I wrote this originally for students studying CS at Burton High School in San Francisco, but figured I’d post on Medium to have the chance to share with a wider audience as well.
Data visualization means very different things to different people in different contexts.
When you think of “data viz”, do you think of a pie chart or map used in a presentation on the floor of Congress, the charts in your math textbook, a piece of art in SF Moma, the futuristic displays we see in movies, the chart in your phone showing the amount of data you’ve used in the last month, or the graphs in the Economist or the New York Times?
We also often utilize visualizations without thinking of them as visualizations, like a heartbeat on a monitor in a hospital, charts of stock prices, a weather forecast, or the user interface you use when comparing prices/times/duration of plane tickets online.
Below are 10 different data visualizations that can be found online which exemplify some of the variety in data visualization. They vary in visual form, intended use, and the type of data they display. As you look at them, enjoy them for themselves. And, consider how each visualization’s visual form, presumed purpose for being created, and the type of data they display relate to each other.
Creator: Eric Rosten and Blacki Migliozzi, published in Bloomberg Businessweek
This animated news graphic compares factors that are proposed to be contributing to global warming to help readers to engage meaningfully with the data, and understand the story of global warming through the data. It’s part of a larger story.
Creator: Nadieh Bremer
Visualizations can be both beautiful and informative.
Creator: Gregor Aisch, Amanda Cox, and Kevin Quealy of the New York Times
In this story, readers have to draw their best guess at the graph showing the relationship between parent’s income and children attending college. After they draw the graph, they can see the true data.
Creator: Cameron Beccario, inspired by Fernanda and Martin Wattenberg’s US wind map.
This map of the world shows the data about wind from the last few hours. Note: click on “earth” to switch to different types of metrics. It shows a large amount of data at one time.
Creator: Mike Bostock
This set of visualizations compares, contrasts, and explains different CS algorithms and randomness (or lack there-of).
Creator: XKCD — Randall Monroe
Visualizations don’t need to be interactive to be powerful or impactful. I love the use of scale and aspect ratio in this cartoon about global warming. Like the Bloomberg piece above, it shows the parts of the graph when “nothing is happening” to make the importance of when something is changing much more clear.
Creator: Neil Halloran
The Fallen uses visualization, narration, and animation to tell the story of the people who died in World War II.
Creator: Me (Zan Armstrong)
Sometimes the same data can (and should) be visualized in different ways, for different purposes. Many charts are created by someone as part of their analysis, and are never shared. Or, are used successfully to identify an interesting aspect of the data that is then shared in a different form (a story, presentation, or in a graphic designed for communication rather than analysis). Charts for analysis will look scrappier and less polished than charts designed for communication, just as the notes we take for ourselves while interviewing a source or working through a science problem would look like a work-in-progress compared to a final publication.
I created the graph shown below while analyzing CDC data about the time of data babies are born. I ended up using a version of this chart in my talk on Everything is Seasonal.
Creators: Nadieh Bremer and I (Zan Armstrong)
Later, I revisited this data in collaboration with Nadieh Bremer to create a graphic science article for Scientific American.
Mortality of the British army : at home and abroad, and during the Russian war, as compared with the mortality of the civil population in England
Creator: Florence Nightingale
Impactful data visualization doesn’t have to be made on a computer, or made recently. This set of visualizations created by Florence Nightingale convinced the Queen of England and the military to take sanitary conditions more seriously, as far more soldiers were dying of illness than on the battlefield.
Creators: Nicky Case and Vi Hart
Visualizations can help us model our world through simulations. In this case, the simulations helps create a way to talk about and think about complex social issues.