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?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Interview about graphicacy with Resist Dashboard

I've just appeared in The Great Battlefield, a progressive podcast which is part of the Resistance Dashboard website. I talked about graphicacy and the Visual Trumpery lecture, explaining again that its title is a provocation, as I'm no progressive and its content is quite bipartisan. That said, I do consider myself part of a vague “resistance” against the deep intellectual and moral decay Trumpism is a symptom of. Here's the interview.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Supporting journalism

A year ago I mentioned that I read Peter Singer's Ethics in the Real World, a book where he suggests that if we disclose some of the donations we make to the causes we most care about, we'll likely persuade other people to do the same.

I care a lot about the future of journalism and news organizations as institutions that keep other powers accountable, and I think that you ought to care too, so here are my contributions this year to organizations that do excellent investigative reporting:

—$500 to ProPublica
—$500 to Mother Jones
—$500 to the Center for Investigative Reporting
—$500 to The Marshall Project

I also continue being subscribed to many publications just to support them. As it happened in 2016, I get way more stuff that I can read, but that's not the point. I want these folks to keep doing what they do because I know it benefits us. If you feel the same, if you enjoy the great journalism you regularly see, read, or listen to, and you can spare some money, consider subscribing to your favorite sources, both national and local. Here's my current list:

The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Weekly Standard
Mother Jones
The Nation
Rolling Stone
—The New Yorker
The Atlantic

I'm also about to renew my subscription to the Miami Herald, and I'm looking for another conservative publication, maybe National Review.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Don't refrain from using uncommon visualizations; explain them

I've heard from people who teach visualization that one of the questions they often get is why, when, and how to use uncommon graphic forms. Some designers prefer to stick to forms they think can be understood by most readers (bar graphs, time-series line graphs, pie charts,) and avoid unusual ones.

As I argued in The Truthful Art, I believe that this is a self-defeating strategy because (a) sometimes an unusual graphic form is a good way to convey a message, and (b) by using it and explaining how to read it, you'll expand your audience's visual grammar and vocabulary —their “graphicacy”. The caption of this 1849 line graph is an example, and so are the thorough annotations that pioneers such as William Playfair wrote to further clarify their graphics.

The latest example I've seen of this strategy is this story by Zeit online. It isn't just a nice combination of strip plots, scatter plots, and maps; the authors inserted an explainer of how to interpret a bivariate choropleth map in the story itself. This one (the color choice has been critiqued, by the way):

They also wrote explanations like the one below, describing a scatter plot. This may sound redundant to experts but I think that it can be very useful for many readers:
“The diagram shows the distribution of medical practices in relation to private patients by county. Each point represents a district. The further to the right the point lies, the more private patients there are. The higher the point, the more medical practices there are. The red line makes the connection clear: many doctors are where there are many private patients.”
Well done.

UPDATE: Jim Vallandingham has just published a good gallery of multivariate maps.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A makeover of the visualization of voting similarities in the Senate

A few days ago I praised this graphic of voting similarities in the Senate.

Andrew Gelman saw it too and offered some intriguing suggestions. (please read them!) However, he didn't do a makeover himself. I decided to use his ideas and design a very quick sketch to see how an alternative graphic may look like. You can see the mockup below. A few warnings:

1. I used the same similarity scale as Gramener. I asked them for the data.
2. Take the ideological score with a grain of salt. I got it from here but I didn't verify whether it's trustworthy. McCain is on the right position according to his ideological score (X-scale.)
3. Around one quarter of Senators are not shown because of missing data.
4. I have no particular preference. I like either of version for different reasons.