Data vizualisation – links and articles

/ October 29, 2015

A living collection of articles and links about data visualisation – for the RDF event on Data Vis.

To add resources to this list please tweet at #RDFviz!

Interesting articles and debates


The Style Guide Collection – PolicyViz
A collection of guides from different organizations primarily aimed at showing people in these organizations how to style their visualizations. They all include color palettes, some include specific layout details, and some include best practices. They are not necessarily data visualization “how-to” guides–there are lots of great books and blog posts for that. These are documents concerned with the style of visualizations and how to present them in better ways.

GroundTruth in Dar es Salaam: Six Lessons for Effective Feedback Loops – GroundTruth Initiative
Here are six lessons we can take from the experience of learning how to create an effective information circle that allows local voices to be heard, and increases the impact of the grassroots information activists. This blogpost reflects on the mapping project GroundTruth Initiative did in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The radical unrealized power of digital humanities – LSE
We can do what we know how to do: visualize datasets that we inherit from powerful institutions, using tools that we’ve borrowed from corporations. Or we can scrutinize data, rip it apart, rebuild it, reimagine it, and perhaps build something entirely different and weirder and more ambitious.

This is a lightly edited version of Miriam Posner’s keynote address at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference, 2015.

How Deceptive are Deceptive Visualisations? – Fell in Love with Data
How easy is it to communicate the wrong message with dataviz? This post explains the process behind a paper attempting to measure how deceptive different distortions are – a step towards building a robust evidence base to support responsible dataviz.

This research was a collaboration between Computer Scientists and Human Rights experts Katharina Rall (Human Rights Watch) and Margaret Satterthwaite (Director of NYU Human Rights Center).

What if the data visualisation is actually people? – Source
“We need to remember that behind the data are stories and inside those stories are people and those people are connected to the statistics in a way that we never will be, regardless of how badass we are with our tools, how rockstar-smart our code is, or how facile we are in manipulating the information.“

Visual journalist Sarah Slobin shares her reflections on when it is more important to report on the people than the data.

Connecting with the Dots – Source
Acknowledging that “from a distance, it’s easy to forget the dots are people”, how can we anchor our data visualizations in empathy?

Jacob Harris talks about data visualization, empathy, and representing people with dots.

Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with data viz – Visualising Information for Advocacy
“Rather than seamless design, data visualization should embrace the seamful approach that deliberately exposes the seams of the fallible human process of image making.”

Mushon Zer-Aviv emphasises the power of misrepresentative data visualizations to affect our options, actions and decisions.

How to fool a GPS – TEDx (see transcript)
Civilian GPS has no end-to-end encryption and no quality assurance. “Civil GPS signals are completely open. They have no encryption. They have no authentication. They’re wide open, vulnerable to a kind of spoofing attack.”

In his Ted Talk, Todd Humphreys explores the future of GPS, and how we can address some of its biggest security problems. See this also.

Should Schools be Closed? Learning from Schoolscope, an OpenData post-mortem – Visualising Information for Advocacy
“The case of Schooloscope, and the wider question of public access to school data challenges the belief that sunlight is the best disinfectant, that government transparency would always lead to better government, better results.”

Mushon Zer-Aviv explores – an important case study for opening government data.

Disinformation Visualization with Mushon Zer-Aviv – Data Stories
Part of the Data Stories podcast series, this this interview explores the million different facets of disinformation through visualization.

Infographics and Data Visualisation as a medium

Alberto Cairo: Data journalism needs to up its own standards – Nieman Lab
Is data journalism in crisis (already)? Using recent examples of flawed data journalism, data visualisation expert Alberto Cairo calls for more scientific rigour. He argues that:

  1. Data and explanatory journalism cannot be done on the cheap.
  2. Nor can they be produced in a rush.
  3. Part of your audience knows more than you do.
  4. Data journalists cannot survive in a cocoon.

What killed the infographic? – Fast CoDesign
“Data visualization has evolved into something more mature, corporate, and honest about its failings. The quirky, experimental infographics that once peppered the Internet may be disappearing. But that’s only because data visualization, as a medium, has finally grown up and gotten a job.”

Mark Wilson explores the rise and fall of the infographic, and the future of data visualization and its designers.

Design and Redesign: Datavis – Medium
As dataviz has become a popular medium of communication, it has attracted popular criticism. This criticism often takes the form of a direct redesign, transforming the same raw data in a different way.

In this essay, dataviz designers Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg explore the implications of critique by redesign, and suggest a framework to ensure that criticism remains productive.

History of data visualisation – Data Art
Computer generated visualisation, whilst a relatively new subject area has its roots in a long historical tradition of representing information using pictures in ways that combine art, science and statistics. This partial visual history includes the development of maps, astronomy, statistical graphics and computers.

Map Mayhem – Geohacker
“This project is not to foster cynicism or skepticism but to encourage a healthy critical perspective on visualising information on maps.”

This is a collection of articles exploring the many ways in which “map mayhem” can arise.

The difference between an infographic and a visualisation – Eager Eyes
In this short piece, Robert Kosara outlines the key difference between a visualisation and a data-based infographic. Spoiler Alert: “Visualization is general, infographics are specific.”

Junk Charts
In this long-running blog, visualization critic Kaiser Fung discusses “what makes graphics work, and how to make them better”.

The Design of Nothing: Null, Zero, Blank – OpenVis
“Pay attention to nothing, care for nothing, because it really is worth something.”

Speaking at OpenVis Conference, 2014, Andy Kirk explores how we can represent the absence of data, how to represent 0 in size, and the use of blank and nothingness in design.

Examples of data visualizations (no endorsement)

When Maps Lie – CityLab, The Atlantic
“Maps are inherently interesting and fun… but a little bit of thought and increased awareness of how they can manipulate or obscure is a good thing, too.”

Geographer Andrew Wiseman provides a guide on how to avoid being fooled by maps.

Lies, damn lies and visualisations – O’Reilly Radar
Andrew Odewahn measures good and bad visualisations against the hallmarks of good journalism: Is it accurate? Is it objective? How does it fit within the broader informational context?

16 Useless infographics – the Guardian
The Guardian Data team bring you “an exciting gallery of infographics that tell you nothing”. Bonus point: contains the brilliant term infauxgraphics.

People Movin
This visualisation harnesses global migration data from 2010, offering nation-by-nation summaries of the flow of population between nation state.

Racial Dot Map
A visualization of geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the entire country.

A new project which aims to revolutionize the way human rights are presented and communicated, in collaboration with Information is Beautiful.

Examples of Human Rights Organisations’ use of data visualizations

Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Bureau of Investigative Journalism Data
A visualisation of drones strikes in Pakistan since 2009.

Deadly Environment – Global Witness
This report documents the increasing numbers of murders over land disputes for natural resources.

Violence against Journalists in Afghanistan – Nai, Afghanistan
This map visualises ten years of data on violence against journalists in Afghanistan.

U.S. Gun Deaths – Periscopic
This dramatic visualization of gun deaths in the US over time uses near real-time, crowdsourced data.

Rate of Global Forest Loss – World Resources Institute
A visualization of data from Science showing the world is losing 50 soccer fields’ worth of forest every minute of every day, plus a map of the same data.

Stories Involving Anonymous Companies – Global Witness
A project to map the abuse of anonymous company ownership around the world.

Tracking Syria’s Defections – Al Jazeera / Google Ideas
Al Jazeera and Google Ideas collaborated to make an interactive visualization of loyalty/defections from the Syrian regime that helps international audiences and human rights activists understand and respond to the situation in Syria.

LRA Crisis Tracker – Invisible Children
A visualization of attacks, killings, and abductions committed against civilians by the LRA.

Syria Tracker – Humanitarian Tracker
This dashboard uses data sent by mobile phones to document and map human rights abuses in Syria.

E-waste Republic – Al Jazeera
A web documentary by Jacopo Ottaviani exploring e-waste in Ghana.

Guides and intros

Visualising for Advocacy – Tactical Tech
A list of blogs and resources that are helpful when thinking about data and design.

Visualising Data for Human Rights – Benetech
4 tips to consider when visualising data for Human Rights.

Data Visualization Semantics – Fell in Love with Data
How to use text well in visualizations.

Practical steps for good visualisation – DataViz
Design for your audience, accurately represent the data, and keep it clear. With these principles in mind, this guide includes 13 steps for good data visualization.

How to make infographics: a beginner’s guide to data visualization – the Guardian
A beginner’s guide to visualizing development data.

How to get started with data visualisation – AfricaCheck
A starter’s guide to dataviz, aimed at data journalists.

Making Research Useful: current challenges and good practice in data visualisation
This report advocates for the increased use of data visualization techniques to illuminate research findings and provides suggestions to overcome some of the challenges academics currently face in using them.

On Visualising Data Well – Data Remixed
Ben Jones applies William Zinsser’s 7 principles of writing well to visualising data.

Real Chart Rules to Follow – FlowingData
Nathan Yau lays out the 5 rules you shouldn’t break when designing a chart.

How to Design Better Data Visualizations – Creative Bloq
Graham Odds outlines principles that will help you to design more compelling data visualizations.


Responsible Data Visualization
In this session at the Future of Web Design New York (November 2015), Amanda Cheung will explore how designers and developers can help users to understand data better and faster.


The Visual Display of Quantitative Information – Edward Tufte
The classic book on statistical graphics, charts and tables.

About the contributor

Maya is an interdisciplinary technologist, researcher and improvisational electronic musician based in Berlin. In 2012, she worked with Development Seed, building websites and interactive maps. Later, she worked as a research assistant for Gabriella Coleman investigating the politics of hackers, and as a radio show host for a feminist, artist-run centre. She is now working with organizations of all sizes to influence their security culture, in addition to managing and developing new internal tech processes for a distributed organization.

See Maya's Articles

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