Monday, August 29, 2016

Download the Datasaurus: Never trust summary statistics alone; always visualize your data

This tweet is quickly becoming the most popular I've ever written. I drew that dinosaur with this fantastic tool created by Robert Grant, a statistician and visualization designer. It lets you plot any points on a scatter plot and then download the corresponding data.

In case you want to use the Datasaurus in your classes or talks to illustrate how important it is to visualize data while analyzing it, feel free to download the data set from this Dropbox link.* It'll be fun to first show your audience just the figures and the summary statistics, and then ask them to make the chart:

Update: Maarten Lambrechts proposes to call this the Anscombosaurus, honoring Francis Anscombe's quartet. I like it.

*NOTE: You can use the data and illustrations for any other purpose. They aren't copyrighted.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The news graphics designer skill set

I continue working on the-project-that-must-not-be-named. I'm currently analyzing several interviews with news graphics professionals and I keep finding many quotes worth saving. Here's Washington Post's Kat Downs on the skills she looks for when hiring for her department:
“Our team is really multidisciplinary, a lot of our projects are team projects. There are fundamentally three skill sets that I am looking for when I hire people. One is reporting, a storytelling skill set. Another is design and that would include things like data visualization, or drawing skill, illustrating skill, modeling skill, strong aesthetic or UI design skill. And the last would be development skill, so that would include data analysis, front end development, full stack development. Typically all of our hires have two and sometimes three of those skill sets. But maybe one is their main and then they’ve got a second or third, but those are the main things that we are looking for. So we have across the team based on that artists, designers who are very focused on usability, visual design, reporters, data focused reporters, developers from junior to people with CS degrees who are extremely, extremely competent, sort of groundbreaking computer science people.”
Take note, students —and professors.

And this a portion of the raw transcript of the interview with NPR's Brian Boyer, a journalist who has a background in computer science. It made me cheer out loud several times (my kids are witnesses):

“I think that, yeah, if you want a journalist who's an experienced software developer but a novice reporter, yeah, teach your programmer how to be a reporter. I'm certainly not going to claim that I'm a great reporter, and I'm still learning about being a pretty good editor. But I would say that I believe the Computer Science —fuck Computer Science, right? I have a four-year degree that is not actually that useful at our day-to-day work. The kind of software that we're building in these rooms, the kind of software that most people are building as consultants, or working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, working for IBM, working for Facebook, —. there's a small subset of people who are doing hard computer science problems, but the vast majority of us are writing code to make webpages, and writing code to make webpages is not that hard. There are certainly some learning curves. There's some bumps in the road you've got to get over, but I really, truly believe that coding is something that anyone can do with practice.  
The analogy I use is it's like learning to cook, right? Anyone can make themselves a grilled cheese sandwich. Anyone can make themselves macaroni and cheese for dinner, and most of the programming we do is macaroni and cheese. Now, there's a certain subset of people who are obsessed with food or obsessed with programming, and then go on and they learn to do much more complicated things, but the difference between you and I and a great chef, is there's a little bit of inspiration, but it's mostly practice. It's mostly just doing it over and over and over again, and that's how you become a great chef. It helps to have good taste, but that's how you become a great chef, and that's how you become a good programmer.  
There's a lot of words we use in the software world like "wizard," and "ninja," and "rock star," and "unicorn," and all those fucking words are bullshit. They create a notion that this kind of work is magic, that it can only be conducted by freaks, and that you don't disturb the programmers; they're special. And that's horse shit. It's not magic. It's just practice, and when we use words like that, we further the idea, we promote the idea that this is fundamentally different than other work that only certain people can do, and that is bad for the field. That's bad for journalism. It keeps people out, and we shouldn't use words like that because we shouldn't be keeping people out. We should be as inclusive as possible. All right. That's my soapbox speech. I think it's really important.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Visualization office hours with Google

A month ago I announced a monthly live “office hours” feature with the Google News Lab. We've done two already. You can see them here: 1, 2. This is a series of informal conversations in which I talk about visualization, infographics, and data journalism projects I saw during the previous month.

(Full disclosure, also mentioned in the videos above: I'm doing some consulting work for Google Trends/Google News Lab)

Here are the links that I mentioned:



The Guardian Olympics graphics: 1, 2, 3, 4 




Type for user interfaces: 1, 2

Friday, August 19, 2016

Miami Herald's Zika virus tracker

When writing about visualization, infographics, and data journalism it's easy to highlight just special projects by large organizations that take weeks or months to complete, and forget about the bread-and-butter ones about current topics, which are often much less flashy, but also much more relevant and useful to people.

Miami Herald's Zika virus tracker belongs to the second category. It's a straightforward series of graphics —a large map plus some graphs— produced by a tiny group of earnest professionals. We should give this kind of team more credit and attention than they usually get. They haven't forgotten that journalism is, above all, service, not entertainment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Inspiring visualizations by Sam Petulla

There's so much inspiring data journalism, visualizations, and infographics around nowadays that it's easy to miss plenty of great projects. The work of NBC News's visualization editor Sam Petulla has been under my radar for a while for some reason. What a shame. I've just discovered this fantastic long-form story published in June this year, which describes who Donald Trump's supporters are. It's an example of how to effectively blend a classic written narrative with photographs, interactive graphs, maps, and animated diagrams.

(This Friday at 3 p.m. EST I'm doing another public hangout with the Google News Lab folks; I'll likely mention this piece, among many others about the Olympics.)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Visualization in comic books

Jonathan Hickman is one of the most interesting comic book authors nowadays. His non-superhero work is consistently innovative, ambitious —some say “pretentious”— and often disorienting, as he loves to play with story structures and layout. One of his earliest books, The Nightly News, is full of graphs, charts, diagrams, and maps. Just take a look:

Hickman has just launched a lovely new series, The Black Monday Murders, which chronicles a vast conspiracy behind the global financial system. Here's a graph from the last pages of the first issue:

I wonder what the scale of that thing is, and where the data came from!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Signing copies of "The Truthful Art" for the Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium

One of the giveaways we'll hand out at the upcoming Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium, on September 29-October 2, is a signed copy of my most recent book, The Truthful Art. I'm working on that right now, as you can see in the picture. If you are planning to attend, make sure you have enough room in your luggage.