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Data Visualization and Infographic Design

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Entries in interview (13)

Monday
Jul112016

PopWaves: Making of the Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music

PopWaves: Making of the Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music

This is one of my favorite designs! PopWaves is a fantastically detailed, hand-drawn poster that visualizes over 60 years (1955-2015) of the evolution of Pop and Rock music. It's a huge poster, measuring in at 89" x 24", over 7ft long! Released in 2015, PopWaves is a massive update to the original Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music design by Reebee Garofalo and printed posters are distributed by HistoryShots. When it was released, I sent Reebee and Larry Gormley (HistoryShots) a number of questions about creating the poster.

60 years of music! 1200 music artists! 75 genres! Two years in the making. PopWaves picks up where the classic Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music left off; it maps the top pop artists of each year since rock ‘n’ roll began by style. Bolded titles and genre boundaries show the flow and interrelationships among styles; artist names and dashed arrows represent moments of peak popularity. 

Meticulously researched, reviewed by experts, and subjectively categorized, this humongous, carefully hand-lettered, 7 foot long beast of a chart will provide you with endless hours of musical memories and arguments with your friends. Perfect for music lovers and owners of large walls everywhere.

 

PopWaves: Making of the Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music close upPopWaves: close up


PopWaves: Making of the Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music ZoomedEven closer!  

Reebee Garofalo with his complete designReebee Garofalo with his complete design

Cool Infographics: What were your thoughts and reasoning behind the new PopWaves poster design?

Reebee Garofalo: The original version of what is now called PopWaves grew from my love of pin striping on cars and my desire to capture the contours and flow of the mid-20th century pop/rock/soul market in graphic form, as part of the research I was doing for Rock 'N' Roll is Here to Pay: The History and Politics of the Music Industry by Steve Chapple and myself. I first got the idea from a rough drawing that Charlie Gillett did on the cover of the 1970 paperback edition of his seminal The Sound of the City. It first appeared as a three-page fold-out called Marketing Trends and Stylistic Patterns in Pop/Rock Music in early printings of the book, which was published in 1977, (and then was reduced to smaller sizes in subsequent printings). This is the version that appears in Ed Tufte’s Visual Explanations.

         

Original chart: Click to see in detail

Reebee Garofalo: In 1979, I was commissioned by NBC Radio to update the chart to 1978, at which point I renamed it The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music. This is the version that is displayed on the HistoryShots website. In the interim, this graphic has had a long and venerable history of popping up in some very interesting places.


Reebee Garofalo: Although PopWaves is essentially an extension and an update of the Genealogy, the construction of PopWaves not only occasioned the creation of dozens of new genre names, it also necessitated some refinements in the original graphic. The soul categories were further subdivided to include southern soul and funk. Art rock, glam, and southern boogie were added to the rock lexicon.

Larry Gormley and I talked about updating and greatly expanding my original chart for many years. Finally, in 2013, the openness of my schedule and my enthusiasm to tackle such a large project aligned and I started work that spring. I once estimated that the original graphic took me about 100 hours to complete. PopWaves clocked in at around 300 hours. In both instances, I did all the initial design work and the original drawings myself, then brought in artists with calligraphy skills to do the final lettering. Larry spent another few hundred hours on graphic design creating the production-ready version of the chart. 

Reebee's hand-drawn design in progress

Reebee Garofalo: From the beginning I used the year-end pop charts of leading trade magazines like Billboard that Larry and I researched to compile the basic data, and consulted music encyclopedias, the rock press, and, more recently, any number of online databases, as well as a team of experts in the field (academics, radio personalities, music journalists, etc) to help me craft genres names and categorize hard-to-place artists. Still, the results are quite subjective, much more an art than a science. 

It is worth noting that the various inputs that determine the chart position of a given recording have changed over time. What was once a straightforward, if notoriously corrupt, tabulation of record sales and radio play, has become an unruly assemblage of new formats and platforms, and new ways of accessing and sharing music. As a result, it is unclear whether chart position in 2014 is measuring quite the same thing as chart position in 1967.

It is also important to note that the data I am using captures the top of the commercial bubble. These are not necessarily the most interesting or talented artists, or even the most influential musically. They are simply the most broadly popular at a given moment. So there are any number of other interesting graphic representations that could be made. But this is the one I wanted to make. All its contradictions notwithstanding, it attempts to tell the story of US popular music culture, writ large.

 

Cool Infographics: The poster is a large, odd size when compared to standard 24"x36" posters. Why the unusual size and will it cause complications?

Larry Gormley (HistoryShots): From the beginning we realized that in order to do it right, PopWaves needed to be big. We understood that some people may not have the necessary wall space (that’s why we’re going to continue to sell the original chart), however, we know that many people are looking for large-format statement pieces. Also, we’ve been selling over-sized graphics for many years so we feel comfortable with all the marketing and production complexities associated with selling large charts. We’re in the process of working with our framing partner to develop a canvas-wrapped triptych version that is going to be amazing. 

 

Reebee Garofalo: More History of the Chart

As soon as the chart hit the market in Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Pay, it started generating buzz in the music community. Early on, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted to use it as a permanent installation. It was actually displayed in the original architect’s model for the Rock Hall that was made by the Burdick Group of San Francisco. The Rock Hall even sent me a contract. But then there was a complete staff turnover, and a more active Board of Directors decided that it would be difficult to decide on an appropriate genealogy for this music. You can bet there was a back story there.

In May 1978, Steve Chapple and I had a piece in Mother Jones magazine on “The Rise and Fall of FM Rock.” It was accompanied by an uninspiring artist rendering of the chart that ran as a graphic over the story. I thought it was a rather lackluster interpretation that did no justice to the original, but there it was, in the pages of Mother Jones.

The following year, NBC Radio commissioned me to update the chart for a marketing campaign they were contemplating, which I did. The woman who contracted me, however, abruptly left her job and her marketing campaign sank without a trace. But this exercise led to the version of the chart that is now available through HistoryShots.

When WGBH-TV, Boston’s PBS television station, was first developing the idea for what became the 10 part series Rock and Roll, I was called in by the Executive Producer as a possible consultant to the project. I think I talked myself out of a potentially lucrative consulting gig when I criticized the original proposal for its overproduction of Britrock and lack of attention to black artists and particularly disco. Still, they were interested in using the chart for their marketing proposal. Since they were going after big time corporate bucks, however, they didn’t want to use the original, which they thought of as . . . I think the word they used was “primitive.” Instead they created a computer generated, high tech version of the chart with circles and arrows and curlicues all over the place. Imagine Keith Haring working in an early draw program. I guess it worked though; their proposal got mega-funding.

The last time that I was brought in as a rock ‘n’ roll consultant to a major project was when Paul Allen was building the Experience Music Project in Seattle. His team of curators was interested in creating a huge sculpture in the middle of the building that depicted the “Roots and Branches” of rock ‘n’ roll — a  sort of three-dimensional version of the rock chart. Having gotten hold of a reproduction of my chart, they pulled me in to help develop the concept. Umpteen staff changes later, they still couldn’t agree on a concept, and the “Roots and Branches” idea was ultimately abandoned in favor of that gigantic guitar sculpture that now ascends dramatically to the second level. While it works well enough as an abstract sculpture, it provides little in the way of useful music history.

If WGBH didn’t like primitive and EMP couldn’t figure out how to incorporate information into its central sculpture, graphic design guru Edward Tufte touted the virtues of the chart on both counts. He decided to use the original 1974 version of the chart in his seminal graphics text Visual Explanations (1997). For those of you who have seen his road show, he uses the chart as an example of an effective design for capturing lots of information in a graphically pleasing way. “Your chart brings my book to a stop,” he once told me, “at least for those of us of a certain age!”

Los Angeles Artist Dave Muller was so taken by the chart that when he was asked to contribute an installation of his own choosing to the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the signature exhibition of New York’s Whitney Museum, he blew up the reproduction in Tufte’s book and made it the centerpiece of a 30 foot wall mural. Muller’s “appropriation” moved the chart into the realm of fine art. Muller has since mounted versions of this installation in Rome, London, Paris, Melbourne, Australia, and elsewhere, all without ever asking my permission. This has outraged many of my friends, who feel I should sue him, especially after he installed it again in 2008 in my backyard at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. There it defined the public wall at the ICA’s entrance for almost all of 2008. I thought about suing, even talked to a lawyer, who assured me we could make big bucks. Ultimately, however, I decided that public access to information was more important than lining my pockets. I wonder if Muller knows how narrowly he dodged a bullet.

I included a copy of the original drawing as a two-page fold-out in the third edition of my book Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the USA (2005). Also in 2005, I was approached by Marco Ferrari, a journalist working with the Italian magazine Focus, with a proposal “to compile in just one graphic timeline a (very rough) history of popular music, by genres,” using my chart as the basis for their work. The result: “River of Music,” a graphic that extends my original chart in a most engaging way to the year 2000. It appeared as an eight flap, full color, centerfold poster in the June 2005 issue of Focus.

For me, creating this chart was a labor of love that drew equally from my love of popular music (for content) and my attraction to the contours of “pinstriping” on customized 1950s cars (for graphic design). Along the way, I enjoyed the company and able assistance of many friends and acquaintances. I still remember the night that Dianne Dion (then Carasik) spilled Scotch on the original while surveying my placement of artists. When my calligraphy skills were not up to the task, my friend and former college roommate, the late Damon Rarey, stepped in with a major assist in the graphics department. (Damon was an accomplished artist in his own right; check out his legacy at www.rarey.com) For the 1978 update presented here, artist Jean Nicolazzo, my girlfriend at the time, took over Damon’s graphics role. When decisions about artists and categories seemed too complicated to manage, I was fortunate to have Sam Kopper, Allan MacDougall, Beverly Mier, Rory O’Connor, Robert Plattner, and Norm Weiner to talk to.

PopWaves picks up where The Genealogy of Pop Rock Music left off. This update could not have happened without the help of others. I am beholden to my crack team of advisors—Murray Forman, Wayne Marshall, Steve Waksman, and Elijah Wald—for their invaluable assistance in helping me to name styles and position artists. Hats off to Jan Boyd for her awesome calligraphy in the final rendering of artists’ names. And, finally, I am deeply indebted to Larry Gormley (who convinced me to take this on) for his pixel-level interventions and tasteful aesthetic choices in turning PopWaves into an appealing poster. All of the above should get some of the credit for these projects; I’ll take all of the complaints.

Friday
Apr152016

The Truthful Art by Alberto Cairo: Interview & Giveaway

The Truthful Art is the newest book by Alberto Cairo, and the second book of a longer, planned series. Following the huge acclaim and success of his last book, The Functional Art, Alberto expertly dives into getting data visualizations both accurate and designed for effective communication. 

This month I am giving away one signed copy of The Truthful Art! Register on the Giveaways Page by April 30th to be entered.

The Truthful Art explains:

• The role infographics and data visualization play in our world

• Basic principles of data and scientific reasoning that anyone can master

• How to become a better critical thinker

• Step-by-step processes that will help you evaluate any data visualization (including your own)

• How to create and use effective charts, graphs, and data maps to explain data to any audience

Alberto Cairo is the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the University of Miami, where he teaches courses on infographics and data visualization. He is also director of the Visualization program of UM's Center for Computational Science, and Visualization Innovator in Residence at Univisión, besides being a consultant for several tech companies. He is the author of the books The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization (2012) and The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication (2016).

Everyone should follow Alberto Cairo on Twitter (@albertocairo)! He is one of the most vocal dataviz experts online, and shares his wisdom and insights openly. Also, you can download a sample of the new book with the first 40 pages of the book available on Google Drive.

I sent Alberto a handful of questions about The Truthful Art:

Who is the book intended for?

In the Epilogue I joke that I wrote 'The Truthful Art' for my past self, 8 or 10 years ago. As a journalist and designer, I didn't receive appropriate training in data reasoning in college, and that led me to make many mistakes in my career. The book is for communicators of any kind (journalists, graphic designers, marketing folks) who need to deal with data on a regular basis. It's certainly a book about data visualization and infographics, but it also covers the steps that come before you start designing anything: Getting your information as right as possible.

How do you define the difference between a visualization and an infographic?

In the book I explain that the boundary between these and other genres is very fuzzy. For me, an infographic is a combination of words and visuals (charts, maps, diagrams, illustrations) that makes a certain story understandable for people. The designer decides what data to show, and how to structure it, sometimes as a narrative or story. A data visualization doesn't necessarily tell a story, but it enables people to come up with their own conclusions, by letting them explore the information. Infographics emphasize explanation, data visualizations emphasize exploration.

What does in mean for a visualization to be truthful?

The whole book deals with this topic. In general, it requires a proper, honest, and thorough exploration of your information; asking people who know more than you do about it; and then a proper choice of visual forms to represent it.

Why are we more likely to accept visual information as truth?

It's not just visual information, it's any kind of information. We human beings aren't skeptical by nature. Our default is belief.

It is only when we become aware of the multiple ways our own brain, and other people, can trick us that we begin questioning what we see, read, hear, and feel. It is true, though, that recent research has shown that visualizations make messages more credible; this is something that can be used for good or for evil.

I don't know why many of us tend to take visualizations at face value, but it may have to do with the fact that most of us unconsciously associate charts and data maps with science. Those graphics look so precise, so crisp, so elegant! They must be accurate and truthful, right? --Well, perhaps not!

How difficult is it to choose the right chart style?

Not that difficult if you think about the message that you want to convey, or the tasks you want to enable, instead of relying just on your personal aesthetic preferences. I love maps, and I wrote an entire, long chapter about them for the book, but that doesn't mean that everything should be a map. A map may give you certain insights, but may also obscure others. In many cases, a chart may be better.

How can we become better skeptics and critical thinkers when we see data visualizations?

The key is to remember a maxim that I repeat in the book: A visualization is not something to be seen, but something to be read. Approach data visualizations and infographics not as beautiful illustrations (although beauty is a very important feature) to be looked at quickly, but as visual essays. Read them carefully, ask yourself if the designer is showing everything that needs to be shown. Remember that a single number or variable means very little on its own. In infographics, context is everything, and comparisons are paramount.

Is complexity the enemy of good data visualization design?

Far from it. Many designers believe that data visualizations and infographics are intended to “simplify” data. As my friend, the designer Nigel Holmes, has repeatedly said, infographics shouldn't simplify, but clarify. Clarification in some cases means reducing the amount of information you present, but in many others it requires you to increase it. In the book I show some examples of graphics that fail because their designers reduced the data so much that they rendered it meaningless. If a story is complex, its representation will necessarily be complex as well.

This said, it is good to be reminded of that old maxim commonly attributed to Einstein: Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. Over-complicated visualizations are also problematic. If your message is simple or trivial, why creating an extremely intricate graphic?

What’s available for readers on the book website: http://www.thefunctionalart.com/p/the-truthful-art-book.html?

For now, www.thefunctionalart.com contains my blog, contact information, information about both books, and some other resources. I have added software tutorials, and will soon post some of the data from the book. My professional website, http://www.albertocairo.com/, which will be launched soon, will contain more resources.

Are you speaking at any upcoming presentations or webinars?

Yes. I post most of my speaking engagements and consulting gigs here: http://www.thefunctionalart.com/p/speaking-schedule.html

Where’s the best place to follow you online?

My blog and Twitter. I use Twitter (@albertocairo) to take notes for myself, and save interesting resources, so if you want to see what I see or read what I read, that's the place to go!

 

Monday
Jan252016

Building Responsive Data Visualization for the Web

Building Responsive Data Visualization for the Web book cover

Building Responsive Data Visualization for the Web by Bill Hinderman is a new book that just came out in November. I had the pleasure of helping Bill as the Technical Editor on the book last year, and I can say it's a fantastic guide to structuring your data and building your code for interactive data visualizations that work perfectly on every screen size.

January Giveaway! This month I am giving away one signed copy to a randomly chosen winner. Register on the GIVEAWAYS page by 11:59pm CT on January 31, 2016 to be entered. A winner will be randomly selected on February 1st.

Data is growing exponentially, and the need to visualize it in any context has become crucial. Traditional visualizations allow important data to become lost when viewed on a small screen, and the web traffic speaks for itself – viewers repeatedly demonstrate their preference for responsive design. If you're ready to create more accessible, take-anywhere visualizations, Building Responsive Data Visualization for the Web is your tailor-made solution.

Building Responsive Data Visualization for the Web is a handbook for any front-end development team needing a framework for integrating responsive web design into the current workflow. Written by a leading industry expert and design lead at Starbase Go, this book provides a wealth of information and practical guidance from the perspective of a real-world designer. You'll walk through the process of building data visualizations responsively as you learn best practices that build upon responsive web design principles, and get the hands-on practice you need with exercises, examples, and source code provided in every chapter. These strategies are designed to be implemented by teams large and small, with varying skill sets, so you can apply these concepts and skills to your project right away.

Responsive web design is the practice of building a website to suit base browser capability, then adding features that enhance the experience based on the user's device's capabilities. Applying these ideas to data produces visualizations that always look as if they were designed specifically for the device through which they are viewed. This book shows you how to incorporate these principles into your current practices, with highly practical hands-on training.

  • Examine the hard data surrounding responsive design
  • Master best practices with hands-on exercises
  • Learn data-based document manipulation using D3.js
  • Adapt your current strategies to responsive workflows

 

I asked Bill to answer a few questions about his book:

Who is the book intended for?

The book is for a development and design team that is looking to shift toward responsive, mobile-first practices.  While it's certainly geared most toward data visualization projects, the book spends a hefty amount of time building responsive design tenets before then getting specifically into visualization.

 

What’s the most important thing to make a great data visualization?

In my mind, the most important thing in making a great data visualization is the output being actionable.  The goal of a visualization is always to make something more clear, right?  All of the data is already...there, in its raw form.  So the initial goal, the more achievable goal, is clarity. But making something clear, and then also making it actionable - that is - pushing the reader/viewer/user toward actually doing something with the data, is where greatness shows up.

 

Do you see everyone moving towards responsive data visualization, or are a lot of companies holding back?

No, I actually don't.  I see a huge amount of people holding back, really with the same reasoning that plagued responsive design in its early stages.  That being: "People don't want to do that on mobile."  Which is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Every study Pew has put out (I reference plenty of them in the book) shows that as soon as someone is given the opportunity to do something on mobile, they do it.  Moreover, there's an increasing amount of mobile-only users, rather than simply mobile-first.  Very soon, desktop users are going to be seen as an antiquated, legacy type of use case, rather than the default.

 

What's the difference between Responsive Data Visualization and Responsible Data Visualization?

Responsive data visualization is the practice of building data visualizations in such a way that they adapt, respond to, and feel natural regardless of whatever device type a user is accessing them with, and whatever the data set looks like.  In this way, it is the responsible way to visualize data.  So...there isn't one, I suppose.

 

What do you mean in the book by “Think Small”?

So a concept that's very closely tied to responsive design is thinking mobile-first.  That is: designing first for your most limited use case: a small screen, a bad network, sloppy, finger-based gestures.  In data visualization, we actually have an even more limited use case: no screen at all.  That's where building a good API comes into play.  Thinking of the smallest, most limited use case, say, an external call to your API from a different website, and building toward that first.  That way, as you gain real estate, features, bandwidth, you are simply enhancing something that already has a great foundation.

 

What are your thoughts on D3.js and its future?

It's the best, and I love it and if I could, I would shower it with chocolates.  D3.js is, if you're able to devote a development resource to learning it, the absolute best way to create a visualization on the web, because it uses all the languages of the web.  Because it isn't some applet, or some plugin, or some...image, I suppose, it just works intuitively like you are building normally for the web.  Because of this, I think the future is bright.  Even if it were never to be updated again (which isn't the case), it would still implicitly grow in functionality as web languages evolve and grow around it.

 

What’s available for readers on the book website: http://responsivedatavisualization.com/?

The website has snippets from every chapter of the book, along with exercises and code samples that go along with the practice sections in the chapters.  All of the code links to GitHub, and can be forked, built locally, and compared with solutions.

 

Are you speaking at any upcoming presentations or webinars?

I am!  I'll be speaking at Strata + Hadoop World San Jose in March (http://conferences.oreilly.com/strata/hadoop-big-data-ca).

 

Where’s the best place to follow you online?

The best places to follow me online are my own website (billhinderman.com), LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/williamHinderman), or Twitter (twitter.com/billHinderman).

 

Tuesday
Jun242014

HelpMeViz: DataViz Community Feedback for Your Charts

HelpMeViz: DataViz Community Feedback for Your Charts

Have you ever struggled with which type of chart to use in your presentation? Or how to get Excel to display the chart the way you want it to appear?  Or don’t know what software will create the data visualization you would like to use?

Jon Schwabish is a data visualization specialist, and in 2013 he launched a new website to help everyone become better at data visualization called HelpMeViz.  The HelpMeViz site invites you to submit your data visualization projects to get feedback from the community.  The community is encouraged to offer suggestions, critiques and debate ideas about chart formats, software tricks, visual applications and visualization methods that can be valuable feedback to make your data more understandable and impactful.

 

The data visualization community consists of people who use data and design to tackle a variety of issues and challenges. Outside of a few specific blogs and tutorials however, there isn’t a place where that community can provide in-depth comments and criticism on data visualization projects. This site is designed to facilitate discussion, debate, and collaboration from the data visualization community.

The site is open to anyone who is searching for feedback on their visualization designs, from seasoned designers and data visualization specialists to individual analysts searching to improve their graphic displays. All types of visualizations are welcome: simple, single line or bar charts to full-blown infographics to interactive visualizations.

If you have a chart that just isn’t working, or getting your message across to your audience, you can upload it to the site, and get really useful, actionable advice from the Community.

Mapping Program Participation by State

Jon is currently the Senior Researcher and Data Visualization Expert at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, and he took some time to answer a few interview questions from me about the HelpMeViz site:

Cool Infographics: Who is the target audience of the site?

Jon Schwabish: The site was created for anyone—truly anyone—to seek feedback or submit comments. I want anyone to be able to use the site—from the data visualization expert to the experienced JavaScript programmer to the research assistant using Excel. To attract that broad audience, I decided against using established tools or sites like Flickr, Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble. Many of those sites require users to create an account, or have some other barrier to easy entry and I wanted to avoid those types of barriers. Additionally, I felt that sites like Stack Overflow and GitHub appeared too difficult for the everyday user. So, although it’s often said that you should refine your audience, I wanted to go broad here to make it as accessible as possible.


Cool Infographics: How often do people post new visualization questions to HelpMeViz.com?

Jon Schwabish: To date, I’ve posted at least one visualization per week. There have been a few weeks when I’ve been able to do more. Interactive visualizations and ones that have a unique design question—for example, how to create something in Excel—generate the most interest.


Cool Infographics: Are you having success getting the audience to engage and recommend design ideas?

Jon Schwabish: For the most part, I haven’t had to engage the audience much on my own; community members have taken most of the initiative to engage with the content, making light work for me on that end. I’d like to see more requests on the design side—questions about font or color or layout. To date, requests have been primarily about tools and creation of the visualization. But I think a lot of people would benefit from asking basic design-style questions.


Cool Infographics: Does it take much of your own time to participate and keep the site running?

Jon Schwabish: It doesn’t take too much of my own time, but that will change, I hope, as the amount of content increases. I oftentimes have to rewrite the text to clarify the challenge or goal. Sometimes I need to tweak an image or extract an image from a larger document. I rarely fiddle with the data—if the person who submitted the visualization could use it to create the graphic, then it’s probably close enough for others to use. I’ll usually correspond with the submitter once or twice to make sure he or she is okay with my edits and then I post the submission.


Cool Infographics: What are the best examples of successful projects posted to the site?

Jon Schwabish: There have been a number of interesting challenges.

Perhaps the thing I’m most excited about for the site right now is the live Hackathon that will be held on Saturday, June 28, with Bread for the World Institute. We are inviting 25 coders, designers, and data scientists to help the Institute with two data visualization challenges. I will be live blogging the event and will make the data available on the HelpMeViz site so that anyone around the world can join the discussion and provide his or her own visualization suggestions.

This site is truly made for everyone, and I encourage you to check it out.  The feedback can range from Excel charting tips to visualization programming code.  You can upload your own charting challenges, offer recommendations on other people’s charts or just lurk and learn from the advice of other experts.

If you’re in the DC area, be sure to check out the HelpMeViz Hackathon event on Saturday, June 28th! HelpMeViz will bring together coders, data scientists, and data visualizers in Washington, DC, to help Bread for the World Institute with two data visualization challenges for its 2015 Hunger Report, which focuses on why women’s empowerment is essential to ending global hunger.

Thanks to Jon for creating this incredible resource, and taking the time to answer a few questions!

Friday
Jul262013

Death & Taxes 2014 Poster and Interview

Death & Taxes 2014 poster infographic

The new 2014 Death & Taxes poster has been released, and it is fantastic!  Visualizing the President’s proposed budget for next year, each department and major expense item is represented with proportionally sized circles so the viewer can understand how big they are in comparison to the rest of the budget.

You can purchase the 24” x 36” printed poster for $24.95.

Since 2004, Death and Taxes has been depicting the federal budget and has grown into a powerhouse of information.

For the FY2014 budget, this poster contains over 500 departments, agencies, programs and just about everything else the government can spend money on. It is still the single most open and accessible record of government spending ever created. All in six square feet. 

Previously, the Death & Taxes series has been a project of Jess Bachman (ByJess.net), but this year the series has been taken over by the great team at Timeplots.  Owner Nathaniel Pearlman graciously spent some time answering some of my questions:

Cool Infographics: What’s new in the 2014 design of Death & Taxes?

Nathaniel Pearlman: Timeplots is continuing the Death & Taxes poster franchise, taking it over from its creator, Jess Bachman. We agreed to do this before the scheduled release of the FY2014 budget. To produce the poster efficiently and meet the expectations of an audience already familiar with its look and feel, we minimized big changes and largely stayed with Jess’s design aesthetic. We kept the location of departments, labeled and colored expenditure numbers in the same format; and, the Office of Governmental Ethics is still the smallest circle plotted on the poster. We did, however, make some subtle design changes.

In the bottom-right corner we converted pie charts to a bar chart. We also changed the “For Comparison” section bubble charts to horizontal bar charts. Bars also serve as a visual clue that the information here is different and you see immediately that they differ from the bubbles depicting the discretionary budget in the main area of the poster. We also unified the presentation style throughout the poster. We also omitted the “How much does it cost you” section. 

Cool Infographics: The Death & Taxes poster design is now being made by the team at Timeplots, what are the major differences from the prior posters that were designed by Jess Bachman?   

Nathaniel Pearlman: Timeplots has a four year history of visualizing complex data with compelling design. We have diverse skills and resources and may introduce changes in future posters like dark type against a lighter background for ease of reading; advancing visual unity either by replacing the photos with icons, or by making all color photographs more duotone, or monochromatic; and finally, crafting the type in the header section so that it has more personality. We are also thinking about how to improve the substance of the poster. We would love to hear feedback or suggestions for improvement from your readers.

Cool Infographics: When did the 2014 data become available, and how long did it take you design the poster?

Nathaniel Pearlman: The data was released on April 11, 2013. To prepare, we wrote some data queries and scripts based on the 2013 data about one week before the release. Once we got the 2014 data, we just ran the 2013 scripts. It took about two days to get all of the circles in place on the poster. The design and crafting took longer. The poster went out for review to experts about a month after the we got the data. Of course we were working on many other projects in between as well.

Cool Infographics: What software applications were used for the Death & Taxes poster design?

Nathaniel Pearlman: Scripting and plotting were done in R—an open source statistical application that we have used for other Timeplots posters. The design completed in Adobe Illustrator. Jess created the previous Death and Taxes with Excel and Photoshop, so there was no code or design template we could borrow or reuse. Our programming and design process was new to Death & Taxes, but we decided to go this route because this process would present data more accurately and make future updating much easier.

Cool Infographics: What’s the most interesting thing you learned from the 2014 data?

Nathaniel Pearlman: We guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, but data shows how trivial in the context of the whole budget are some of the biggest political tangles. Things like the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are very small by comparison to big ticket items.  The nice thing about the poster is that each viewer will be able to reach their own conclusions, based on the area of they wish to investigate or focus upon. Each department, each item, has its own story. 

Cool Infographics: Where do you have them printed, what are the printing specs and why?

Nathaniel Pearlman: The 2014 poster is on a 36” by 24” sized, 80 lb. cover paper. We use a local printer for offset printing and through a process of several proofs we have more control over the colors and the final look and feel of the print. The 2014 poster is slightly lighter than the 2012 one. The lighter paper can roll more easily into tubes without getting creases.

Cool Infographics: Social media has always been a big part of marketing the Death & Taxes poster.  What are your plans to promote the 2014 poster?

Nathaniel Pearlman: Social media is important to us. We have been receiving supportive comments and thoughtful suggestions through a number of channels. Death & Taxes has its own Facebook channel: (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Death-and-Taxes/373639641532). You can also follow Timeplots on Twitter (@timeplots) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/timeplots) to receive notice of latest news. Keep your eyes open to these places.

Graphicacy, (the consulting arm of Timeplots) is also working on an interactive version using the same budget data to pair with the poster. That interactive, presenting the same information, will enable interested viewers to explore the federal budget online.

The poster now sells at Timeplots and Amazon.  

Cool Infographics: Prior versions have been available online in a zooming viewer.  Is the 2014 version also available in this format?  What zooming tool is being used?

Nathaniel Pearlman: Yes, you are able to zoom on a watermarked version of the 2014 poster on our Timeplots site. The zoom tool is the default for our shopping content management system, and it allows for crystal-clear views of the information, watermarks aside. While you will have a good sense for the design and presentation of the poster by viewing it online and zooming-in on its details, we believe the print poster will surprise you with its vibrant colors on smooth paper, sharp type, and scale.

 You can also check out Jess Bachman’s thoughts about the new version in his blog post on Visual.ly

Monday
Jan142013

SEO & Infographics - an Interview with Eric Enge

Eric Enge, Author and SEO GuruRecently, I had an amazing opportunity to interview Eric Enge about SEO & Infographics.  Eric has incredible insight in the world of SEO as a consultant, author, speaker and entrepreneur.

Eric Enge is the CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, a consulting company that provides a full range of Internet marketing optimization services including: strategic business planning, on page search engine optimization, link building, content optimization, conversion optimization, social media optimization, user engagement, and pay-per-click campaign development and optimization. Eric is co-author of the book The Art of SEO, a speaker at numerous search marketing events, and a contributing author to Search Engine LandSearch Engine Watch, and SEOmoz

 The interview covers some of the hottest topics that impact the infographics design industry today:

  • Infographics as part of a content marketing strategy
  • How Google’s changes to their algorithm impacts infographics
  • Infographics relevance and accuracy
  • Using attribution links, anchor text and embed code for infographics
  • Infographics on Pinterest 

You can read the complete interview on the InfoNewt blog

Tuesday
Sep042012

2011 Wisconsin Crash Calendar & Interview

2011 Wisconsin Crash Calendar infographic

I love this infographic design!  Designed by Joni Graves, a Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development (that’s a mouthful!).  I highly recommend downloading the PDF version and taking a closer look on your own.

The original version and a few variations are available on a couple different official sites:

The Wisconsin Bureau of Transportation Safety (BOTS) uses printed copies of the infographic calendar at meetings around the state with various groups to generate discussions about what causes crashes and how to interpret what the data shows.

This design is a great example of how visualizing the data allows the readers to see patterns in the data and much more easily understand the stories behind the data.  The color coding makes it easy to compare the data subsets, and the consistent layout to match a traditional paper calendar is very easy to follow.

There are so many findings you can quickly see in the big dataset.  Some are obvious, but many are surprising.  For example, you can clearly see…

  • Alcohol-related crashes happen primarily on weekends, and fairly consistently throughout the year.
  • Deer Season is clearly identified in Oct-Nov.
  • There was something special about July 1st…
  • Motorcycle, Work Zone and Bicycle crashes occur during the Summer months.
  • Ice, Snow, Wet Road crashes are highest in Jan-Feb, but what happened on April19th?  Late Winter storm?
  • Speed related crashes are primarily reported in the Winter months.
  • Fatal crashes are evenly spread throughout the year

Joni was also willing to answer some interview questions about this project and her design process:

Cool Infographics: What software applications did you use to create the Crash Calendar?

Joni Graves: EXCEL 2010 using Pivot Tables. Presentation advancements incorporate Microsoft’s PowerPivot using SharePoint.

Cool Infographics: Was the design created in cooperation with the Wisconsin Transportation Information Center, or was it an independent project? 

Joni Graves: I’m a Program Director at the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development and part of the WI LTAP (FHWA’s Local Transportation Assistance Program) / Wisconsin Transportation Information Center (TIC).

Cool Infographics: How long did the design take you to create?

Joni Graves: It’s a longer story, if you’re interested, but the skinny is that I started working on the Crash Calendar format in mid-April and previewed it at a meeting the end of the month. I had a learning curve with some of the intricacies, and spent about 200 hours on it during that two weeks! Since then it’s taken on a life of its own — and I am delighted by that!

Cool Infographics: Would you describe your design process?

Joni Graves: I would be happy to elaborate on this but, as an inveterate designer / tinkerer, I’ll confess that I’m always discovering some new way of formatting / displaying the data, and disappointed that there’s never enough time to do the new ideas justice …

Cool Infographics: What’s the most interesting thing you learned from the data?

Joni Graves: I’ve certainly enjoyed the design process! More importantly, it’s been incredibly satisfying to see people engage w/ the data using this intuitive representation, or to read their comments, because it’s apparent that it helps make the data far more accessible! And I have loved the comments / responses.

Cool Infographics: What was the hardest part behind designing the Crash Calendar?

Joni Graves: As I noted, there’s been a fascinating learning curve. But the hardest part has been stopping! As noted above, I’m always trying to “improve” it — and always running out of time.

Cool Infographics: What should we expect from future versions of the design?

Joni Graves: We currently have a multi-year version, a web-demo site, and a working 2012 version. I’m very excited about incorporating choropleth maps. Although it’s a very interesting “historic” document, the real goal is to provide a resource that is far more timely and potentially predictive for local users. 

I’m really excited about our plans to webize it, because the real idea is to expand it as a national project — using multi-year FARS data, WI data, and data from other interested states — and we really want to “unleash” it for others to actively use. 

Cool Infographics: Challenges?

Joni Graves: There’s been a wonderful response — and we are trying to figure out how to actually fund an expanded project w/ enhancements!

One additional thing to note was that Joni was inspired to create the whole design project by Nathan Yau’s post on Vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 2010 (which I posted about here earlier this year), and I think she has done a great job building Nathan’s initial visualization into some something much more powerful and effective.

Thanks to Joni for sharing!

Friday
Jul062012

Informotion: Animated Infographics - Interview & Book Giveaway

Informotion: Animated Infographicsfrom Informotion: Animated Graphics, Copyright Gestalten 2012

The Informotion: Animated Infographics book edited by Tim Finke, Sebastian Manger and Stefan Fichtel was just released from Gestalten, and only recently appeared in the U.S.  I also have a promotional copy of the book to giveaway!  So keep reading until the end to find out how to get a chance to win the book.

Informotion: Animated Infographicsfrom Informotion: Animated Graphics, Copyright Gestalten 2012

This is the only book I am aware of that focuses on infographic animation and video production.  The book covers topics like Forms of Representation, Storyboarding, Animation, Voice-Over Narration and Content.  The book also highlights at least 25 animated infographic videos, and takes a deep look at how they were made.

At the nexus of design and journalism, the field of information graphics offers some of the most exciting and dynamic work for creatives. Today, even more so than static versions, animated information graphics are serving to communicate complex correlations succinctly. The production of such animations on the basis of up-to-the-minute data is already common practice in select TV programs. Now, these moving formats are finding wider application in television and on the internet, as well as on an increasing number of mobile devices, and in public places. They can be seen in editorial contexts and in the areas of advertising and corporate communication.

Informotion is the first book to document the fundamentals needed to create compelling animated infographics and to explain them with numerous examples. It focuses on key aspects of visualizing data, current forms of information graphics, and future possibilities for moving images. The publication also outlines the factors that improve the viewer’s ability to absorb information.


Informotion: Animated Infographicsfrom Informotion: Animated Graphics, Copyright Gestalten 2012

 

Sebastian Manger was kind enough to provide some of his time to answer a series of interview questions about the future of infographic videos and production of the book:

CI: What brought you, Tim Finke, and Stefan Fichtel together to collaborate on the book?

Sebastian

 Manger: Tim and I both studied communication design at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam near Berlin. Our collaboration on many projects during our studies welded us together as team, and so we decided to do our master’s thesis as a joint project as well. This thesis formed the initial basis for Informotion. During our research for the book we came into contact with Stefan Fichtel. We initially just wanted to interview him about his experiences in the field of information graphics, but we then wound up working with him more closely.

CI: You cover this briefly in the book, but how do you define the difference between data visualizations and infographics?

Sebastian

 Manger: Data visualization is mostly based on a very complex set of data, which is then transmitted by tools such as processing into a graphical representation. Examples can include user behavior in a certain context or the air traffic in a given airspace. In our opinion, an infographic is more concentrated on a particular piece of information that needs to be communicated. In contrast to data visualization, infographics often boil something down to one core message that is then conveyed.

CI: Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?

Sebastian Manger: The book is a guide for designing animated infographics. Therefore, the primary target group is, of course, designers who create those. But Informotion is actually also interesting for any designer who deals with the transfer of information through moving images because it deals with our general perception of animation. The book introduces the range of tools now available for implementing animated infographics and explains their appropriate use. 

In addition, Informotion is also very interesting for journalists. They can gain valuable insight into how the information they first researched can be processed into an animation. This insight can then help avoid misunderstandings in any future collaboration.

CI: How difficult was it to select the videos in the book and did you get support from the companies that produced the videos?

Sebastian Manger: In some cases, the choice was indeed very difficult—especially when we needed examples focusing on a particular means of implementation. In those cases, we needed scenes that showed exactly what was meant without getting overlayed by other effects or information. In our thesis, which was the original inspiration for the book, we simply created such specific examples ourselves. For Informotion, however, we wanted to always use current examples from actual practice.

Once we found a fitting example, it was usually quite easy to convince the agency or studio to participate in the book. It was, however, sometimes a bit difficult to figure out who exactly was the author of a certain animation.

CI: Based on what you have observed, is there a “best practice” method for releasing an infographic video on the Internet?

Sebastian Manger: As the field of animated infographics is still quite young, it is currently very difficult to speak of a “best practice” example. We do hope that our book can help generate such an example one day.

CI: Do you believe that infographic videos are a stronger tool than static image or interactive infographics? 

Sebastian Manger: Yes, we do. People’s viewing habits are changing more and more. Ever more videos are appearing on the internet (YouTube, Vimeo, etc). The viewer is already getting used to absorbing information more passively. This environment is very favorable for the use of animated infographics. A certain fact can be presented to viewers in a simple manner without the need for them to toil through charts or diagrams themselves.

But herein also lies a danger or a special responsibility for the designer of an animated infographic. Under these conditions, a given set of information must always be reduced to a few details. In a static infographic, a statistic for example, viewers can make conclusions by themselves—provided, of course, that they take the time to do so.

CI: How quickly are infographic videos growing as a communication tool?

Sebastian Manger: In our research over the last few years we have ascertained a clear increase in the use of animated infographics. A simple indicator of this, for example, is the increasing number of videos tagged as “animated infographics” on YouTube or Vimeo. The number of websites and blogs that feature animated infographics is also growing continuously.

In addition, infographic design elements are being used more and more frequently in music videos, commercials, main titles, etc. This paves the way for consumers to deal with infographics as a means of implementation. Of course, the use of graphic elements in these fields is currently mostly limited to decoration, but why can’t it expand over the next few years and become more professional? These circumstances are causing viewing habits to change. Designers not only have a significant interest in these changes, but are also a contributing factor to them.

CI: What do you see as the future of infographic videos?

Sebastian Manger: We expect that the trend just described in our previous answer will continue and that animated infographics will be used even more frequently—especially in fields such as reporting but also in advertising. For most people, the use of information graphics is an indicator of seriousness. However, interactive graphics and data visualization will certainly play a huge role too.

CI: How difficult was it to put together a paper book about the highly visual topic of infographic videos?

Sebastian Manger: Not very difficult. Informotion includes a login code for accessing a password-protected website from where you can watch all the referenced videos in full length. In the printed book we use screenshots from and explanations of these videos to identify and explain current theories and means of implementation.

CI: Do you have any plans for a video infographic about video infographics in the future?

Sebastian

 Manger: Not until you came up with this question, but we’ll surely think about now!

 

Free Copy of the Book:

I have two copies of the book to give away to readers of Cool Infographics.  To enter you name into the hat, tweet a link to this blog post on Twitter and include the hashtag #informotionbook so I can find the Tweets.  At noon on Friday, July 13, 2012, I will randomly choose two people from the Tweets to receive a copy of the book.  You need to be following me (@rtkrum) on Twitter so I can send you a Direct Message (DM) if you are selected.

Here’s an example Tweet that would qualify:

Check out Informotion, the new book about animated infographic videos bit.ly/OdaGTg #informotionbook

Thanks to Sebastian for all his hard work, and participating with the interview.

Tuesday
Apr242012

Gov 2.0 Infographic: Bringing the Tobacco Control Act to Life

 

In 2011, Enspektos, a health marketing communications innovation consultancy, invited InfoNewt (my company) to be involved in a special project the firm was leading on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products (CTP).  As a new federal agency, the CTP is tasked with regulating tobacco products and preventing tobacco use – especially among youth.

During the project, we collaborated with the CTP to help create The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act: Facts, History and Milestones, an infographic timeline that covers the past and future actions related to the Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) is an important piece of legislation with many requirements. This infographic illustrates the history, rationale and major events associated with the Act. The Tobacco Control Act provides all of the events, deadlines and requirements in full and should be used as the final resource for information about the Act.

The infographic is yet another example of Gov 2.0, or the effort to utilize a range of digital technologies to improve government transparency and public understanding of how federal agencies function.  The original Tobacco Control Act is a 68-page document available online, but in actual practice that isn’t easily accessible or understandable by the general public.  The FDA has created several tools to help the public understand the Tobacco Control Act, like a snapshot overview of the Act, an interactive scrolling timeline viewer, a searchable interface and the infographic timeline.

On Wednesday, April 25th, the FDA is holding a LIVE webinar to share the different tools they have created to help everyone access and understand specific information from the 68-page law. 

Attend Our Live Webinar!

As you might expect from an official government publication, the design went through many iterations of review and revisions.  In my opinion, the final infographic is text-heavy, but strikes a balance between optimal design and content that was vetted and approved by many different individuals at the CTP. 

Fard Johnmar, Founder and President of Enspektos agreed to answer some questions about the project.

Cool Infographics: How do you think the infographic and other tools will aid public understanding of the Tobacco Control Act and the CTP? 

Fard Johnmar:  I think the infographic and other tools are an important step for the federal government.  Transforming dense and complicated legislation into simple, visually appealing information products is a very difficult process.  You have to balance the wish to make things clear and concise with a requirement that information be as accurate and complete as possible.  

We had two primary goals: The first was to improve the public’s understanding of the Tobacco Control Act.  The second was to get people within FDA comfortable with using new tools that help visually communicate important regulatory and public health information.  Now that this project is complete, I think FDA will be looking for other ways to communicate about its mission and activities in more visually appealing ways.

Cool Infographics: Do you see other health and medical organizations using visual communications techniques? 

Fard Johnmar: Absolutely.  In fact, since we published the Empowered E-Patient infographic a few years ago, I’ve seen a number of health organizations using infographics to communicate about a range of topics, including GE for its Healthymagination project (click here for a few sample infographics).

Cool Infographics:  How difficult was it to push the infographic through the FDA approval process

Fard Johnmar: As you can imagine, getting final approval for a novel visual project like this can be difficult for large organizations.  However, there was a real passion for the project from Sanjay Koyani, Senior Communications Advisor at the CTP and other members of his team.  They helped to successfully meet all of the legal requirements and answer the numerous questions posed by colleagues at the CTP.  Now there is a higher comfort level at the agency with utilizing these types of visual tools to tell the CTP story.

I truly appreciated being involved in the project, and think this is a really big step towards making the often overly complex information released through official government channels more understandable to more people.

Thanks to Enspektos and the team at the Center for Tobacco Products!

Monday
Sep272010

Infographics Feature: Advanced Photoshop Mag

 

Issue #73 of Advanced Photoshop Magazine (on sale now in the U.S.) includes a special feature on infographics starting on page 90.  There’s the feature article, and a separate step-by-step tutorial by Josh Overton.  Sadly, the article isn’t available online anywhere that I can find.

 

 

I did an interview for the feature article, including my thoughts on why infographics are growing in popularity and the process of creating infographics.  The article also includes thoughts from designers Mike Sudal, Bryon Thompson, Jude Buffum, Vic Kulihin, Samuel A. Minick and Raj Kamal.

Sadly, as sometimes happens in the editing process, none of my infographic images were included in the final article, and at least one of my responses was attributed to another designer. :(

 

 

I did find that Josh Overton has posted a scan of the tutorial on his site, and the source PSD file is available from the Advanced Photoshop tutorials website.