“A good data visualisation will allow its users to view both simple and complex datasets at a glance and see abnormalities, dependencies and trends that would not have been apparent in tables.”
Nadieh Bremer, Deloitte

Humans are visual beings. We are good at spotting graphic patterns, but typically find gathering insights from large tables of numbers challenging and time consuming. Computers are exceptionally good at dealing with numeric data, so it is logical to use them to process the data into formats we can utilise effectively. In this post I aim to whet your appetite with excellent examples, introduce a useful technology and provide further resources that may help inspire your own data visualisations.

 

Examples of Digital Data Visualisation

 

Ventusky quickly conveys an overview of the current weather conditions locally or globally. The lines used to represent wind speed and direction are particularly effective. It combines meteorological data from around the world and presents it visually so that we can understand it in an instant.

Ventusky map showing temperature and wind speed and direction
Ventusky

 

 

Bloomberg have produced an animated data visualisation telling a story about What’s really warming the world? It makes its case by introducing the data piece by piece and providing a running commentary. It makes a powerful impact, which would be lost if the data was presented tables. While the piece could have been produced as a video, integrating it with the webpage allows sections to be easily skipped over or returned to.

Screenshot 'What's really warming the world' showing that the sun's temperature variations have little effect on the Earth's overall climate
What’s really warming the world – Bloomberg

 

Digital data visualisation can allow users to explore data themselves, rather showing predetermined outcomes. Vision of Humanity’s Global peace index aggregates multiple specific indicators to provide a heat-map overview of how peaceful each country is. Countries can be selected and directly compared, and its timeline gives access to historic data. The specific peace indicators can be explored individually to reveal interesting insights.

Animation of Global Peace Index webapp
Global Peace Index – Vision of Humanity

 

Information can be made more tangible through data visualisation. For instance, scale can be hard to comprehend clearly with numbers. This is particularly true for extremely small or large objects. Universcale helps people grasp the sizes of things that they cannot compare side by side in the real world.

Animation of the Universcale web app
Universcale – Nikon

 

D3.js (Data Driven Documents)

 

Recently I have been working on a couple projects using the D3.js JavaScript Library. I like the way it focuses on binding the data to HTML DOM elements, allowing complete control of the styling via CSS. How you chose to manipulate the data and make it interactive is left open to your imagination. If you are familiar with jQuery you will notice similarities with D3. I have been enjoying exploring how it can be used to create circle packing visualisations.

D3 can be used for the main chart types, and also many more unusual ones. It can be used to create Sankey/alluvial diagrams to show flow in a network. For instance, the flow of power from production to consumption or how few of the bills filed in Georgia were made into laws.

It also can be used to create chord diagrams that are either straightforward like Uber rides between neighbourhoods example or more involved such as this visualisation of refugee migration flows.

Animation of Refugee dynamics
Refugee dynamics using D3

 

Even a simple hierarchical tree diagram (dendrogram) can be brought to life using D3. This example D3 dendrogram repositions as you click its nodes to expand or collapse them. It can be zoomed using the mouse wheel.

D3 – Example hierarchical tree diagram (dendrogram)

 

Next steps

 

I hope you can see how effective digital data visualisation can be and are starting to consider how your organisation could benefit from it. You may want to consider some less-common yet very useful data visualisation types or get inspiration from these creative and unusual examples of data visualisation.