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Beyond Infographics: 12 Ways to Visualize Data

As we gear up for our upcoming Data Visualization Workshop (January 7-8, 2013), we wanted so share a great resource, courtesy of guest blogger Patrick Winfield. He's compiled a useful list of some of the freshest tools to translate complex information and data spreadsheets into beautiful, easy-to-understand visual graphics. Read on for more details, and if you're feeling inspired, join us in January 2013 to learn how you can start including these projects into your storytelling.

Guest Blogger: Patrick Winfield 

It has been said that we now live in the Industrial Revolution of Data, a global village where every action and reaction are being captured and stored. Google alone serves over 3 billion searches per day.

Interpreting this data has the potential to improve the world, whether it’s by way of understanding our planet in relationship to the galaxy it resides in, optimizing school systems, or finding the perfect take-out for dinner in your neighborhood.

New tools and techniques allow information to continuously be presented in a much more effective way. Both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand to convey ideas effectively.

A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. This is the essence of data visualization, but this metaphor lacks a bit of depth. Here is a quote by David McCandless on the beauty of data visualization:

pull quote 

Let’s look beyond the basic pie charts and infographics to explore other techniques and tools that can help visualize data. Who knows whether one of these tools or techniques will become as popular as the infographic (IG) is today.

 

Newsmap

 newsmap

Newsmap’s objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media.

Method
News aggregator

Explanation
Aggregators are based on algorithms pulling the content from a range of either automatically selected or manually added sources.

Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information.

Newsmap’s objective takes that a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures, and within news segments in constant change around the globe.


Voyage

voyage 

One drawback of Voyage is the navigation can potentially be too slick or confusing for every user to grasp right away. That feeling of being ‘lost in the data’ starts to happen, like you are floating in space.

Method
RSS feed reader / News aggregator

Explanation
Voyage is an RSS feed reader that pulls together feeds from your favorite sites in a ‘gravity’ style simulation, allowing you to zoom in and out from a timeline.

 

Wordle

 Wordle

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Method
Tag clouds

Explanation
A visual representation of text data, typically used to depict keyword metadata (tags) on websites, or to visualize free form text. Tags are usually single words, and the importance of each tag is indicated by font size or color.

 

Time Magazine

Time Magazine

Using a map of the U.S. and visual hills as the main design element (spikes) to emphasize density in the American population based on geography.

Method
Map/Graphics

 

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist?

drake equation

This interactive IG works from an equation that American astronomer Frank Drake formulated in the 1960s. Visualizations no longer adhere to a static format; they can be interactive in nature. Complex information paired with minimal design to create an effective interactive experience.

Method
Interactive IG

Explanation
Created With HTML, CSS, and Javascript, allowing the user to manipulate the content in some way or another.

 

Nutrient Contents – Parallel Coordinates

 Nutrient Contents

An interactive visualization of the USDA Nutrient Database. You can isolate certain groups and elements as well as how the visuals are displayed.

Method
JavaScript, HTML, SVG and CSS

 

amCharts

 amCharts

Simple and basic form. Can used for visualizing any date-based data.

Method
JavaScript/HTML5 charts

Explanation
Line, column, candlestick, OHLC, step line and area – all these types of charts can be displayed with this application. The features include a very comfortable scrollbar, data grouping into longer periods, displaying of data at irregular intervals, etc. Both JavaScript and Flash versions included.

 

The State of the Internet

 vimeo

JESS3 designed and animated this for the JESS3 lecture at AIGA Baltimore in Feb 2010.

Method
Video

Explanation
Video captures the viewers attention with both audio and visuals. Video has a linear timeline, and must be engaged for the full duration to be used to its fullest potential. However video has a higher clickthrough rate than plain text.

 

Opinion Cloud

 Opinion Cloud

Tag-cloud approach to opinions.

Method
Appinions opinion extraction technology /  Infomous text visualization

Explanation
This “opinion cloud” aggregates all user commentary by readers of The Economist, and creates relevant connections between emergent topics, regions, and countries.

 

Visual Thesaurus

 Visual Thesaurus

Method
Thinkmap® software

Explanation
The Visual Thesaurus is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus that allows you to discover the connections between words in a visually captivating display.


Circos

Circos

One drawback to Circos is that it relies on specific requirements that will need to be installed or downloaded by both creator and end user, making it less accessible.

Method
Circos is free software, licensed under GPL.

Explanation
Circos is a software package for visualizing data and information. It visualizes data in a circular layout — this makes Circos ideal for exploring relationships between objects or positions. Circos was initially designed for displaying genomic data (particularly cancer genomics and comparative genomics) and molecular biology.


The Shape of Song

 Shape of Song

What does music look like? This custom software opens up the idea to representing information based on audio into visual elements.

Method
Java, with an applet to handle user interface and visualization, and a servlet used to read MIDI files from the web.

Explanation
The custom software in this work draws musical patterns in the form of translucent arches, allowing viewers to see–literally–the shape of any composition available on the Web. The resulting images reflect the full range of musical forms, from the deep structure of Bach to the crystalline beauty of Philip Glass.

***

The way we view content online is changing every day and in some cases, it is changing with every click of the refresh button. Being able to draw insights from various data sets is not just a job for specialized analysts; anyone can now have access to the tools to interpret data.

Infographics, data maps, graphs, and the examples listed above are just some of the techniques in use presently to reveal the truth behind a certain data set.

With the creation of these new tools, the ability to create a visualization of data has become less difficult. What does remain difficult, however, is the creation of a good visualization.

What are some tools and techniques you are seeing emerge to display or interpret data?

Click here to read more articles from Patrick Winfield.