New visual package for Chicago planning agency

There’s a smart new project from the team at Clever Franke who have created a digital package of visual content around the topics of ‘Mobility, Economy and Livability’ for CMAP, the regional planning agency for metropolitan Chicago.


The overall aim was to develop innovative approaches to data visualisation and information content. The project comprises a series of micro-sites discussing the past, present and future of Chicago’s plans around roads, transit, freight and how all this will move forward.

The micro-sites serve the primary purpose to educate and influence various stakeholders ranging from political decision makers, news media and business leaders. Of equal importance is the general publics’ need to access engaging content that relates to their everyday lives without requiring them to be professional planners. The micro-sites are an integral aspect of the agency’s commitment to transparency and to engaging the public.

As with many other long form/multi-faceted digital projects of recent years this work demonstrates a really rich blend of textual content, embedded movies, photo-imagery and interactive work structured around these 4 key chapters.


I really like the approach they have taken to visualise a number of selectable mapping layers in relation to ‘The Access to Transit’ index, which offers echoes of Moritz Stefaner’s Stadtbuilder and Zeit Online’s ‘A Nation Divided‘ as well as generally rocking a Roy Lichtenstein vibe (incidentally, check out the wonderfully gratuitous CF team profiles!).


Each chapter has the same structure with a short intro, followed by a central interactive piece, a text-narrated video and then a final simple chart displaying the relevant statistical indicator.


Aside from the neat visualisation work, I think this project highlights the increasing importance of good photo and video imagery: obtaining high-quality and permission-granted images can not always be taken for granted. Furthermore, the way such media are deployed and integrated into a digital work involves some fairly critical design choices. As technology continues to blur the boundaries between visualisation, infographics and digital content I feel there will be more need for us to understand the best practices around communication ‘beyond the chart’.


There is a great process description with loads more screenshots about Clever Franke’s design work here.

Columbia University Library’s collection visualised

Might be a little late to this but I have been exploring the absorbing ‘The Library Project’, a collaboration between the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University, led by Laura Kurgan, and visualisation design/developers Annelie Berner, Jen Lowe and Derek Watkins. The motivation for the project is framed around a desire to create a way of ‘comprehending the immensity, character and value of the collection’. As more data about the library’s collection becomes digitised, these tools enable a novel means of exploring the shape, dynamics and relationships that exist amongst the vast collection.

The project, split into two displays, visualises the Columbia Libraries collection in one interactive interface and then explore connections between the books based on subject connections in the other.

Catalog, ‘a visualization of the Columbia Library’s holdings, circulation and activity’, is the first of these displays, presenting a radial tree structure of the taxonomy of book subjects. On the inside are the major categories, moving towards the outside gets into more specific topics. The size of the circles indicate one of three quantitative metrics: total books held, total circulation and then a relative ratio of the two for context.


Crossing Disciplines, ‘a digital library tool for multidisciplinary exploration’, is the second display, offering a tool to explore the “books in the Columbia University Libraries that are at the intersection of two or more disciplines”.


This has a bit more interactivity going on with the ability to select two or more subjects around the ring of the top 25 most interdisciplinary subjects in the library and then use the mouse wheel to zoom in or out of the display.

There are a couple of really nice design features here. One is the way the display gives you a short preview of the connections that exist but without cluttering the entire display.


Secondly, there is a guiding tutorial to take you through the intricacies of the interactive one feature at a time. Really useful to ensure users get the most out of interrogating it.


Visualisation shoots from all angles

Earlier this week I published my slides from a talk I gave last week in San Francisco. One of the key things I discussed was the importance of carefully considering your editorial focus and I equated some of the ideas to the world of photojournalism. This is not a unique concept – it was brilliantly articulated by Moritz Stefaner in his article ‘Worlds, not stories‘ – but it is an approach to thinking about the subjectivity, the filtering, the focus, the sequence and the angles involved in selecting the slices of your analysis you will pursue. Yesterday the Washington Post published a graphic ‘The Wizards’ Shooting Stars‘ by Todd Lindeman and Lazaro Gamio that I think nicely demonstrates these ideas in practice.


The graphic explored some of the efficiencies and inefficiencies of the Washington Wizards’ shooting (by the way, we’re talking about basketball, should have said earlier) and how a few improvements could really help them realise their potential.

Firstly, we are greeted with the big picture of the main focus of the story: a general overview of point scoring based on the distance from where shots are taken. We can’t read the individual lines, we just get a gist of the patterns at this stage to form an introductory understanding. This begins the sequence of the storyboard, from the general overview initially towards a more deep understanding of the fine details.

Next up we get an interactive panel of small multiples allowing us to interrogate the data from the different filtered angles of each player. Even as a non-basketball aficionado you can see the patterns of players who score closer the hoop and those who are aiming to score from further away (ie. to get the precious 3 pointers).


Having selected an individual player we can then explore in greater depth and detail their point scoring attributes. As well as the side-on view showing the distance and arcs of their points scored we now get a helicopter view to show the spatial pattern around the court as well as an array of more detailed statistics.


At the bottom we then have a more aggregated perspective of their scoring-distance patterns, moving away from the figurative nature of the individual shooting arcs towards a more statistical visual treatment.


This is a great piece of work. It has focus based on a clear initial trigger point of curiosity about the Wizards’ shooting performance. It has an array of different angles to allow us to look at the data from the most relevant different angles. It filters: not showing everything, but just what is need to support this slice of analysis. It has sequence, a starting point to frame the article followed by a journey into the more statistical depths of the subject. A really nice demonstration of the importance of editorial focus.

The BBC’s ‘Your life on earth’ project

Earlier this year I profiled the success of participative visualisations, visual projects that go beyond interactive interrogation to invite the user to put themselves at the heart of the subject’s data. This piece primarily focused on the amazing impact of the New York Times’ dialect map/quiz but I also referred to some of the projects the BBC have worked on over the past few years, such as the Olympic athlete body match app. Today they have published another interesting participatory project titled ‘Your Life on Earth‘.


Developed by the team at David McCandless’ IIBStudio, this work puts your life on Earth into numerical context displaying how you and the world have changed since you were born.


The project is presented in 4 sections: ‘How you have changed’, ‘How the world has changed’, ‘How have we changed the world’ and ‘How the BBC captured it all’. It includes analysis such as how many times your heart has beaten, and how far you have travelled through space, the number of earthquakes and volcanoes that have erupted in your lifetime and how many species we’ve discovered and endangered.

Small multiple goodness: What would you do next?

Doing the rounds on social media today is an intriguing graphic by Greg Shirah of the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio. It presents 414 images of the North Pole sea ice extent arranged in a grid of 36 years (1979 to 2014) in the horizontal and the 12 months in the vertical.


Regular readers and/or followers of my general musings will already know that I am a fully paid-up member of the small multiples fan club: if I could create small multiples for every dataset I worked with, I would. With this many components maybe we could label them micro-multiples or nano-multiples?

The timing of seeing this work was quite coincidental having discussed the merits of small multiples with this many components with delegates at a training workshop yesterday. The point I was making then, which is entirely applicable here, is that as readers we have to relax into the view, not being uptight about not necessarily being able to see pixel level detail but instead accepting the bigger picture patterns that form. Even shrunk down to just 200px wide you can still detect the shrinking patterns of the late summer period in the vertical, and the subtle but observable reduction over the 35 years left-to-right. There is also a striking gap in the imagery for the months Dec ’87/Jan ’88.


What else would you do with it?

What also struck me was thinking about what more could be done. This is not any form of criticism, simply a fascination with how much further you could take this work.

I remember fondly a couple of years ago ran a visualisation ‘sprint’. This involved providing a starting visualisation and then inviting the community to develop it collaboratively in all sorts of different ways to help improve it towards an enhanced solution. More recently, Jon Schwabish launched HelpMeViz with the idea of gathering suggestions for requested improvements to sample works.

I’ve not yet incorporated this but I have been working on some new exercises in my training workshops and one of the challenges I’ve been designing involves taking a static graphic and asking groups to consider creative ways they might enhance and develop the implied starting version. The conditions are set to an ideal world context in order to get them to think creatively about different possible pathways.

For example, one thing I might do is take the shape of the largest area of arctic ice and add it to the background of each frame, probably using a subtle grayscale colour, in order to reference and compare the shrinkage in each month. This could work in the existing static form or might be better as a toggled option.

What would you do? There are plenty of folks out there with good ideas to share so, given the opportunity, what further design iterations would you incorporate? Would you change the colours? Add more annotated detail? Add layers of interactivity? Maybe create an animation? Use a fisheye zoom to see the detail of each month?

I’d be interested in hearing your ideas so drop in your comments below and let’s see the variety of creative ideas that come up!

Incidentally, here’s the high-resolution version.

Tasty visualisations from the Barcelona Data Cuisine

Data Cuisine is an experimental workshop investigating the creative possibilities at the intersection between food and data: “exploring food as a medium for data expression”. Between 10th and 13th of June, Moritz Stefaner, a man who needs no introduction, along with Dr Susanne Jaschko and chef Sebastian Velilla ran the second edition of the workshop in Barcelona (the first was in Helsinki in 2012) part of the Big Bang Data exhibition at CCCB, and in coordination with Sónar.


The focus of the experiment is to research creative ways to represent local open data in through the inherent qualities of food like color, form, texture, smell, taste, nutrition, origin etc. It is a truly multi-sensory approach to encoding data, something that I’ve highlighted previously as been a really interesting branch of the visualisation field.

The workshop is a collaborative research experience, blurring the boundaries between teachers and participants, data and food. At its end, an local data menu is created and publicly tasted.




Moritz and Susanne have just finished writing up details and publishing photos of the dishes made during this Barcelona workshop. Probably a good idea to not visit the site with an empty stomach.

Visits: A visualisation tool for location histories and photos

Visits is a new visualisation tool by Alice Thudt, Sheelagh Carpendale and Dominikus Baur that lets you browse your location histories and explore your trips and travels. The tool is based on a research project from the University of Calgary. You can find the corresponding publication here: A. Thudt, D. Baur, S. Carpendale – Visits: A Spatiotemporal Visualization of Location Histories, EuroVis 2013.


Based on an innovative interactive map-timeline the visualisation elegantly comprises a main map element that shows the bigger-picture view of the places you have visited with a series of sequenced circular map snippets that encode when and how long you have stayed in each location. You also then have the option to upload photos from Flickr to supplement the map-timeline with a visual slideshow story of your journey that can be shared with friends and family – and even complete strangers, should you wish.

You can learn more about the project here and, of course, the authors are keen to invite anyone to create their own ‘visit’ story.

Our Future, Together: Immigrants & the American economy

There is a flurry of new projects hitting the airwaves right now. Another interesting work comes from the team at Graphicacy who have been working with the The Center for American Progress to develop a videographic and interactive package to help bring visibility to the issue of the future of immigration in America and it’s impact on the economy. The project is titled ‘Our Future, Together‘.


The work commences with a short video graphic introducing the subject and framing the issue of the workers leaving the economy, those arriving and the influence immigrants and their future off-spring will have on helping to grow the economy.

Then, as you move down through the different sections, you learn more about that demographics of the current and future workforce. I really like this statement:

Just as explorers use a compass and architects a blueprint, demographers use pyramid charts to read the tea leaves: What groups are ageing or booming with youth, and what do these shapes tell us about the changing American workforce?


After the pyramid shapes of the current and future demographics, we have a tree map to compare and contrast the proportions of different ethnic groups.


Finally, we have two different portrayals of the data over time, looking at the emerging and likely trends of different generations of immigrants in the workforce and explore the ebb and flow of legal immigration via a stream graph.


As a side note, and taking a bigger picture view of the field, I wonder if this work and the Selfiecity project are representative of a developing theme of long-form visualisations. We’ve seen the boom of digital storytelling/long-form multimedia journalism (has anyone nailed a classification yet?) projects over the past 18 months (since Snow Fall) and I feel we are now seeing the influence on these multi-faceted, but specifically, visualisation projects. Time will tell I guess.

Anyway, you can learn more about this project here and for those nearby or attending, Jeff Osbourn (Creative Director) and Angeline Vuong (from CAP) will be giving a presentation about the project at the upcoming DC Interactive Documentary Summit.

Welcome to ‘Selfiecity’

Selfiecity is a newly launched project, co-ordinated by Lev Manovich and creatively directed by Moritz Stefaner alongside an ultra-talented team, investigating the style of 3200 ‘selfies’ (photgraphed self-portraits) across five cities across the world. The project was previewed at Visualized conference but has now been let loose in the wild.


The project takes on the investigation of this contemporary phenomena by exploring a variety of attributes of the subjects, the poses and the expressions.

Up first, you can explore and view the images themselves via the ImagePlots panel, filtering by city and picking different cropping/positioning techniques. Alongside this we some demographic findings from the analysis of each and every photograph.


To gather data about the characteristics of age and gender for each person in each photograph (in supplement to ‘rudimentary automatic face analysis with human judgment’) the photos were inspected by Mechanical Turk workers. You can read more about the thorough data gathering and preparation process, including the process of refining an initial 120,000 photos down to the final 3,200 used in the study.

Next up, we have the Selfiexploratory, a separate interface where you can perform custom dives into the photos based on your own filters and parameters. For those of a certain age it feels like a digital take on classic ‘Guess Who‘ board game…


Finally, we have the summary findings, providing insights such as the proportion of selfies out of the original Instagram image bank, the gender analysis by city, perceived smiliness (cheer up Moscow!) and the index of head-tiltiness (careful with those necks, Sao Paolo).


There are many things to praise in this project, which takes what would appear on the surface to be a relatively thin and superficial subject matter and successfully rummages and dissects its potential insights to the maximum.

I love the little green call-outs. The simple act of placing a revealable insight at different points throughout the site is a super device. The project is driven by curiosity (“Is it just me, or do Sao Paulo women actually tilt their heads more? Do New Yorkers or Berliners look older?”), not just opportunity (“We’ve got all these images, what shall we do with them”). It is also not just an explore-and-find project: it also incorporates explain-and-show. The creators have taken the responsibility to unearth and share their findings taking the experiment even to the realm of theory and reflection.

‘Weather Radials': New project from Raureif

It is not just the British or Seattle-ites (I understand) who have a keen interest in the Weather. Weather Radials is the latest weather-based data visualisation project from Timm Kekeritz and the team at Raureif – one of my absolute favourite agencies and creators of the excellent Partly Cloudy app.


The poster is based on a small multiples layout showing the story of four seasons of weather during 2013 across 35 cities around the globe. Each city is presented as a unique radial visualisation illustrating the weather readings and climatical characteristics across the year.

Each radial consists of 365 temperature lines with January 1 in the 12 o’clock position and the days sequencing clockwise. The closer a temperature line is positioned to the centre of a circle, the colder the minimum temperature of the day. The further out, the warmer the daily maximum temperature. The colour represents the daily mean temperature. Rainfall or snowfall is shown as a blue circle, centred on the day’s temperature line and sized according to the amount of precipitation.


The project combines quantitative data with qualitative insights: to highlight the stories behind the raw weather data, the team hand-picked nearly a hundred weather events: extreme weather conditions, temperature records, and other meteorological anecdotes of 2013. As Timm points out these include, for example, the unusually wet spring in Berlin, the prolonged heat wave in Washington, the record temperatures in Sydney and the monsoon season in Mumbai.

The data used for the visualization was collected from the Open Weather Map project, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and Weather Underground.


Beautiful A1-posters of Weather Radials are available to order through the website. Mr Stay Puft not included.