Global Health Mini U: Resources Round Up #1

Many thanks to the attendees at today’s Mini U session, “A Data Viz Makover: Approaches for Improving Data Visualization.” We’ve got two great round ups of data viz resources for  you, featuring work by colleagues and thought leaders who we admire and think you’ll love, and a forthcoming post with our resources and handouts from the session. Let’s use great visualizations to make sure data doesn’t get wasted!


From some of our favorite thought leaders:

  • Information is Beautiful – Great examples and ideas
  • Storytelling with Data | Cole Naussbaumer – Cole features both examples and practical templates that you can use when designing visualizations in Excel. Also consider checking out her in-person training events, which have gotten rave reviews!
  • Intentional Visualization | Stephanie Evergreen – One of the US thought leaders in data visualization, Evergreen was one of the founders of the American Evaluation Association Data Visualization & Reporting Technical Interest Group and continues to be a leading voice in the data viz space.
  • Ann Emery’s Excel Tutorials – Some of the best simple videos for improving your visualizations in Excel. Ann’s other resources on her site are also excellent, and she’s available for external presentations and workshops.
  • Policy Viz | Jon Schwabish – Full of helpful hints, Excel hacks, and data viz makeovers. Jon is also an excellent trainer on presentation design and visualizations; you can find more details on his website.
  • The Functional Art | Alberto Cairo – A leading professor on information design who has authored text books and hosted MOOCs on infographic design.


Great summary resources in data viz tools and approaches for design include:

  • Data Visualization Resource Guide – A round up of available tools for designing visualizations, as well as some great framing on why visualizing information is essential for promoting information use.
  • Data+Design eBook – One of the most comprehensive (free) guides to visualization design, coauthored by nearly 100 contributors from across the domain. Includes considerations for visualization before even undertaking your data collection processes and great step-by-step instructions on data cleaning, analysis for visualization, chart design, and more.

And for some great data viz humor and tips, check out Fresh Spectrum | Chris Lysy (to whom all credit for the awesome cartoon illustrations of this post should go).


Non-Zero Axes: the big debate

I often argue that a chart’s y axis should always start with zero. Cole Nussbaumer ( and Jon Schwabish ( recently had a conversation about this very topic and posted it at, along with some example charts. In summary, Cole and Jon agreed that column/bar charts should always start their y-axis with zero. Because our eyes focus on the height of that bar, a non-zero axis distorts the relationship between columns. Savvy viewers of the chart may also be more skeptical about the truth of our visualization when they notice that the axis doesn’t start at zero.

But what if you really need to focus on small but meaningful differences between data points? Line graphs might be ok here depending on the context, because the focus in a line graph is on the relative position of the points in space rather than the height of the bars. But the relative positions can still be overstated by a non-zero axis.

One solution Cole and Jon (and I!) like is to present 2 charts side-by-side: one that has a zero-starting y axis to show the context of the data, and another that does not start at zero, but instead zooms into the chart to show the variation within a smaller range.

Non Zero Baseline Side by Side

Listen to the whole conversation at Are there any examples in global health/development where a non-zero axis works?

Animation that Works: Visualizing the Population pyramid

Animation is a tricky thing.  It often seems to be added in to visualizations as a “bell” or “whistle” without any real meaning.  In that animated_pop_pyramidcase, it becomes a distraction, limiting focus on the data being displayed.

The Pew Research Center’s animated Population Pyramid, however, is a fabulous exception.   Years ago I tried to teach the population pyramid to a group of high schoolers.  How I wish this visualization existed then!   This animated visualization allows the reader to literally watch the population age, and simultaneously, the shifting shape from the pyramid to the rectangle.  This is far more effective and engaging than showing 20 static population pyramids in rapid succession.   The animation is also accompanied by a user-friendly explanation of demographic transformations.

Trust me, the static image above does not do justice to a population pyramid.  This animated visualization is worth a click!

Art made of data from TED

In today’s round up of great TED content, they shared a new feature on art made with data. While not always the most practical of examples, the work featured shows the beauty that can emerge through different visualization techniques and serve as great inspiration.

From TED:

Seeing patterns and creating beauty — data visualization has become an art form. Meet five artists who use spreadsheets, archives and digital data as their paints and canvas.

Check out their great interactive library here.

Online learning opportunity on data viz basics on 18 December

Bringing information alive: an introduction to data visualisation

Thursday 18 December 2014, 12 Noon GMT

From simple line charts to elaborate interactive maps, data visualisation is an increasingly popular way to convey complex information and reach audiences within and beyond academia. By communicating messages clearly, effective visualisations have the potential to alter perceptions, influence people and bring about change.

This Learning Lab introduces data visualisation. It demonstrates the value of presenting data visually and provides basic tips on how to make charts and graphs more effective. The webinar showcases some free online tools to create infographics and charts.
Rebecca Wolfe is the Research Uptake Manager for the RESYST (Resilient and Responsive Health Systems) research consortium, based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. She has been working in research communication since 2005, building up a sound knowledge and practice of data visualisation, including these examples:

Recommended reading:

Links to free programmes:


Depending on your location, the time of the Learning Lab will be:

7:00am Washington DC
12:00pm London
1:00pm Geneva
2:00pm Johannesburg
3:00pm Kampala/Mwanza
5:30pm New Delhi/Bangalore

To take part in this month’s Learning Lab, register here.

Autism and Vaccines Infographic: Form meets Function

autism_vaccines_infographicThis infographic published on Upworthy  is a great example of form meets function.  It is an advocacy piece that uses great visuals to tell a scientific story that has unfolded over the past 15 years.   There is a lot of information in here:  background on scientific studies, data on vaccine preventable deaths, attitudes about vaccines, debunking of common vaccine myths, and data supporting the decline of infant deaths with the increase in vaccinations worldwide.  With all these pieces, it could be a very dense scientific article, an op-ed, or a policy brief.  Instead, the infographic is designed with strong icons, well selected data points, and clear text.   It reads like a magazine, but with the factual punch of 15 years worth of published scientific papers.  And it’s going viral, which happens to very few scientific papers.

A space for communicators, evaluators, and other viz enthusiasts to connect, learn, and share resources.