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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Visualization at Eurostat

Last week I was in Luxembourg, where I did the Visual Trumpery talk a couple of times. In between, I had time to chat with statisticians from both STATEC (Luxembourg's statistical institute) and Eurostat.

The Eurostat folks showed me some infographics and data visualizations and tools they've done recently. I'm fond of their Regions and Cities project and their Statistical Atlas. The former let's you visualize many variables in multiple ways: Maps, dot plots, tables, etc.:

And the latter is simply a great source for data to play with. You can select any variable, see it visualized on a map, and then download its data (scroll down on the Legend, on the bottom-right corner of each screen.) As far as I've seen —I downloaded a couple of csv files,— the data is already formatted tidily, which is nice. I wish more sources of would provide spreadsheets without useless headers, footnotes, comments, and in long format, rather than wide:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Visualizing visualization

Our latest Google News Lab's visualization (see the entire series and read about them) is pretty meta-referential: Designer Anna Vital's The Visualization Universe reveals the search interest for visualization books, tools, and charts.

FastCo Design has just published an article about the genesis of this project. As usual, I didn't do any hands-on work myself; I only provided some general art direction. We wanted the result to be pretty straightforward, so Anna used mostly stacked bar graphs and sparklines.

On the opening screen you can select one category and see a ranking that you can sort by name, overall search interest, or change in comparison to last year:

Clicking any icon will reveal more details:

If you notice that something is missing, you can contact Anna through this form or send her an e-mail.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Visualizing voting similarities in the Senate

Gramener, a data science firm based in India, has just published a neat visualization of voting similarities in the Senate. As the intro to the project itself says “When senator 'X' votes a 'Yea' or 'Nay' what are the chances that senator 'Y' would do the same?” Just a few thoughts:

1. I like how simple but rich this graphic is. You can first select one Senator through the drop-down menu, and then click on any circle to get the similarity with another Senator.

2. I wish someone will do something similar with the House of Representatives, if only to reveal that some Congressmen who claim to be “moderates” (like my district's Carlos Curbelo) are actually hardcore party hacks who vote with their tribe nearly 90% of the time.

3. Numerical summaries and alternative ways of visualizing the data could help a lot. I wish I could make comparisons between each senator and each party's average or see some rankings. I got the feeling, for instance, that, overall, Republicans tend to vote more similarly to each other than Democrats, but I couldn't verify that hunch.

Here are some highlights:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mapping HIV

I've been meaning to write this post for quite a long time. Months ago, I discovered, an initiative by Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in partnership with Gilead Sciences  that tracks HIV in the U.S. The data comes from CDC.

As I liked what I saw, I wrote some quick notes but, as it often happens, completely forgot about them. Then, three weeks ago I met some of its creators at the World Conference of Science Journalists, where I gave a talk (here's a summary of what I said.) I promised that I'd recover the notes and publish them, as this is a visualization project that is worth your time.

Once you enter the, it'll locate you —if you don't block location services— and display statistics that pertain to your area. After that, you can jump to a national map with tons of filters:

Or you can look for HIV testing and care sites, or learn how to use the maps and the underlying data for other purposes. You can also explore your own region. Here's my ZIP code:

The website also has “infographics”, which summarize certain portions of the data sets to address specific stories or audiences, a blog, a pretty active Twitter account, and city profiles. This is Miami.

Besides its obvious goal of letting people grasp the scope of the HIV, AIDSVu can be a useful resource for classes. It showcases almost no graphs, so this may be a great opportunity to imagine other ways to visualize its data besides the existing maps: Comparisons and rankings of states, cities, and ZIP codes, visualizations of relationships between variables, etc. AIDSVu promises to showcase your work, if you decide to share with them.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Metal and sunshine

One of the most celebrated examples in the Visual Trumpery lecture is this map of concentration of Heavy Metal bands per million people in Europe (source):

I use this map to discuss how to verify a source (spoiler: I love the map, and the data on it looks OK to me.) During the talk I often joke that this confirms something that, as a hard rock fan, I already guessed: overall, the less sunlight a country gets, the more metal bands it tends to have.

The audience loves this joke, but is it true? It turns out that, at least at a first glance, it may not be or, at least, it needs some caveats. Here's a quick ggplot2 of the relationship between the average yearly sunshine duration in the capitals of most of these countries and the concentration of metal bands (Note: I used the capital as a rough proxy, being very aware that many of these countries are big, so that the amount of sunlight within them varies a lot. In Spain, for instance, the South is very sunny, but Northern regions such as Galicia, where I was born, are cloudy, rainy, dark —and maybe very metal):

So my hunch is tentatively dubious, at least until we get more detailed data and think carefully about it: the relationship is clearly not linear and, even if that were the case, correlation isn't that strong. Besides, the graph reveals some intriguing features, such as at least three clusters of countries. The group on the left is largely made of Western, non-Mediterranean countries; the one in the middle is mostly Eastern and South-Eastern countries; and the last group, on the right, is Southern Mediterranean countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, and Italy.)

If we isolate the first group, with the exception of an outlier (Iceland) the relationship is positive: the more sunlight, the more metal bands. And if we ignore the four outliers on the Y-axis from the overall mix (Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland,) there's barely any relationship. See graphs below.

What can we learn from all this? Not much, I guess, other than that even silly jokes ought to be verified and presented with plenty of caveats.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Uncertainty, graphicacy, and the power of statistics

Power from Statistics is an initiative by Eurostat and the European Political Strategy Centre. Their conference in Brussels begins today, so they've just launched their report. I attended one of the roundtables that led to this document, so they asked me whether I'd write an article for it.

The result is “Uncertainty and graphicacy: How should statisticians, journalists, and designers reveal uncertainty in graphics for public consumption?” (PDF), which consists of some miscellaneous thoughts about why the public —including journalists!— don't grasp uncertainty, how people even misread common charts, graphs, and maps, and what we could do about it. If you have attended any of the Visual Trumpery lectures, a few of these musings may sound familiar.

This is an essay in the literal sense: Writing intended to help myself think and play with some ideas, such as the timeline of “Golden Ages” and “Dark Ages” of visualization (below,) so take everything with a grain of salt. I'm more than willing to change my mind on anything I wrote. Enjoy.

(This same article will appear soon —abbreviated— in a book about visualization in the news. Consider ordering it. It looks fantastic.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Interview at Stats & Stories

A few weeks ago I had a fun conversation with John Bailer, Richard Campbell, and Rosemary Pennington, the people behind the Stats and Stories podcast, also available at NPR.

We talked about graphicacy, Visual Trumpery, how numbers mislead, and many other topics. Listen to it if you have time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ain't Data Truth?

My University of Miami colleague Hiram Henríquez has created an infographics non-profit organization called Ain't Data Truth, which he presented at the Malofiej Infographics Summit this year. Its main output is a series of enormous data posters about current events. Take a look at the “topics” menu on the upper-right corner of his website. You can also send him your feedback and suggestions.

Hiram worked in news media for many years (Miami Herald, National Geographic magazine, etc.,) and now, besides teaching at our School of Communication, keeps doing freelancing and side projects like this. Here's the latest poster he has published, about climate change (hi-res PDF here):

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Visualizing gender and race inequality in newsrooms

Our latest project in the collaboration with Google News Lab —read about it here and see all projects here— is an exploration of gender and race in U.S news publications. It was designed by Polygraph based on data from the American Society of News Editors (ASNE,) which has also published an article about it.

One of the reasons I love this interactive visualization so much is the multiple ways in which the data is visualized —bubble plots, scatter plots, dot plots, tables, etc.— and also the animated transitions between them. Don't miss it.

Friday, September 29, 2017

An update on Visual Trumpery: New cities and dates

I've already delivered the Visual Trumpery talk in Mexico DF, Barcelona, and Atlanta. Speros Kokenes, who organized my visit to Atlanta, has written an article about it.

In October I'll be visiting Portland, Berkeley, Redlands, New York City (where nearly 300 people have already signed up!) and Ithaca (Cornell University.) The November schedule is also quite packed.

I'll soon add new places and dates confirmed for 2018, including Washington DC, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Columbus and Athens (OH), Syracuse (NY), Auckland (NZ), London (UK), and a few cities in Spain, Canada and Poland.

As I explained a while ago, this is what you need to bring Visual Trumpery to you:

1. A flight (coach is fine) from Miami and a place to stay (I'm not picky.)

2. I won't charge anything, but I'll need some minor expenses covered, such as taxis to and from the airport, meals, etc.

3. You must arrange a venue and announce broadly. I can help with promotion through social media, of course. The talk cannot be part of a paid-for event or conference. It must be open to the public.

4. I can present in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. If the audience speaks any other language, we may need an interpreter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Low-tech visualization: How much space newspaper front pages used to cover hurricanes

Many of my students get a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of each semester by the amount and variety of tools we use in class. I decided to show them that sometimes you can create pretty neat visualizations with rather pedestrian techniques, such as drawing basic shapes in programs like InkScape or Adobe Illustrator.

I spent a couple of hours today designing the two graphics below. They depict the space devoted to the threat and consequences of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in the past month on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. I first downloaded all cover images from both websites, and then drew the rectangles over them. Colors correspond to the region or regions that are most prominently mentioned on each story.

To see these in high resolution (ai, pdf, svg,) go to this folder. Feel free to use them.

UPDATE: Lynn Cherny and Moritz Stefaner have just told me that designer Krisztina Szűcs did something similar a while ago. It looks great. Check it out.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Updated Tutorials & Resources section

You're probably aware that this website has a Tutorials & Resources section where I post videos myself or other people have recorded. I've just updated that section with a short and quite informal tutorial about RAWGraphs, a great and tool by the Density Design lab.

These are materials I use in my classes at the journalism and interactive media Masters programs at the University of Miami. I'm a fan of “flipped classrooms,” so I don't devote precious class time to basic software training, just to answer questions about the tools, or to explain advanced techniques if students need them. Tutorials take care of software basics, so we can use class time for lectures, discussions, critiques, and feedback on exercises.

Here's a diagram of what we use each tool for:

Before you ask: Yes, Tableau and PowerBI are part of my classes, but later in the semester.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A conversation about designing better visualizations —and spotting misleading ones

I talked to the good folks at Discourse a while ago. If you enjoy in-depth journalism, you could consider following them. They've just published an edited version of our conversation, keeping just the good parts.

We discussed several takeaways from my Visual Trumpery lecture series and some of my to-go sources for great news visualization. Here's the most timely part, considering that ProPublica has just announced their partnership with several data scientists: