amazing data visualisations
December 4, 2015

Amazing data visualisations, from simple to stunning

By Paul Laughlin

This week, the theme of data presentation has struck me again. Have you seen the effort some are putting into their data visualisations or infographics?

It’s a real encouragement to see how much more focus this need is receiving. Only a few years ago it seemed all the focus was on the volume of data & breadth of algorithms supported by the analysis software. Business users were putting up with poorly designed interfaces and data visualisation that was worse than Excel.

Perhaps one of the spinoff benefits from the ‘Big Data‘ and ‘Data Science‘ fad has been this greater focus on improved visualisation.

Effective basic Data Visualisations

One of the first examples to strike me this week is by no means beautiful, but it is effective. Recently, especially with the spread of R coding skills, interactive graphics have become more popular. Given the evidence as to the effectiveness of gamification, it makes sense to let your information consumers ‘play’ with your graphs.

Here is a deceptively simple example that shows how a little coding can transform an apparently dull bar chart into an interactive graphic that encourages exploration:

Most Common Use of Time, By Age and Sex

We saw how much time people spend on various activities during the day, and the distributions show a fair amount of variance. Sure, the average person sleeps 7 to 8 hours on an average night, but some get a lot less and others get a lot more. It’s the same way with work.

Data Visualisation Winners

Another timely contribution this week was the announcement of the winners in Kantar’s “Information is Beautiful” awards. As well as some eye-catching and inspirational submissions for this award, the categories themselves are interesting. They reveal something of the way data visualisation & information presentation have blossomed as specialisms, giving birth to a host of types of communication. Here are the winners in those categories I found most helpful:

Data Visualisation = Wall Street Journal (who have had numerous strong examples in recent years):

Vaccines and Infectious Diseases

The number of infected people, measured over 70-some years and across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, generally declined after vaccines were introduced. The heat maps below show number of cases per 100,000 people.

Infographic = @markiaaan (for his bachelor thesis!)

Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth elements are a group of metals of great economic and technological significance. They possess a great number of irreplaceable properties and play a key role especially with regard to renewable energy sources. Due to a rising demand, future supplies might be in danger.

Interactive = The Washington Post (demonstrating again the power of simple graphics made interactive)

How Ebola Spreads

This simulation shows how quickly 10 diseases, from more fatal to less fatal, could spread from one person to 100 unvaccinated people.

Motion Infographic = @neilhalloran (given the growth of video on social media, expect to see more infographic movies in future)

The Fallen of WW2

The Fallen of World War II is an interactive documentary that examines the human cost of the second World War and the decline in battle deaths in the years since the war. The 15-minute data visualization uses cinematic storytelling techniques to provide viewers with a fresh and dramatic perspective of a pivotal moment in history.

Data Journalism = Zeit Online (a category that matters if you notice how often our news is communicated in such graphics)

German Unification

In the early euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany moved quickly to erase the scars of its Cold War division. But East Germany’s legacy remains visible in statistics. Published by Zeit Online. @christianbangel

Mini and Mobile Visualisation = Eleanor Lutz (with most people browsing on mobile devices most of the time, animated GIFs are a good media)

How to Build a Human

I made this using 44 animations that are 9 frames each. That’s 396 sketches total – probably the most complicated GIF I’ve made so far. I am a little sad that I wasn’t able to show size properly though.

Free Data Viz tool = @mbostock (it has been so encouraging in recent years to see the explosion of free tools for this discipline)


D3.js is a JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data. D3 helps you bring data to life using HTML, SVG, and CSS. D3’s emphasis on web standards gives you the full capabilities of modern browsers without tying yourself to a proprietary framework, combining powerful visualization components and a data-driven approach to DOM manipulation.

Data Viz website = (I personally love Flowing Data, who came second, but both sites are great)

Visualising Data provides readers with a rich variety of content that charts the development of the data visualisation field. The site is managed and edited by data visualization specialist Andy Kirk. It was launched in February 2010 primarily as a blogging platform to share news and thoughts about the increasingly popular world of data visualisation.

Important Infographics

If businesses teams are to actually produce better data presentation themselves, they need more than software & example websites though. As ever, it comes down to people & investment in their training. Ideally, insight leaders would like to be able to recruit from a pool of talent with the analytics & presentation skills needed.

So, the obvious place to start is for students to learn this at college. Encouragingly, just last week, I was approached by a group of students at Ohio University. Within a start-up called #ImproveEDU, they have been learning the skills to produce resources like this infographic:

Data Driven Marketing | Ohio University

Marketing and big data are becoming more intertwined. View the infographic to learn how companies are using consumer data to better target their audiences..

Students learn Data Visualisation

Speaking as someone with the experience of interviewing over a hundred graduates over the years and still marking hundreds of IDM student papers, the above is rare. I still see too many marketing & analytics students with poor aesthetic or visual communication skills. If universities would embrace training their students to produce information presentations like the above, they would graduate much better prepared for today’s job market.

As another contribution on this topic though, I must just share with you the Student category Gold Award winner from Sara Piccolomini. Imagine hiring a graduate who is capable of producing a visualisation like this:

Freedom in Countries

The visualization explores the levels of freedom in countries according to Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s flagship publication, that is the standard-setting comparative assessment of global political rights and civil liberties. Each country is assigned a numerical rating – from 1 to 7 – for civil liberties, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free.

Over to you – how are your Data Visualisations?

So, what about you? Do you have any great internal data visualisations that you would be happy to share? Have you managed to hire graduates with great visualisation tools? As ever, do let us know, we love to share the love of visual data.