Tag Archives: data viz

On spurious correlations

When this came through my inbox this morning, all I could think was, “How have I never found this blog before?” Harvard Business Review has a new article – “Beware Spurious Correlations” – that features the absurd (like an example of how iPhone sales correlates visually with U.S. deaths from falling down stairs) and the serious implications of what that means for those visualizing data and inferring unproven causal relationships.

The teaser from HBR:

“We all know the truism “Correlation doesn’t imply causation,” but when we see lines sloping together, bars rising together, or points on a scatterplot clustering, the data practically begs us to assign a reason. We want to believe one exists.

Statistically we can’t make that leap, however. Charts that show a close correlation are often relying on a visual parlor trick to imply a relationship. Tyler Vigen, a JD student at Harvard Law School and the author of Spurious Correlations, has made sport of this on his website, which charts farcical correlations—for example, between U.S. per capita margarine consumption and the divorce rate in Maine.”

Read the article for the full explanation, but all to say, be thoughtful about how you visualize your data – don’t fall prey to misleading with charts and graphs.

Applying human centered design to data visualization

Jeff Knezovich over at On Think Tanks posted some great reflections from his recent trip to the Cartanga Data Festival, breaking down why data viz isn’t just a science but also an art. Data science alone, with its emphasis on statistics, code, and often technology, can’t develop the kind of simple yet artful visualizations that we find on feature blogs like Information is Beautiful or in reports to Ministries of Health that effectively advocate for new health facilities.

One of the highlights of his post was insight into how he approaches data visualization training and design as a discipline that requires expertise in research, technology, design, and communication.  Jeff unpacks (with some great resource links!) the importance of design from a visual and graphical sense, but I would argue that data viz design requires a certain level of understanding of the human experience of interacting with information. Who is your audience? How do they interact with information? What is their level of numeric literacy? How much do they care about the information you’re trying to communicate?

My team has been exploring human centered design (HCD) methods through our work on the Innovations for Maternal, Newborn,, and Child Health Initiative*. At the core, HCD focuses on developing an empathy with the beneficiaries of a program. In visualization design, identifying an audience for your visualization and keeping them at the center of your design process is key to creating something that makes information meaningful.

Applying these principles of design need not be onerous or feel intimidating for data visualization designers (though the facilitation guides and experts in this space can go deep in more involved program design). Next time you’re crafting something visual from a data set, think about these three things:

  1. Who am I creating this for? As yourself this question repeatedly throughout the design process, not just at the very beginning. Understand both what they say they need from your analysis, but also their latent needs and expectations. If you’re working on a more complex project, like developing a dashboard, creating personas for your different users could be very helpful.
  2. Prototype (sketch!), test, and iterate. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your users or at the very least your colleagues throughout the design process. And don’t be afraid to make changes!
  3. How will my audience use this product? How will your audience feel when they see your graph, chart, infographic, video, or dashboard? How they will interpret and use the data analysis you’ve presented? These considerations are key to ensuring your visualizations are used to promote evidence-led decision making.

Have you deliberately applied principles of human centered design in your data viz design? Share your experiences & learning in the comments!

*The Innovations Initiative is led by Concern Worldwide and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. JSI serves as the global research partner for the project.

A Round Up of Thought Provoking Viz from #ttdatavis

Direct from Jeff Knezovich via the Evidence-Based Policy for Development Network (EBPDN):

I’m pleased to let you know that earlier this week, at the Cartagena Data Festival in Colombia, On Think Tanks launched the 2014–15 compilation of the #ttdatavis competition. The compilation, and the competition more widely, aims to inspire think tanks and similar organisations by showcasing real world examples of impactful data visualisation. It also contains useful resources and ‘how tos’ to support think tanks to develop their own visualisations.

This year’s compilation is available as for free download as an interactive eBook (408 MB), which is also available in the iBooks store, as well as a downloadable PDF (100 MB). It includes 46 entries, which emerged from 31 think tanks spanning 19 countries around the globe.

The topics of the visualisations cover a lot of ground. The second round of our competition coincided with the COP20 climate negotiations in Peru, which meant we had quite a few focused on climate change and the environment.

Think tanks may have similar goals and objectives, but this competition clearly demonstrates the wide array of approaches think tanks have toward meeting those goals. We saw both static and interactive visualisations, to be sure.

But beyond that, some took a clear message-driven approach while others developed tools that let the user understand the data more clearly. And while some sought to tell stories about their research, others used visualisations to increase explain government actions (or proposed actions) pushing greater transparency and accountability. And others found success by combining otherwise disparate data sets.

It’s a broad collection that any think tank can find inspiration in.

Following last year’s successful competition, we made several changes to how it was organised this year. Most importantly, we divided the rounds based on the type of entry. The first round was open to static visualisations. The second round was for interactive visualisations. And the third and final round was for the best example of a data visualisation as part of a communication strategy.

We also opened up the competition to any think tank around the globe.

The final resources section includes ‘how tos’, which combine video, images and text, on three main areas: data collection, data cleaning and manipulation and data visualisation. Tools explored include Import.io, Google Drive and Google FusionTables, Excel, Tableau and CartoDB.

Global Health Mini U Resource Round Up #2

For those who have been eagerly awaiting resources that we used in our session, here they are, along with a few bonuses!

From our activities:

To learn about how storyboarding can help you visualize data as a team, check out the this summary from Amanda Makulec (JSI). Participants in the session talked about how the process helped to underscore the importance of defining your audience up front in order to drive what you pick as your key messages, and that the exercise was a great way to collaborate with a team to create a common vision for a visualization product.

For more on simple data viz best practices, check out this Building Your Viz Checklist from Erica Nybro (DHS Program) that can help you evaluate your visualization. It’s amazing how much you can improve a graph or chart with a few simple tweaks like decluttering by deleting excess lines and tick marks or using color strategically.

Bonus! And in case you’re interested in more resources, check out our Love Your Data and Free Viz Tools handouts from earlier presentations. For a more detailed deep dive on viz, check out the Data+Design eBook.

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!

datawasted

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.

too-longreports

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).

Accidentally-Tiny

Data+Design: the data viz guide you always wished you had

I’m (personally) excited to announce that the new eBook Data+Design officially launched yesterday! As one of the man writers for the project, I’m thrilled to see the beautiful, practical, engaging final product go live and hopefully be a great resource to global health and development professionals around the world.

DataPlusDesign

“A simple introduction to preparing and visualizing information,” this is the resource that I’ve always wanted but never had at my fingertips to share when colleagues ask for a good overview on data viz. The book walks through the full process of developing great visualizations that transform numbers into meaningful information, from collecting your data to thinking about how to best communicate your data story to building your chart and making it sing. As you read it, you’ll find stories, examples, and helpful how to’s and how-not-to’s that anyone can learn from.

The book hits on data cleaning, infographics, chart design, and is beautifully designed thanks to the volunteer contributions from graphic and web designers who helped make the PDF and web-based versions look stunning. The masterminds behind the whole project were Trina Chiasson (Infoactive) and Dyanna Gregory, and the final product is the work of more than 50 different collaborators who offered time and support writing, editing, managing timelines, and doing the design for the book itself.

As an evolving resource, the team is actively seeking feedback and ideas for new chapters, so take a look at the resource and share your comments.

The Chart Choosing Flowchart Revisited

JuiceLabs_ChartChooser

We’ve gotten great feedback from many of you about how useful the choose-your-chart-adventure flowchart has been, and wanted to point out an evolved tool available from Juice Analytics.

The tool is designed to  help you choose your chart type, and to provide Excel and Powerpoint templates to make it quick and easy to create and customize charts and graphs with your own custom data.

There’s nothing I love more than simple tools that demystrify data viz. If you find the tool useful or have a great example from using it, let us know in the comments below!