It’s not how you do it, it’s what you do

This month I’ve had several conversations about which tools should be used for creating good data visualisations. However, I am unconvinced that the right tool is the place to start. Stephen Few puts this better than I can in his blog entry about the data visualisation software Spotfire. In typical straight-talking style he reminds his readers that an analyst’s ability to understand data, find stories and represent them successfully cannot be replaced by even the most sophisticated of tools.
This month several wonderful examples of a data analyst finding the stories and the right charts have caught my attention and I’m going to finish with a couple of superb examples of unique and less traditional data vis.

Finding the right chart

The first great example of an analyst finding a story is one which has been written out explicitly by Kaiser Fung of Junk charts who took a quite confusing area chart which appears to show a decline in popularity of the boy’s name William and the statement that William was the third most popular boy’s name in 2013 and runs through stages of rewriting the chart until the full story becomes apparent.

An interactive area chart

Then this area chart by CNNMoney is perhaps the most clear use of an area chart to tell a story that I’ve ever seen – they are so often used to tell stories where the data doesn’t have strong enough features for the stacked bands to communicate the intended message (if indeed there always is an intended message). In this case, in a chart showing how ethnical diversity has increased since the end of WW2, the message is conveyed because the first area strip (ethinc origin = white), the only one which can be measured against the axis, gets smaller whilst the banded colours above it all increase in size.

Using a 3D chart appropriately

And in a theme – this exploration of the cost of federal borrowing over time is perhaps the only instance of a well-constructed 3D chart that I’ve seen to date.

As this has already been well discussed online, I’ll hand you over to Andy Kirk for a great description of why 3D is usually not a good choice, but what makes it work so well in this case.

A data vis project by post

Less professional than the examples above, but wonderfully refreshing in creativity is a year long project by Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi who have been selecting a topic per week and then visualising that topic in their life on a postcard to one another. If you’ve been reading my data vis reviews for a while then you’ll know that I like visualisation projects which require effort and commitment. This is an example of that kind.

Travelling fans

And to finish … this is easily the most striking visualisation that I’ve seen this month. It shows how fans (mainly sport &  music) travelled around the world from Jan 2012 to Dec 2014, highlighting the main events which drew them from their home countries. It’s a beautiful and fascinating watch.