Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A virtual Galton quincunx

In The Truthful Art I describe the Galton quincunx, a fun device to explain basic probability and distributions. There are plenty of video demonstrations of how it works; here's one:

Some people have even designed 3D animations of it and I got curious whether I could do one myself using Autodesk Maya's gravity fields (the little arrow on the animation below) and rigid body capabilities. It turns out it works!—with some glitches, and with limitations due to each computer's processing power. In my case, the falling spheres began producing a normal distribution, but once more than five or six were on screen, weird things started to happen and the computer began running really slowly:

3D animation is fun; I used to teach a class about it and I'm hoping I'll be able to resume doing at some point!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New tutorial: Data Illustrator

I've just added a new free tutorial to the Tutorials & Resources section of this website. It's about Data Illustrator, a tool that greatly expands the charting capabilities of tools such as Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, or Inkscape, similarly to Charticulator.

The tutorial is by Data Illustrator's co-creator John Thompson. You can see all video clips and data sets from this DropBox folder. I recommend you download these files; if you play the videos in the browser, they may get cut off.

I've also updated the tools diagram in the Tutorials & Resources section. These are the tools that I expose students to in my introduction to infographics and data visualization classes at the University of Miami:

Monday, January 28, 2019

New project: The shape of news in Google searches

We've just launched a new project, The Lifespan of News Stories, designed by Schema in partnership with Axios and the Google News Initiative. Axios wrote a story of their own.

My role, as usual, was to art-direct a bit and bug the Schema folks every couple of weeks with design suggestions and tweaks. See our previous projects here.

From Schema's press release:

The Lifespan of News Stories is a collaboration between Schema, Google News Initiative, Alberto Cairo and Axios. The project analyzes the shape of search interest data from the top news stories of 2018. By visualizing and categorizing the shape types into four groups, we start seeing patterns. For example, stories that are skewed to the right are usually unexpected events such as a celebrity death or a natural catastrophe. Stories with multiple peaks are normally longer in duration due to longer exposure in the media, such as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. Stories with broad national interest can have long tails or long ramp ups, such as the midterm elections. Finally, it is possible to visualize that news stories come and go with a certain rhythm throughout the year with the exception of a few gaps, notably during the summer school break and winter holidays.

The data has its limitations, needless to say, as it's just Google search interest and doesn't capture conversations in social media platforms, but it's still revealing, I think:

The shapes of the lifespan of news stories —suggested by Axios— are organized in six categories, which can be explored at will:

My favorite part is this simple explainer of shapes:

Anyway, enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

New book in the Fall; new public talk in 2019

If you follow me on Twitter you know that I have a new book coming in the Fall this year. It'll be my first for the general public and, unfortunately, it's not part of the “art” series —yes, that means you'll need to wait until 2020 or 2021 for the The Insightful Art, the closing of the trilogy. The new book is the reason I've been silent for so long in this blog.

The book is titled How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter About Visual Information, and it'll be launched by W.W. Norton, which also publishes authors I greatly admire such as Michael Lewis (The Fifth Risk) and Charles Wheelan (Naked Statistics). No pressure, I guess. How Charts Lie can't be pre-ordered yet, but I'll let you know as soon as it can. The domain already exists, but I haven't added any content yet.

If you have attended one of the Visual Trumpery public lectures in the past couple of years, be aware that the talk is a concise trailer for How Charts Lie, as it roughly replicates its structure. How Charts Lie teaches general audiences how to read graphs and maps correctly, and how to use them to improve understanding.

Some other authors are reading the draft of How Charts Lie and will blurb it. Here is, for instance, Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist and Messy): “Alberto Cairo has written a wise, witty and utterly beautiful book. You couldn't hope for a better teacher to improve your graphical literacy.” I love Tim's books —go check them out— so his endorsement means a lot.

In 2019 I'm revamping my public talk, and renaming it to match the title of the book. In the first semester this year I'll be presenting in Miami (today!), Mexico DF, Denver, Vancouver, Providence, Knoxville, Detroit, Pamplona, and probably Amsterdam, Milan, and Calgary. I'll continue giving public lectures once the book is launched in the Fall.

The content of the new version of the public talk will likely be organized around the biases I warn against in How Charts Lie —which, by the way, could have been titled “How We Lie To Ourselves With Charts —and How They Can Make Us Smarter Instead”, although that'd be way too clunky. Here you have some draft slides I'm working on right now:

Friday, October 19, 2018

Building Hopes: design your own virtual statues

Yesterday we launched a new project, Building Hopes. The application, designed by Accurat, has a desktop version, and also iPhone and Android ones that have some extra capabilities, such as augmented reality —we wanted to experiment with it a bit.

Building Hopes consists of designing virtual statues based on things you feel hopeful for. At the beginning you'll be given several choices and, through a slider, you can indicate your level of hopefulness for them. After that, you can name your statues and place them in the real world. If you use the smart phone applications, you can also see them over your surroundings (see images and animation below.) You can also click on the pebbles of your own statue or of statues designed by other people near you to get more detail, such as Google search interest for those terms.

To learn more about this playful, experimental project read the press release, Accurat's article, and Simon Rogers's post.

Monday, September 24, 2018

New tool: Morph for abstract data art

We're launching a new tool today. After Flourish —for news interactive data visualization; see a tutorial,— Tilegrams —for cartograms— and some others, Morph goes in a different direction: it generates abstract images based on data.

Designed by Datavized in collaboration with Google, Morph lets you design traditional charts and graphs, and then randomize transformations through an evolutionary algorithm. I've recorded a short tutorial highlighting Morph's main features, and you can also read about it in the official press release, in this making-of article, and in this post by Google's Simon Rogers.

Morph's documentation and code are available on GitHub. Play with it, send your best work, and if you have suggestions for additions or improvements, let Datavized know.

(See all our previous projects and read more about our collaboration.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Visualizing the Brazilian elections

The Brazilian presidential election will take place on October 7th, and we have just launched a project that visualizes the search interest for the candidates. This is part of my ongoing collaboration with the Google News Initiative (read more about it here and see all previous projects,) and it was developed by Carol Cavaleiro, Thais Viana, and Tainá Simões. Jair Bolsonaro, an authoritarian, misogynistic, and anti-LGBTQ candidate who leads in the polls —but who likely won't win on the first round— is the most searched-for candidate:

Other graphics in this project display related terms and themes in searches. Enjoy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

To learn visualization, write about visualization

The best way to understand something well is to force yourself to explain it to others. That's why, beginning this semester, I'm requiring all my students at the University of Miami to read 2-3 chapters from visualization books every week, and then write about them in a weblog. I'm giving students in my advanced class access to the manuscript of my new book, which will be published in 2019, so if you want to get a sneak peek, read below.

Here are some posts I liked:

Shiqi Wang used the weekly readings as a pretext for an essay about the nature of visualization. Her opening paragraph is: “I think data visualization is not simply about turning data into charts. It's about looking at the world through data. In other words, the object of data visualization is data, but what we want is actually — data vision, data as a tool, visualization as a means to describe reality and explore the world.”

Alyssa Fowers got a book by Howard Wainer and wrote an interesting post about the dangers of small samples and extreme values.

Mackenzie Miller wrote both about The Truthful Art and the first few chapters of my new book. Scroll down, as she also has posts about R and ggplot2.

Shiyue Qian wrote a nice summary of the first few chapters of The Truthful Art.

Adam Clarke disagreed with me—I like that!

Brendan McBreen critiqued a faulty graphic about federal spending. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Visualization MOOC materials available

In the past six years I've done numerous Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). The latest one was this Summer, in partnership again with the Knight Center at the University of Texas. My MOOCs are quick and broad introductions to data visualization and infographics. They won't make you a professional visualization designer —that requires years of self-teaching, or applying to programs like our MFA in Interactive Media at the University of Miami— but they offer some foundations.

We've decided to create a public repository of all video tutorials and readings from the course. Enjoy and feel free to use them in any way you want (just give us credit!)

Coincidentally, and talking about our interactive media and journalism programs at the University of Miami, I've been compiling a list of the courses that we offer. Here are a few (I'm not even including classes from our MS in Business Analytics, as I still need to learn which ones are focused on visualization.)

Friday, August 10, 2018

A preview of my 2019 book

At this point you all know that I'm writing a new book, and that it'll be published in 2019. I just finished the draft, which it's now under review by several stats friends such as Heather Krause, Diego Kuonen, Walter Sosa, Nick Cox, Frédéric Schütz, Jon Schwabish, etc. This conversation I just had with The Customer Equity Accelerator Podcast works as a decent preview of what I have to say.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Visualizing amalgamation paradoxes and ecological fallacies

I'm spending the Summer writing my first popular science book about charts for the general public, to be published in 2019, and I've been searching for examples of amalgamation paradoxes and ecological fallacies. An amalgamation paradox occurs when patterns appear or disappear depending on how you subset your data, and an ecological fallacy consists on inferring characteristics of individuals based on the features of the groups they belong to.

I was inspired by a recent article and talk by Heather Krause, and decided to recreate her charts with more recent data. Here you have a strong positive correlation (0.51!) between cigarette consumption per person and year, and life expectancy; each dot is a country:

I made the chart in INZight (tutorial) and the data, which comes from the WHO and Gapminder, is here (CSV), in case you want to play with it.

This is an obvious case of spurious causal inference —don't miss this hilarious website,— as we could think of other variables that affect life expectancy at the national level, such as wealth. Using the same data, I color-coded the countries by income group. In general, rich countries have high life expectancies, and poor countries are at the bottom of the Y-axis:

Here you have one plot per income group:

Moreover, the positive relationship between the two variables disappears once we subdivide countries by region...

...and it reverses if we split the data further, down to the individual level, as smoking does shrink your life expectancy. Here's a chart from Heather's article:

Monday, June 11, 2018

Transitions in visualization

I'm a fan of animation in data visualization when used for meaningful transitions. A good example is the latest project in the ongoing collaboration with the Google News Initiative (read more about it in the previous post,) which visualizes search interest in the upcoming Mexican elections. It was designed by Yosune Chamizo and Gilberto León.

Here's a transition between a geographical map and semi-equal area cartogram:

And here's a transition between a map and a chart (we're still working on making the proportions 100% accurate):

Finally, I'd like to mention this animated histogram by the Financial Times, which I'll probably showcase in my upcoming book:

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Soccer, tools, a course, and a new book

News about my ongoing collaboration with the Google News Initiative —see all projects, and an article about them— slowed down a bit on the first half of 2018, but they are about to get more frequent. First, this coming week I begin a brand-new Massive Open Online Course, a 4-week intro to elementary principles of visualization. The course is aimed at absolute beginners, and you can still sign up; more than 4,000 people from more than 100 countries have already done so.

We're also preparing to launch visualizations about the elections in Mexico and Brazil, the U.S. midterms, and a few free software tools that I think you'll really like. I can't say much about them for now, other than they are similar to Flourish in the sense that they let you generate visuals, interactives, and animations that up to this point you could only make through code.

(This is all happening, by the way, while I work on my new book. I need to turn in the draft to the publisher before September, and the book will be launched in 2019. No, it's not The Insightful Art —that'll likely come next— but my first non-fiction hardcover for the general public. I'm excited. See a sneak peek of one page.)

Anyway, the latest visualization coming out of the Google News Initiative explores the World Cup. It was designed by Polygraph, and it lets you see which players and teams are most popular all over the world. I really like its simplicity, it's intentionally Googlish color palette —and the animated players:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A conversation with Cole Nussbaumer

The other day I chatted with Cole Nussbaumer for her visualization podcast. Cole is the author of the book Storytelling With Data, which has quickly become a best-seller. We planned for 40 minutes but we ended up talking for more than an hour. I mentioned my 2019 book —I'm working on it right now; I need to turn it in by September— and why I don't think I can contribute much to the visualization field itself, but may be more helpful popularizing graphicacy outside of it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

New MOOC(s)

This year I'm doing two separate Massive Open Online Courses, one in English, which begins in June —registration is already open, so sign up— and another one in Spanish (more information soon; this one will likely be around October.)

In these free courses I cover the basics of data visualization and teach a few tools I love, such as INZight and Flourish. I have some tutorials about them here, as you may remember, in case you're interested. In the course I asume you have no knowledge of visualization, so recommend it to friends and acquaintances who you know want or need to learn it.

Here's a screenshot of the video tutorials of the MOOC in English; I felt we needed something else other than me and my computer in them, so I put some books from my home office shelves on the desk:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Visualization myths: Henry Beck and the London Underground map

Human nature dictates that whenever we group, we start devising a shared identity, bonding around imaginary heroes, myths, and legends. Visualization, infographics, and data journalism aren't exceptions. Years ago, I wrote about the myths surrounding John Snow's undeniable achievements, and I often need to point out that most visualizations that look very innovative have precedents. It happened just yesterday with one of my graphics. Perhaps it's because I've always been skeptical of nationalisms and other strong identities that I prefer my myths and heroes to exist exclusively in the movies and novels I enjoy watching and reading.

This morning I discovered another possible myth. I guess you're all familiar with Henry Beck's 1933 London Underground map. We've learned that it's a landmark in the history of information design thanks to books, articles, and talks (including mine), but it turns out that the story is —as it often happens— much more complicated and enthralling, as information designer Douglas Rose reminds us in this article. Rose is quite convincing when arguing that Beck was likely inspired by George Dow, an employee of the London & North Eastern Railway.

Here's a 1929 map by Dow which straightens out the lines and evens out distances between stations:

Another paper I've found, which also analyzes Beck's diagram, suggests that not even the idea of expanding the area of central London was entirely his, but was based on the work of designer F.H. Stingemore, who drew some early underground maps. Facts like these don't diminish the importance of Beck's diagram —he did bring together several influences, and came up with ideas of his own— but they put it in context.

Douglas Rose recommends a book by George Dow's son, Andrew. It's titled Telling the Passenger Where to Get Off: George Dow and the Development of the Diagrammatic Railway Map; I've just ordered it:

Friday, March 23, 2018

International Chart Day

Congressman Mark Takano, from California, has announced the first International Chart Day in collaboration with Tumblr and the Society for News Design.

Takano has also introduced a resolution in the House officially declaring April 26 as International Chart Day. According to his press release, he will “deliver a speech on the House floor about the importance and history of charts. Other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will be encouraged to participate.”

Several graphics folks —myself included— will participate in an event to celebrate the announcement. Attendance is free, so see you there!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A new data visualization tool: Flourish

(Full disclosure: the development of Flourish was partially supported by the Google News Lab. I have an ongoing consulting collaboration with the Lab, so I provided some feedback before the tool was launched.)

In the past I've praised several visualization tools, some of which are still part of my workflow — INZight or RAWGraphs— and others that I've been planning to incorporate into classes for a while, such as DataWrapper, Quadrigram, or Plotly. These tools contribute to the democratization of visualization, something I care about quite a bit. A new one, Flourish, has been launched today. I'd like to bring it to your attention.

I've been playing with Flourish's beta for a few weeks, and liked it so much that I recorded an informal video tutorial for my students. You can download it here or find it in the tutorials section of this website.

(Update: I've uploaded the videos to a YouTube playlist.)

Flourish lets you quickly develop tons of different kinds of graphs and maps. This is a screenshot of the templates available so far, with more coming soon:

Long story short: Flourish is a GUI for HTML/CSS/JS-based visualizations. Any graphic you design with the free version of Flourish can be embedded in your website or exported as an SVG, to be styled in applications such as Adobe Illustrator or InkScape. That's how I made these static maps in a few minutes, right after importing a clean data set of county-level vote in 2016 (click to expand):

Flourish is semi-free for everybody and completely free for news organizations (this is what Google News Lab is supporting; apply here.) This means that, if you are a journalist, besides being able to get your graphics as SVGs or embed them, like anybody else, you'll also be able to download the HTML, so you can manually tweak the code generated by the tool if you wish —or just save it in your computer.

You can read more about other capabilities of Flourish in the press release, which I posted below. If you are a coder, for instance, you can design your own templates and upload them to the tool for future use. You can also see some examples of visualizations here and here.

Finally, this is the interactive version of my little experiment; it's the example I created in the tutorial:

Monday, January 29, 2018

WeePeople: A font made of human silhouettes

Years ago I had the privilege of working at ProPublica for around a month. As a non-coder, I couldn't help much with interactive projects so, at the same time that I was observing the dynamics of the newsroom —something I used for the Nerd Journalism e-book— I offered help with illustrations such as these ones.

I also drew portraits of many folks from the newsroom and outside that the ProPublica nerds team has just transformed into a typeface! It's called WeePeople, and you should feel free to download it and use it at will. ProPublica already has, in this visualization.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Our new conference: Data Intersections

There are few things I enjoy as much as learning from interesting people. That's why I'm only half joking when I say that I help organize and fund events such as our upcoming Data Intersections conference (March 2nd) because I'm selfish.

Data Intersections is an experimental (and free!) 1-day event in which we're asking six people —five already announced— from journalism, data science, artificial intelligence, the digital humanities, etc. to chat about how data has changed their lives and work, and to share their thoughts about the promises or challenges data poses.

We're calling this event a “dialogue”. This means that the structure will likely be a series of short presentations by our speakers about a topic of their choice, followed by tons of time to interact with the audience. Being the first time that we run this little experiment, I don't foresee it'll be a big gathering; therefore, it may be a great opportunity to mingle with folks such as Shazna Nessa, director of visuals at The Wall Street Journal, and Steve Duenes, graphics director at The New York Times.

We'll add more details to the website soon. For now, you can sign up for free here.

By the way, did I already say that Miami is lovely in early March?