ultimately ineffective communication of data.

The main problem with this infographic lies with the design comprising a series of different layers: a 180° donut chart, a coxcomb-like diagram and a radial segment graph (whatever that is, made it up). This presents a massive challenge for the brain to take in and interpret each layer simultaneously. Its like being asked to eat a starter, main and dessert all on one plate.  On the graphic is a key in the bottom right hand corner to try and explain how each layer works:

The inner layer is a half donut chart representing the % split of respondents to each topic area. Donut charts (the only example on google images I could find below!) are worse than pie charts in that they don’t even reveal the angle to help you formulate the segment interpretations.

You are left with the arc length which is a much less accurate perceptual task. However, whilst it is difficult to interpret accurately, there is essentially nothing inherently misleading about the encoding of this data in this way…

… which can’t be said for the next layer which presents the volume of respondents to each question. The annotation accompanying the launch of the graphic explains how to read this:

The size of each swath of color reflects the number of total responses were received for each topic, from the courts, to the economy, to the state of the union

The main issue with this layer comes down to the fact that the length of the radius encodes the value, when in actual fact the eye interprets the area of the resulting segment, which will inevitably be inflated due to the basic geometry of the shape.

It appears to follow the principle of the coxcomb diagram, made famous by Florence Nightingale. However, the difference is that the coxcomb plots maintain a consistent angle and only the radius is varied. Both approaches, though, maintain the same problems with the resulting segment areas.

The final layer provides a breakdown of the responses to each question. Once again this is a confusing and probably unnecessary extension to the graphic, presented as split radial segments. Could this breakdown not have been included in the presentation of the second layer segments?

Overall, the effect is a far more complicated and potentially confusing graphic that should have been necessary. This is a typical consequence of an approach which aims to squeeze too many variables and data stories into a single graphic structure. Whilst the resulting work may result in a technically clever and aesthetically pleasing solution this often comes at the cost of the fundamental purpose of clearly communicating the data.