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Data Viz News [61]

The top news, articles and resources of the week for those interested in data visualization

July 5, 2014

After skipping last week’s Data Viz News, due to a scheduled website maintenance, we bring you another fully-packed edition with dozens of fresh links about data visualization, data journalism, cartography and more.

As for the top news of the week, we picked a couple of announcements from the Guardian. Alberto Nardelli – who launched Tweetminster in 2008, initially to enable people to find and follow MPs, but which in recent years has expanded into media, business and sport – will join the newspaper in September as the new data editor. He replaces James Ball, who now works as special projects editor out of the US office and will return to London in September. His predecessor, Simon Rogers, joined Twitter in the US as its first data editor in 2013 – around the same time we published an exclusive interview with him. Beside the official release by The Guardian, Alberto also wrote a blog post explaining his reasons for accepting the position.

Above all, Nardelli marks Janine Gibson‘s second big-name hiring since her promotion was announced in March. In May, Aron Pilhofer, a senior digital executive at the New York Times, was appointed to the role of executive editor of digital.

The second The Guardian-related news featured here today refers to the acquisition of the Guardian Digital Agency by Kantar, a move that was many – including us – didn’t see coming. But of course, there’s a lot more to explore, with interviews, tutorials, in-depth articles and resources.

. Here are this week’s recommended links:


Latest product launches and business announcements, career moves, data visualization competitions and general news.

As mentioned before, Tweetminster co-founder Alberto Nardelli joins The Guardian to boost political data storytelling and election coverage. He will report to Janine Gibson, the Guardian’s deputy editor and editor-in-chief of, who is set to return to London from editing the Guardian’s US operation at the end of the summer.

Another one related to The Guardian: Kantar – the creative agency supporting the Information is Beautiful awards – announced the acquisition of the Guardian Digital Agency, a specialist data visualization, site design and interactive development agency previously part of Guardian News & Media. According to the release, the company, which employs a permanent staff of 13, is rebranding under the new name Graphic. It will operate as a stand-alone unit, marketing its services to clients both inside and outside Kantar as well as to the wider WPP group. The company will continue to be run by managing director Emma Whitehead alongside directors Adam Frost, John Loder and Tobias Sturt.

One that was already mentioned here on Visual Loop, in the latest Digital Cartography round up. CartoDB announced a new Twitter Maps solution, which lets you consume Twitter data (geotagged tweets) directly from the CartoDB interface. “We have integrated CartoDB directly with Twitter, so you can consume Twitter data very easily”, says the official release. The use seems quite straight-forward: Search for your term or hashtag, filter data as desired, and visualize them on a map. From there, use the standard CartoDB tools to create your visualizations and maps. Here’s one of the maps you’ll be able to create:

Partial screen capture of the interactive map The #WORLDCUP group stage in tweets
(image: Simon Rogers/Twitter Data)


Last week, Yahoo announced the Flickr Creative Commons dataset as part of Yahoo Webscope’s datasets for researchers. The dataset (about 12GB), we believe, is one of the largest public multimedia datasets that has ever been released — 99.3 million images and 0.7 million videos, all from Flickr and all under Creative Commons licensing. What’s not there, like comments, favorites, and social network data, can be queried from the Flickr API.

The folks at Pulsar announced that they will be joining forces with the University of Sheffield, Manchester School of Arts, Warwick University and the University of Wolverhampton to launch a new research programme dedicated to the study of the visual aspects of social media. The programme, ‘Picturing the Social: transforming our understanding of images in social media and Big Data research’, is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues.

ArcGIS Online includes a living atlas of the world with beautiful and authoritative maps on many topics, including a rich and growing collection of historical maps from several leading publishers. Now, with the latest addition to this collection, National Geographic has recently published to ArcGIS Online an initial set of historical and reference maps from its extensive map archive.

Partial screen capture of the interactive 1892 USA Map Value (Web Mercator)
(Image: National Geographic maps on ArcGIS Online)



A selection of recent articles published by experts in different fields of data visualization:

“When we are confronted with the task of evaluating visualization for communication purposes and for a wide audience what is the best way to go?” Enrico poses the question after a visit to ProPublica, where he had the chance to see some of the visualizations produced there. A great reflection, open to discussion in the comments section of this blog post.

One of the most shared and commented posts of the past couple of weeks was this one by Mike Bostock – here’s a follow up by Liam Andrew, published in the Nieman Journalism Lab . This is actually an adaption of his talk at Eyeo 2014, which is set to be available soon. Can’t wait for it!

Another one of those insightful post published recently everyone should read. Andy Kirk alerts for the fact that “data visualization – and frankly any creative endeavor – is a pursuit of optimization”, and that we should always pay attention to the constraining aspects behind every project, such as time available, client demands and so on.

Don’t stop critiquing work and querying whether something had been considered. Don’t stop commenting on what you think would be good to make something even better. But do remember that there is likely a good reason why certain things couldn’t be achieved in the context of its creation.


Article by Charlie Stephens, about the four day workshop was hosted by Data Cuisine– an experimental research organization focusing on the representation of data with culinary means that we brought to your attention recently. In case you missed it, on June 10th, a group of twelve chefs and data visualizers gathered at a culinary workshop in Barcelona to develop a menu of edible infographics that visually represent Spain’s demographic data. The workshop was conducted by Moritz Stefaner.

A couple of months ago, when we interviewed Moritz Stefaner, he mentioned the upcoming developments in one of his most famous projects, the OECD Better Life Index. Now, one of those major updates, the OECD Data Portal is available online, in public beta. The main design credit goes to Raureif, and the UI implementation has been done by 9elements. Moritz was responsible for the chart design and specifications, and general data visualization strategy.


A short post by Enrico Bertini, after a quick conversation with Scott Davidoff, a manager at the Human Interfaces Group at NASA JPL. And it ends with an important call-to-action, to all data visualization practitioners: “You can decide to make a big difference with pairing up with people who deal with hard scientific problems and help them make progress. It’s up to you to make this choice.”

Similarly to what Moritz Stefaner does on Well-Formed Data, Dominikus Baur usually explains how some of the projects he’s been involved were developed. This post is about the OECD Regional Well-Being, a visualization/exploration tool that was mentioned here on Visual Loop not so long ago.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map OECD Regional Well-Being
(image: OECD)


With so many interactive charts and infographics about the World Cup, it was almost inevitable that Kaiser Fung would end up reviewing some of that production. The chosen visualization for this specific post comes from The Economist.

Andy Kirk shares some information about a research project he’s working on with a small research team from the Institute of Communication Studies at the University of Leeds and The Migration Observatory. The study is titled ‘Seeing Data’ and is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Having commenced in January of this year the project runs through to March 2015. You can now visit the project’s website and blog for further updates and information.

Knowing the process behind memory retention is useful when visualizing data for a story, so here are three areas to consider to make your visualizations more memorable, posted by Chris Sutcliffe. It includes several examples for reference and inspiration.

The goal of good data visualization is to elucidate, not decorate. The statement – somewhat obvious for many of us, but still relevant, when we look at many of the visualizations being produced out there – comes from this excellent post by Steve Wexler. And here’s Steve’s an advice: “if your visualization requires color, legends, and measure labels you should at least consider an approach that does not ask your viewers to work hard to see and understand what is important in the data.”

This post won’t get you from zero to visualization expert, but it can pique your curiosity and will provide plenty of references for further study, specially if you’re a programmer without a visualization background. Lots opf references and shout-outs.

Chapter fifteen of “How Not to Be Wrong“, a book that Alberto Cairo has been recommending for a while, talks about John Herschel, Francis Galton, and the history of the scatter plot. After a bit of digging, Alberto found Michael Friendly’s and Daniel Denis’ ‘The early origins and development of the scatterplot’ (Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 2005.), where you can know more about scatter plots – including some early examples of usage.

Phillips’ unemployment chart (1958)



Ranging from ancient charts to modern digital cartography and GIS technology, here you’ll find the best links of the week:

Martin Raifer has released a beautiful map of OpenStreetMap Node Density. The map provides a general overview of OpenStreetMap’s global coverage, with each pixel representingt the number of nodes at that location.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map OpenStreetMap Node Density
(Image: Martin Raifer)


Menno-Jan Kraak’s new book, “Mapping Time: Illustrated by Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812“, discusses the historical context of Charles Minard’s work, his life, and walks through a number of design exercises to show the same or similar data in different ways. Robert Kosara shares his thoughts on the book, which he considers to be a valid “introduction to cartography and visualization”.

Co-authored by Jon Schwabish and Bryan Connor, this post originally appeared on the Urban Institute’s Metrotrends blog. It speaks of the need of additional context to completely understand data encoded to maps, quoting a couple of good examples where this is well-achieved.

For those not familiar with it, Human is an iPhone app that runs in the background of your phone and automatically detects activities like walking, cycling, running, and motorized transport. They’ve just visualized 7.5 Million miles of activity in major cities all across the globe to get an insight into Human activity, and produced a set of maps depicting that information. Here’s the offical video:


Written by Kareem Chehayeb, this post gives us a bit of context on Mapture, a mobile app developed in Egypt that allows you to add your own photos (anonymously), giving each city multiple dimensions and perspectives. Mapture is currently only available on iOS, but according to the co-founders, an Android version will be out soon.

As Alberto Cairo explains, “building classes for choropleth maps is always tricky business”, because, by grouping values together as intervals, you always put yourself at the risk of hiding important nuances in the data. He uses a recent example coming out of The New York Times to exemplify this common problem.

In this post, Kenneth Field highlights the recent cartographic coverage of the Iraqi crisis, made by The New York Times. What impressed him the most? Although the maps are web-based, they are simple, static maps, individually balanced and well designed that collectively present a rich visual narrative. “A good lesson in cartographic restraint.” On a side note, the same approach can be seen also on National Geographic, that published a set of maps telling the story of the 1,200 years of Iraq’s turbulent history.

In time for the 4th of July, Greg Miller pulled together an inspiring list of rare maps that show a young America, including this one by Abel Buell, produced in March 1784 – just six months after the official end of the Revolutionary War.

(Image: Abel Buell)


And closing today’s section dedicated to cartography, another superb map by XKCD: Named “Space without the space”, it shows the Solar System’s solid surfaces stitched together.

(Image: XKCD)



The most recent articles with tips, insights and best practices around data journalism and information design in newsrooms.

The latest data analysis and visualization by Accurat for the Corriere Della Sera supplement La Lettura, explores the world of art auctions. In this post, Giorgia Lupi shares some of the insights that surfaced in this analysis, as well as the aesthetic choices. Here’s the English version:

(Image: Accurat for La Lettura)


A new online gallery with data journalism and visualizations produced by the Boston Globe staff. It’s always great when newspapers invest in showcasing the works coming out the graphics departments, and now you can stay up to date with the latest production of Chiqui Esteban and his team.

A recently published interactive visualization, developed by a team that includes French journalist Jean Abbiateci, uses a mixture of longform journalism, multimedia and gaming elements to help readers understand the problems facing Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “Rebuilding Haiti” is currently hosted by the French online magazine Rue89 on a non-exclusive basis, as part of the funding conditions from the European Journalism Centre (EJC). Alistair Reid wrote this article.

In the days before the World Cup’s knockout stages, with their potential for games to end in shootout finishes, The Wall Street Journal unveiled an app that visualized the tendencies of the top penalty kicks takers on the teams advancing in the tournament. We featured this interactive visualization yesterday, and in this post Chris Canipe, senior news apps developer on the Wall Street Journal’s interactive graphics desk, explains to Tom Meagher how the team created it.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic World Cup Players' Penalty Kick Patterns
(image: The Wall Street Journal)


Spanish infographic design is, arguably, the best in the world, alongside the U.S. production, but there are several cases where that reputation hasn’t been enough to avoid cutbacks and lay-offs, all of which impose serious limitations for the creation of high-quality projects. Alberto Cairo talks about the case of El País, one of those emblematic situations that are unfortunately more common that we’d all wish for.

For the July issue of Popular Science, the folks at The Office For Creative Research made a 4-page, 3,460-word visualization which tells the story of NASA’s history in the agency’s own words. The data used in this project came from the ‘Astronautics & Aeronautics Chronologies’, a publication released by NASA every year since 1958, which outline the agency’s aerospace activities in science, technology and policy. The final result – a word cloud + streamgraph combination – was built using Processing, with the text analysis being hugely assisted by Daniel Howe’s RiTa toolkit.

(Image: The Office For Creative Research for Popular Science)



Recent articles related to the wide range of data visualization applications for business analytics, as well as content surrounding the “Big Data” buzz.

Ellis Booker shares some of the key insights in Kaiser Fung’s keynote address at Predictive Analytics World in Chicago. Quoting from his book, Fung said, “When more people are performing more analyses more quickly, there are more theories, more points of view, more complexity, more conflicts, and more confusion.”. The solution to this worrisome situation is the development of what he calls “numbersense,” a problem-solving instinct that, he contends, is necessary before analysis begins.

Across manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, retail and beyond, the rate that data on every activity is collected – no matter how seemingly trivial – means more opportunities to fine-tune procedures and operations to squeeze out every last drop of efficiency. Post by Bernard Marr, Founder and CEO of the Advanced Performance Institute.



Insights from well-known names in the data visualization field, published during last week.

Not one but two brand new episodes of Data Stories, the amazing podcast hosted by Moritz Stefaner and Enrico Bertini. Episode #37 tackles the issue of teaching data visualization, with guests Scott Murray and Andy Kirk (a great episode, and Alberto Cairo highlighted his favorite quotes here) . And the guest in episode #38 is no other than our friend Manuel Lima, talking about archiving visualizations, how to write and publish visualization books and how the whole field had developed and where it is heading. Two really great shows!

And more Data Cuisine, this time with a Q&A with the creators of the workshops, Moritz Stefaner and curator Susanne Jaschko from prozessagenten, process by art and design.

A look at the current issues surrounding advanced visualization, from big data to who needs more powerful features, with Andrew Cardno, who’ll be leading (with Stephen Brobst) a session about data visualization at the TDWI World Conference in Boston (July 20-25, 2014).



Ranging from tutorials and presentations, to lists of tools and practical guidelines for creating effective data visualizations.

Nora Dimmock, Director of the Digital Humanities Center, University of Rochester, explaining the collaboration with English Professor Joel Burges on a project that seeks to quantify temporal elements of the narrative structure of films, television shows, and texts.


As he practices his skills using Tableau for work, Michael Sandberg intends to share valuable tips with his blog’s audience, thanks to the contribution of Tableau experts such as Ben Jones, always whiling to help out. This post is all about small multiples.

When you think about Tableau, playing “Tic Tac Toe” with it will be the very least thing you’ll come up with, right? Well, not for Joshua Milligan, an expert user that developed this interactive recently, an now explains how he achieved it, in this multi-part tutorial/making-of.

The “Visualization and/in the Archive” roundtable was one of sessions of the “New Media in American Literary History” Symposium at Northeastern University, December 5-6, 2013. The video with the full session was just released.


For Tom Hopper, “it’s a real oversight that Excel doesn’t provide a good way to create boxplots”, because they should be one of the “go-to” tools in your data analysis tool belt. The boxplot provides a nice, compact representation of the distribution of a set of data, and makes it easy to compare across a large number of groups.

A tutorial by Stephanie Evergreen, teaching how to use Excel to create ‘dot plots’ – one of the best charts to use for showing comparisons between two (or sometimes more) points.

A new series of tutorials coming out from the folks at This first one they explore Javascript variables, and you can see it in the video below:


This is a great list of journalists, photographers and academics blogging about the media industry, updated for 2014. Although not all related to visualization or data journalism, it’s still worth checking out.

In addition to being collected, data often must be converted into effective diagrams that highlight any and all necessary findings: a task that the JavaScript language has proven itself fully capable of completing. In turn, a much heavier focus is currently being placed on JavaScript as a data visualization tool, so Thomas Greco compiled this list of twelve JavaScript frameworks that can be extremely useful for data visualization.

Another list of resources, this time with several infographic kits & templates. The items included here can be helpful for quick charts and even for a visual reference/inspiration of some sort, but please, use it with moderation.

In this keynote held at the Chalmers Initiative Seminar on Big Data, April 2014, Terry Speed reports on some reflections on Big Data issues, offer some suggestions for statisticians, and summarize some theory some theory which, in his opinion, has relevance to the analysis of data, whoever does it. Thanks to Nathan Yau for sharing this one.


In this presentation, Paul Joyce explores the rules of how our eyes and visual cortex work together to process data, and how these rules impact data design and the practical steps you can take to make data understandable at a glance.


An updated view at the Events Calendar we have available here on Visual Loop.

Data Viz events


That’s it for another Data Viz News. Like we said before, feel free to let us know if we missed some interesting resource, and don’t forget to join us on our Facebook Group or, where we share many of the links mentioned above.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.


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