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).
I often argue that a chart’s y axis should always start with zero. Cole Nussbaumer (storytellingwithdata.com) and Jon Schwabish (policyviz.com) recently had a conversation about this very topic and posted it at storytellingwithdata.com, 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.
Listen to the whole conversation at storytellingwithdata.com. Are there any examples in global health/development where a non-zero axis works?
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 case, 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!
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.
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.
This 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.
This blog post from The Atlantic summarizes the work of Vintage Visualizations who have reproduced Civil-War era visualizations from the Library of Congress. These visualizations rival some of the top quality data viz examples from today, and they were done by hand. They represent the perfect data viz balance between form and function.