November 10, 2016

This year’s best Data Visualisations, to inspire you

By Paul Laughlin

data visualisationsWell designed data visualisations can be so powerful.

They can help simplify the complex, enable leaders to see evidence for a key decision themselves & make the case for the power of analytics.

I was reminded of that latter point when listening to Jim Anning, from British Gas Connected Homes (Hive) present in Barcelona. Through a couple of impactful simple visualisations, Jim made the case for the need for Hive product & the insights it could offer into customers (to inspire future products or services).

Whilst I was still reflecting on how effective some of those visualisations were for Jim, my email alerted me to the results of a contest which provided some great examples last year.

Information is Beautiful Awards 2016

The Information is Beautiful Awards, run by Kantar Information, are a great opportunity to showcase the best in data visualisation.

As mentioned in last year’s post about these awards, their range of categories also provides a great way to reflect on the breadth of approaches now possible.

Anyway, without further ado, onto this year’s winners. There are so many listed in those multiple categories (with gold, silver & bronze for each) that it would take too long to review them all. Instead, I will use this post to highlight the ones that impressed me & I felt could help inspire you as customer insight leaders.

Best Data Visualisations

The overall data visualisation that impressed me most was this one from FiveThirtyEight (which only claimed bronze). It is simple & makes powerful use of limited interactivity to step viewers through the data on gun deaths in America. It’s chilling, but also educational & surprisingly effective way of directly exploring counts. A technique that many insight teams could look to follow:

Gun Deaths In America

The data in this interactive graphic comes primarily from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Multiple Cause of Death database, which is derived from death certificates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is widely considered the most comprehensive estimate of firearm deaths.


Turning to the visual style of infographics, these awards again highlighted a number of impressive examples. This time I agreed with the Gold winner.

This detailed infographic from “The Missing Migrants” project, combined both a beautiful illustrated map (with effective display of overlaid data points) and additional graphics to provide drill-downs on other dimensions. It is busy & won’t suit all corporate cultures, but as an infographic to have displayed for people to view multiple times, it works well. An interesting example of crafted detailed infographics:

THE MISSING MIGRANTS MAP – Corriere della Sera

‘The Missing Migrants Map’ is the visual representation of all the incidents recorded by “The Missing Migrants Project”. This visualization is based on the data tracked by the “Missing Migrants Project”, a joint initiative of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) and Media and Communications Division (MCD).

Innovative Data Viz projects

This category provided a number of interesting new ideas & collaborations. However, perhaps the most boundary-crossing innovation was the Gold winner. Data that is literally good enough to eat!

Through the “Data Cuisine Workshop” collaborative project, they travel around the world representing local open data through local food. An interesting concept with some very tasty looking examples. If you are looking for a new innovative way to engage your C Suite, could this approach be on the menu?

Data Journalism

With so many of the best examples of data visualisation coming from broadsheet newspaper sites, it’s appropriate to have a category focussed on data journalism. Equivalent to the challenge for customer insight leaders, journalists need to strike that balance of telling a compelling story & staying true to the data.

Here again, the Gold winner is my preferred example. In this example, Buzzfeed, use an interactive animation on top of a map to show spy planes covering US cities. As well as that engaging section, they also embed through the copy, different animated sections (zooming into parts of original visualisation) to bring out key points:

Spies in the Skies

America is being watched from above. Government surveillance planes routinely circle over most major cities – but usually take the weekends off.

Interactive Data Visualisation

There were many strong examples here, as it seems to be a real focus in recent years. However, to my mind, one of the key goals of interactive visualisations is to enable viewers to test & learn by trying different scenarios/inputs etc.

From that perspective, I favour one that only achieved an ‘honourable mention’. In this interactive simulation, with clear & simple illustration, Daniel Smilkov & Shan Carter predict the outcomes of different neural networks. To help the viewer better understand how neural networks work, you can modify most aspects (data characteristics, types of inputs, number of neurons & layers, noisiness of data etc). A clever educational tool to bring to life a complex mathematical model:

Neural Network Playground

Interactive neural network widget visualises outcomes of machine learning according to different parameters.

Data VIz website

Because Data Visualisation isn’t just for Christmas, or even just for these annual awards, it’s important to recognise those websites that share examples all year round. These can be treasure chests of examples & ideas for analytics teams.

So, I was delighted to see a site I use regularly be awarded the Gold Award. Congratulations to Nathan Yau for his excellent work with the Flowing Data website. Regular fresh & quality content make him a worthy winner:


Strength in Numbers

Which work for you?

I hope that personal perspective & some winning examples was interesting.

To check out all the winners & make your own judgements on the many other awards, you can explore the full breakdown on the dedicated website:

Information is Beautiful Awards

The Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards celebrate excellence and beauty in data visualizations and infographics.

I know that I’ll be back next year to see the brightest & best data visualisations celebrated.

Let us know which work for you or any great examples you have seen elsewhere. Plus, keep thinking how best to visualise your data.