Visualising data; the good, the bad and the quirky

The data’s everywhere, but can we make sense of it? Here are some data visualisation approaches and examples – how to do it, and how definitely not to.

This article suggests the young folks are demanding better presentations of statistical data because of Google or Wikipedia or something. Sounds fishy. Surely us old folks appreciate good design too?

Data visualization drives the era of information activism
Having grown up with the web, millennials are used to having access to all the information they want with just a simple finger tap on a screen. As millennials enter the workforce, they are bringing these expectations into the office, behaving less as data consumers and much more as information activists.

But how far should we go in leading the horses to the water?

Narration and exploration in visualization
What should we emphasize when designing a visualization? Should we explain the data, perhaps through a narration, or should we let readers explore the data at will?

Here’s an example of how an interactive presentation not only helps with a story but can spur you into looking for your own.

What happens when a newspaper editor and a data-viz whiz team up to tell stories
With two wins behind them, Rob and Daniel are already discussing future collaborations—perhaps something with sports or crime data. The idea is to tell compelling data stories that have a longer shelf life. (“If you put time into creating something like this, you want people to see it over a certain scale of time,” says Daniel.)

I do like these images, though. Not sure how replicable this approach is, but it works well here.

These playful, funny 3D printed infographics can liven up any data
Instead of flicking hastily to the next page, your gaze can’t help but linger on the adventures of the miniature figures scaling, swinging from or exploring the plastic pieces.

But here are the real gems. Bar pies? Caramel latte football fields?

BestWorstViz contest result
As with last month’s graphiti contest, picking a winner was ever so hard with lots of wonderfully bad work heading my way. The submissions generally fell into two different camps: (1) the most blatant, inelegant in-your-face explosions of design awfulness, and (2) the more subtly deceptive “wolf in sheep’s clothing” designs. My judgments were based on the degree of violation against each of my three key principles: Trustworthy, accessible and elegant.

But who could possibly hate Excel?

This tool makes it stupid simple to turn data into charts
Here’s something handy for people who hate Excel. Venngage, the company that lets you make infographics with the click of (a few) buttons, recently launched a new product called Beam. Beam does for charts what Venngage does for infographics as a whole. Which is to say, it makes the process of transforming data into useful visuals very, very easy.

And they look really spidery too

Another great Excel article from Mynda Treacy​, this time about her​​ views on radar charts. It’s safe to say she’s not a fan. Some great points here about data visualisation and how to get messages across. I’ve never used a radar chart, but that’s more because I’ve never really understood them.

Excel alternatives to radar charts
Radar charts display data in a circular fashion, which is the opposite of the straight line comparisons we’re able to subconsciously perform. This means we have to work hard to make any comparisons and as a result we’re likely to make mistakes in our assumptions.​

She mentions this article ​by Stephen Few, who weighs in further but does recognise when these radar charts might have their uses.

Keep radar graphs below the radar – far below (pdf)
This one advantage motivates me to ease up just a bit on my repugnance toward radar graphs.

Excel and the cat’s whiskers

Excel Box and Whisker Diagrams

Excel box and whisker diagrams (box plots)
Box and Whisker Charts (Box Plots) are commonly used in the display of statistical analyses. Microsoft Excel does not have a built in Box and Whisker chart type, but you can create your own custom Box and Whisker charts, using stacked bar or column charts and error bars. This tutorial shows how to make box plots, in vertical or horizontal orientations, in all modern versions of Excel.

Rain has fallen, generally cloudy

The changing shape of UK weather: Historic maps show 142 years of rain, sun and wind
Thousands of weather maps throughout the past 142 years have been unearthed showing how fashion and technology have drastically changed the diagrams. The wealth of maps are largely drawn by hand and feature ink notes and tea cup rings as the Met Office did not draw maps on computers until 1981.

rain-has-fallen-1

The shapes of stories

Shape of StoriesYes, I’m aware I’m linking to yet another brain pickings article, but I don’t care as I love this one. it’s Kurt Vonnegut drawing the shapes of stories, which leads him on to discussing the difficulties with distinguishing good news and bad news. And there’s a great video too.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News

Worrying statistics?

Worrying statistics

Documenting the curious increase in claimed family deaths — especially of grandmothers — during tests season at college
This gem is from “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” by Mike Adams (The Connecticut Review, 1990). Adams’ hilarious explanation for this phenomenon:

“Only one conclusion can be drawn from these data. Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam. Naturally, the worse the student’s record is, and the more important the exam, the more the family worries; and it is the ensuing tension that presumably causes premature death.”
www.easternct.edu/~adams/Resources/Grannies.pdf

From the leaders of Google’s data visualization research group

HINT.FM / Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg
As technologists we ask, Can visualization help people think collectively? Can visualization move beyond numbers into the realm of words and images? As artists we seek the joy of revelation. Can visualization tell never-before-told stories? Can it uncover truths about color, memory, and sensuality?

Managing time, visualising proportions

Testing time-management strategies
I asked a half-dozen executive coaches to help me pick the most widely used time-management systems—not just software tools or high-tech to-do lists, but behavioral-change techniques that help people get organized, clarify thinking and increase output. Then, I tried out for a week each of the three methods they mentioned most often—including one that involved a ticking plastic tomato.

The Pomodoro Technique™
The Pomodoro Technique™ is a way to get the most out of time management. Turn time into a valuable ally to accomplish what we want to do and chart continuous improvement in the way we do it.

Anything that uses lists, little boxes, ‘x’s and apostrophe markers can only be a good thing, right?

9 ways to visualize proportions – a guide
With all the visualization options out there, it can be hard to figure out what graph or chart suits your data best. This is a guide to make your decision easier for one particular type of data: proportions.

The pie, the donut, the stacked area, the stacked bar, the treemap, the voronoi, the nightingale (my new favourite) and the everything, all with links to real-world examples.