Re-using custom graphic archetypes

One of the (many) things that impresses me most about the quality of data visualisation and infographic output from the leading journalist organisations is the continued variety and innovation of their techniques. Rather than just being constrained by a limited visual vocabulary, each new work published tends to feature a solution uniquely suited to the data, the analysis and the subject matter involved. Given the pervasive time constraints involved, the work we see created, day in day out, is quite incredible.

Of course, on special occasions, there is a compelling reason to potentially re-cycle previously used graphic archetypes and there was an example of this last week that was both astute and highly impactive.

WaPo

Firstly, to explain what I mean by re-using custom graphic archetypes. I’m not talking about the repeated use of an off-the-shelf chart on numerous separate occasions, like the bar or the line chart, I’m referring to more bespoke solutions that have been used for multiple projects.

The New York Times, for example, utilised this interactive and participative matrix to assess the public’s reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden back in May 2011.

NYTMatrix1

They then, quite correctly, used the same underlying graphic approach to assess the reaction to Barrack Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage. Why reinvent the wheel when you’ve got a perfectly applicable solution on your shelf?

NYTMatrix

In another example, The Guardian launched their innovative interactive timeline in March 2011 to outline the key milestones and sequence of events related to the Arab Spring.

GuardianTimeline

In June of the same year it was re-imagined as a timeline to show the evolution of modern music…

GuardianTimeline2

…and again in October 2012 to show the events leading to the Eurozone crisis. An entirely reasonable, appropriate and – importantly – effective choice.

GuardianTimeline1

Whilst it is not purely the same archetype being re-used, last week’s ‘How high can a missile reach?‘ graphic published by the Washington Post (by Bonnie Berkowitz, Julie Tate and Richard Johnson) had a more profound effect. This was a vertical-scrollable graphic that aimed to show the scale of the height involved in the tragic shooting down of the Malaysia Flight MH17. I’ve recorded a brief video of it below.

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, there is something so haunting about the juxtaposition of the ‘how high’ graphic considering just three months earlier, the Post produced a ‘how deep’ graphic showing the ‘The depth of the problem‘ (by Richard Johnson and Ben Chartoff). This was a very similar graphic device used to show the scale of the depth involved in the search for the Malaysia Flight MH370 black box.

Once again, the appropriateness of the same graphic approach being used is without question. The switch from height to depth, from upwards scrolling to downwards scrolling, to visually capture the essence of two so-closely-linked tragedies was very cleverly conceived and had a big impact on me.

Interviewed on Chez Voilà blog

My thanks to Francis Gagnon for inviting me to take part in a fun, off-beat interview on his site. His questions were super refreshing, I look forward to seeing others in this series.

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Updated training schedule

Just a quick note to share an update on my upcoming ‘Introduction to Data Visualisation & Infographic Design’ public training workshops. Due to a particularly packed schedule for the rest of 2014 (especially due to private workshops) I’ve only got capacity to fit in 3 additional public events. These will be in San Francisco, Leeds and another event in London later in the year.

Schedule

You will see I have put an early call out for folks in Australia and New Zealand. I visited Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne in November 2013 and will be heading back down under in April 2015. Whilst I have a outstanding demand expressed to visit certain locations from last year I am keen to gather additional suggestions to ensure my schedule is best serving the demands out there. Get in touch!

Finally, in the next few weeks I will be (finally!) relaunching my website and this will include an updated profile of all my training activities and menu of offerings. So that will be nice.

Best of the visualisation web… May 2014

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 May 2014.

Visualisations/Infographics

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

National Climate Assessment | Some nice graphics across this report: “Explore highlights and the full report of the National Climate Assessment”

Moebio | Santiago creates a whole new way of looking at the world wide web via a trace of site links over time “The First Web, and Beyond”

ONS | Slopegraph showing ranking relationship between countries and their number of visits to UK and the spending per day of visitors from those countries in 2013

New Yorker | Interactive and video exploring the most radioactive place in New York City

Guardian | ‘Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights around the world’

Vizual-Statistix | ‘A career shooting percentages of every NBA player’

WSJ | Long form piece from the WSJ exploring the phenomena of Alibaba, China’s biggest online commerce company

mdaniels | Examining the vocabulary of hip hop artists based on the number of unique words used within artist’s first 35000 lyrics

Smartmine | Who wouldn’t want to watch tracking data for whales? This tool lets you “follow sperm, beaked, false killer, and pigmy killer whales as they migrate around the Hawaiian Islands” (love the Ocean view especially)

Australian Financial Review | My friends at Small Multiples did this really nice interactive to explore language used by the current and previous Treasurers to explain their budgets

Washington Post | ‘The most lethal actors of all time, by number of career kills on screen’

CartoDB | Animated map showing the geotagged tweets mentioning Arsenal or Hull City during the FA Cup final in May

New York Times | ‘Rating a Health Law’s Success’ – with a sequence of slopegraphs. Yes!

BigtimeBCN | More ‘Age of a city’ goodness, this time for Barcelona

Forum | Infographic showing how Africa tweets

CS 171 | Always look forward to the publication of the Harvard ‘CS 171 – Visualization’ course end of year best student visualisation projects gallery

LA Times | Take a video-flyover across the LA area showing the updated location of the earthquake fault zones routes.

Urban Demographics | 3D projections that show ‘Urban Density Patterns in 9 Global Cities’

Lincolnmullen | Animated map that shows the spread of US slavery between 1790 and 1860

The Upshot | ‘Which Team to you Cheer For?’ a map of NBA fans across the US

The Upshot | Music to my ears, or eyes, as this graphic comprehensively shows how Liverpool were robbed of the Premier League title – ‘The Premier League Standings if Only Goals by English Players Counted’

Andreapinchi | ‘No Country for Young Men’ – analysis of the age of Italian Parliament members

Dark Horse Analytics | ‘Breathing City’ Joey takes a look at Manhattan’s population who are at home or at work, by hour

Guardian | Profiling the animated mapping project by CASA to look at the evolution of London’s 2000 year history

Seventeenpeople | ‘A modest tribute to – and deconstruction of – my favourite hour of television’ – an ode to Aaron Sorkin

Retale | ’13 Years of Apple Stores in 60 Seconds’

Vimeo | Discovered via Jer Thorp’s datastories episode. This is a video of actors reading the most common first names for artists in MOMA’s accessioned collection, in order, by gender (hint: listen for the occasional female speakers)

Prooffreader | ‘Graphing the distribution of English letters towards the beginning, middle or end of words’

Slavery Footprint | ‘How many slaves work for you?’

FastCo Design | ‘Falling In Love, Visualize’ – work by Lam Thuy Vo using text message data to visualize the sparks of love

Washington Post | ‘Weapons and mass shootings’ – chart showing every gun that was used in a mass shooting and how those guns were obtained.

SCMP | An incredible attempt to portray the hugely complex issue of the conflicts in the waters between China and Vietnam.

New York Times | ‘A New Story Told at Ground Zero: The National September 11 Memorial Museum’

The Upshot | ‘Is It Better to Rent or Buy?’

The Atlantic | ‘The World of Starbucks, Mapped’ [+ subtitle of the month: "No matter where you are on the planet, you're never more than 5,000 miles from a Starbucks."]

Washington Post | Connected Scatterplot showing how ‘Inequality and political polarization have been rising in tandem for three decades’

Flowing Data | Analysis of ‘Where Bars Outnumber Grocery Stores’

Washington Post | A scatter-plot showing the best and worst ceremonial first pitches (showing that 50 Cent’s was possibly the worst)

Articles

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

Int3rhacktives | An interview with data visualiser Ri Liu from Pitch Interactive

Periscopic | Dino discusses the issue that data – and what data is or isn’t – is a point of view.

GiorgiaLupi | ‘Bellas Razones [Beautiful Reasons]‘ A super Italian/English article by Giorgia sharing the approach Accurat take to balance their aesthetic and practical choices across their portfolio of work (based on her Visualized talk of 2014)

YouTube | ‘CHI Belgium Hangouts with interesting people: Moritz Stefaner’

New York Times | ‘The United States of Metrics’

Junk Charts | Nice piece by Kaiser discussing ‘how effective visualisation brings data alive’

JSK | Shazna Nessa discusses ‘how journalists can turn raw information into data visualizations that are both appealing and understandable to real people’

Ghostweather | A great article by Lynn, offering a second-part to her discussion about Implied Stories.

Scientific American | When an article begins with ‘Andy Kirk…’ and has ‘clever’ in the same sentence then there’s a good chance I’m going to be loving it! (It is a really nice piece by Jen looking ‘Under the Hood of Online Data Visualization’)

Nieman Journalism Lab | ‘The leaked New York Times innovation report is one of the key documents of this media age’

Ampp3d | ’11 mistakes that will drive data nerds crazy’

Source | Lovely article by one of my favourite people in viz – Sarah Slobin – as she ‘discovers that all the facts and numbers didn’t add up to the humans in her story’

BBC Internet Blog | ‘To mark 20 years of the BBC being online, we wanted to see if there was a way of representing the growth and changing shape of the site over the last 20 years.’

OpenVisConf | A beautiful way to break down and share the videos from the OpenVisConf 2014 (My ‘The Design of Nothing’ is in there…)

Simon Rogers | ‘Data journalism needs to go mobile’

Tow Center | Report: ‘The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism’

Michael Babwahsingh | Michael discusses how rarely ‘information design acknowledges the missing, the unknown’

The Functional Art | Yes >> ‘Infographics that just work better on paper’

Aeon | Quite a long article looking at the relationship between truth and beauty. Some Operators in particular may find this interesting.

SND | ‘Infographic case study: Boston Globe’s energetic interactive and print graphics’

Policy Viz | Jon shares his thoughts on the ‘So What?’ test as introduced by Alberto in the Datastories episode 35

Gravy Anecdote | Continuing the recent discussions about storytelling, Andy Cotgreave challenges some of the views (of Moritz in particular) from the same episode 35

Juice Analytics | Great message: ’10 Ways to Reduce to Improve Your Data Visualizations’

Utah.edu | Paper: ‘Reflections on How Designers Design With Data’

Contently | Interview with Bloomberg Visual’s leader, Lisa Strausfeld

Source | ‘Distrust your data: Jacob Harris on Six Ways to Make Mistakes with Data’

Learning & Development

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

Perceptual Edge | Nice summary from Stephen about some of the methods of displaying change between two points in time – such a frequent task

Sankeymatic | Tool: SankeyMATIC – a Sankey diagram builder built in d3.js

tylervigen | Loads and loads and loads of brilliant charts that show some spurious correlations eg. Number people who drowned in a swimming pool correlates with the number of films Nicolas Cage has been in. Obviously.

Sorting | ‘An attempt to visualise and help to understand how some of the most famous sorting algorithms work.’

Medium | A write up of ‘Experiences & insights from a course by Jonathan Corum, Bret Victor, Mike Bostock & Edward Tufte’

GiorigaLupi | Another great contribution for Giorgia this month, this time a nice project narrative from Accurat’s work on ‘The Life Cycle of Ideas’ for Popular Science

Well Formed Data | Moritz outlines some of the updated features of the Better Life Index 2014

Source | Project narrative by Alastair Dant and Hannah Fairfield as they discuss the work behind the scenes of their ‘Few Helmets, More Deaths’ project

Mic | ’9 Things You’d Believe About World Geography if You Only Listened to Fox News’

Evergreen Data | Great work by Stephanie and Ann Emery to create a data visualisation creation checklist

Storytelling With Data | Really useful article from Cole, ‘the story you want to tell…and the one your data shows’

Stamen | ‘Stamen’s Checklist for Maps’ – Here’s another super useful checklist, but this more narrowly focused on maps

Collossal | ‘The Cyanometer, a 225-Year-Old Tool for Measuring the Blueness of the Sky’

Caroline Beavon | A long article by Caroline about infographics, making them accessible and many other design considerations

Subject News

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

Global Editors Network | Announcing the nine winners of the Data Journalism Awards 2014

Journalism | ‘BBC to launch daily infographics shared on social media’

Sundries

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

Guardian | ‘Second world war in Google Street View’ – overlaying photos from the second world war

Twitter | Useful little explainer for the difference between Type I and Type II errors.

Collossal | ’271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800-Page Book’

The Creators Project | ‘This Is What The Internet Sounds Like’ – audio of different big data centres

FastCo Create | R.I.P HR Giger

FastCo Design | R.I.P. Massimo Vignelli

Wired | ’400 Years of Beautiful, Historical, and Powerful Globes’

NPR | ‘The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever’ – Over 300 searchable addresses going back to 1774

Slash Film | ‘Every Word In Star Wars Sorted Alphabetically’

Guardian | ‘World Cup kits through the ages – interactive guide’

xkcd | “Someone is wrong on the internet.”

Business Insider | ‘Inside The 45-Day Planning Process That Goes Into Creating A Single Corporate Tweet’

Twitter | “We are becoming rational, analytical, and data-driven in a far wider range of activity than ever before”

Buzzfeed | ‘The 21 Worst Police Sketches Of All Time’

LinkedIn | ‘Error messages are evil’

Twitter | ‘Save Paper – Save The Planet ‘

New York Times | ‘What are you drinking?’ – Interactive and customised cocktail builder

8 Articles Discussing Visual and Visualisation Literacy

For cross-posting purposes: Over on the Seeing Data research project blog, I have posted a collection of 8 articles concerning visual and visualisation literacy.

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Why visualisation is a pursuit of optimisation

I’ve had this short post sat in my draft folder for weeks now, awaiting the right context before publishing. I’m finally motivated to post it having seen a few discussions on Twitter last week whilst on holiday (when the hotel pool has wifi, what can you do but look now and again…).

The Twitter discussions involved comments along the lines of “good, but would have been nice if…”. This is something I’ve uttered and written hundreds of times before: it is an inevitable reaction of somebody assessing what is in front of them. (Whisper it, sometimes it will also be a comment shared with the wider world to help others understand just how super astute you are!).

I didn’t bookmark the conversations nor is it about pinpointing individuals, indeed I can’t even remember who was involved. Furthermore, this isn’t another criticism-soapbox piece but a simple reminder that data visualisation – and frankly any creative endeavour – is a pursuit of optimisation.

Firstly, it is important to remember that the “it would have been nice if…” observation (usually in relation to absence of a certain design feature) is more than likely a view also shared by the creator. Just because a piece of work doesn’t include something that would have added value doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t both considered and desired by the designer him/herself.

This short exchange between Elijah Meeks and Hannah Fairfield in relation to a New York Times graphic about the Affordable Care Act demonstrates the reality of the circumstances in which projects are created. I’m not picking on Elijah’s query – the hover/click feature was something I remember also instinctively wanting – because it was an entirely valid point, rather I’m struck by Hannah’s quick reply ‘ran outta time for tooltips’.

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Secondly – and mainly – we rarely, if ever, have perfect conditions for creating visualisation work. It is a game of compromise shaped by factors like resource limitations, time constraints, client interference, format restrictions, market pressures etc. It is sometimes about the skill of judging when ‘good enough’ has been achieved. Indeed, on some occasions it is not even about settling for ‘second best’ but realising there is a viable path represented by a least worst solution.

So, don’t stop critiquing work and querying whether something had been considered. Don’t stop commenting on what you think would be good to make something even better. But do remember that there is likely a good reason why certain things couldn’t be achieved in the context of its creation.

Seeing Data: Researching visualisation literacy

I want to share some information about a really interesting research project I’m fortunate to be working on with a small research team from the Institute of Communication Studies at the University of Leeds and The Migration Observatory. The study is titled ‘Seeing Data’ and is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Having commenced in January of this year the project runs through to March 2015.

I’ve briefly mentioned it over the past few weeks but with the project’s website seeingdata.org and blog having been launched in the past couple of days it is a good time to profile it on here because the focus of the study should be of interest to anyone visiting this site.

seeing-data-logo

So much of the discussion about data visualisation is dominated by new projects, new techniques and tools – and understandably so, in many ways we are still in the golden period of experimentation and discovery.

The aim of ‘Seeing Data’ is to understand how people make sense of data visualisations, specifically ‘big data’ visualisations relating to subjects of great depth and rich breadth. Through learning about the ways in which people engage with data visualisations we intend to provide some key resources for the general public, to help them develop the skills they need to interact with visualisations, and also for visualisation designers/producers, to help them understand what matters to the people who view and engage with their visualisations.

One of the key strands of our research activity will be the running of focus groups where we will be conducting assessments about people’s experiences with an array of different visualisation work: different in format, function, tone and subject matter. We are thrilled to be collaborating with our partner studio – Clever Franke – who are helping us to create new visualisation assets for use in this process and beyond.

It is not a long-running, big-team, multi-million pound programme of work but we feel it will be an important stepping stone to learning more about this fascinating subject area. You can find more details about the project via our new website, which includes more information about the aims, intended outputs and how you can get involved in our research. You can follow updates about the project via Twitter (@seeing_data), Facebook and our blog where we aim to publish weekly articles about the study and the subject of visualisation literacy.

If you have any questions or contributions to make to the discussion about visualisation literacy, feel free to get in touch!