data visualization

The visualization of data exists at the intersection of art, science, and technology. The absence of one of these inputs leaves the viewer unsatisfied in terms of both comprehension and stimulation.

It takes both hemispheres of the brain to produce a truly outstanding graphic – a mesh of logical and analytical components with intuition and creativity. Creators must know the basics of audience, tone, color, consistency, and purpose while understanding technical and scientific limitations of particular data analyses and visualization methods/tools. Creators must also be their own best critic, and be able to ask the right questions at the right time. When done correctly, a final result should bring engaged thinking and meaning to a viewer, no matter how simple the underlying objective.

That being said, I wanted to post some interesting data viz resources to hopefully inspire new creativity and awareness around data visualization. Those are listed below. As a note, some were listed in the latest issue of AmstatNews (monthly publication for the American Statistical Association). All descriptions are from the respective websites and/or other related web resources.

Flowing Data – FlowingData explores how designers, statisticians, and computer scientists are using data to understand ourselves better – mainly through data visualization. Money spent, reps at the gym, time you waste, and personal information you enter online are all forms of data. How can we understand these data flows? Data visualization lets non-experts make sense of it all.
Gallery of Data Visualization – This Gallery of Data Visualization displays some examples of the best and worst of statistical graphics, with the view that the contrast may be useful, inform current practice, and provide some pointers to both historical and current work.
Gapminder – Gapminder is a non-profit venture promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels.
Graph Jam – Music & culture for people who love charts. Some recent posts include “Ways I spent my time while playing Oregon Trail in elementary school” and “Things that the Pinball Wizard does”.
IBM Many Eyes – As part of IBM’s Collaborative User Experience research group, the Many Eyes lab explores information visualizations that help people collectively make sense of data.
Information Aesthetics – Inspired by Lev Manovich’s definition of “information aesthetics”, this weblog explores the symbiotic relationship between creative design and the field of information visualization. More specifically, it collects projects that represent data or information in original or intriguing ways.
Junk Charts – Recycling chartjunk as junk art.
Marumushi Newsmap – Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News 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 goal 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.
NameVoyager/NameMapper – This is the online home of Laura Wattenberg, author of the bestselling book The Baby Name Wizard and creator of award-winning tools that have helped the world look at baby names in a whole new way. Check NameVoyager and NameMapper which show temporal and geographic representations of any name in a simple, intuitive interface.
Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena – Easy to spend lots of time here. These pages demonstrate visual phenomena, and ‘optical’ or ‘visual’ illusions. The latter is more appropriate, because most effects have their basis in the visual pathway, not in the optics of the eye.
Prefuse – Prefuse is an extensible software framework for helping software developers create interactive information visualization applications using the Java programming language. It can be used to build standalone applications, visual components embedded in larger applications, and web applets. Prefuse intends to greatly simplify the processes of representing and efficiently handing data, mapping data to visual representations (e.g., through spatial position, size, shape, color, etc), and interacting with the data. Flare is particularly cool.
Tableau Software Blog – Official blog for Tableau Software, a data visualization software company headquartered in Seattle. I’ve used Tableau Desktop for a few years now and can’t live without it now.
The Work of Edward Tufte and Graphics Press – Official Edward Tufte site. He is an American statistician and Professor Emeritus of statistics, information design, interface design, and political economy at Yale University. He has been described by some as “the da Vinci of Data”.
UC Berkeley Visualization Papers – A listing of papers from the visualization lab at UC Berkeley, from today back to 1995.
Visualization of Complex Networks – This site intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project’s main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web.

Well-Formed Data, Elastic Lists Demo – This is a demonstration of the “elastic list” principle for browsing multi-faceted data structures. There are additional options to create sparkline charts to show the temporal aspects of the data.
Papers / Presentations
7 Things You Should Know About Data Visualization – EduCause Learning Initiative
Artistic Data Visualization: Beyond Visual Analytics – Viégas & Wattenberg, IBM Research
Designing Great Visualizations – Jock Mackinlay, Tableau Software
Milestones in the History of Data Visualization – Friendly & Denis, York University

the visual toolbox

I thoroughly enjoyed Jock Mackinlay’s recent paper on “Designing Great Visualizations”. He contextualizes his insights with a good historical background of the true pioneers such as William Playfair, Dr. John Snow, Charles Minard, and Jacques Bertin as well as more recent theoretical and technological drivers such as Edward Tufte, Ben Schneiderman, Chris Stolte, and Mackinlay himself.

I’m in total agreement that the visual toolbox grows with a better understanding of data fundamentals and software extensibility. His explanations of data types (nominal, ordinal, and quantitative) and possible representations of data (position, length, area, angle, time, space, shape, color) help explore the complexities of human perception and data analysis. To take it further, I included an image describing a good 4-step personal framework for applying my own visual toolbox.

For me, this read is good timing too. As I’m currently reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind there is an interesting connection between those intricacies of perception, visualization, analysis, and the study of your brain’s hemispherical alignment (here’s one test to see what you might be). How do left brainers interpret an image, as opposed to a right brainer? Based on Pink’s book, the delivery, interpretation, and outcome might all be different. Good stuff.