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50 great data viz articles of 2014

The final 2014 retrospective is here, and with many hours of data visualization knowledge within it

January 24, 2015

It’s time to close our 2014 retrospectives, after numerous hours looking back at infographics, visualizations, articles, videos, presentations and other bits of outstanding content produced throughout last year. And the toughest one of all those posts is finally here: our selection with the favorite articles of the 2014.

Being this the first time ever we do such a selection, and despite all the previous posts in which we stated more or less the same thing, it’s important to empathize once again that this is based upon the articles submitted by our community or curated by our team and published in our weekly bulletin of data visualization and infographic news. So, it’s perfectly natural that we left behind some of the great articles o the year, simply because they didn’t come to our attention back when they were released. Please, feel free to suggest your own recommendations on Twitter (@visualoop).

In case you missed the previous posts of this 2014 retrospective:

Overall, the rise of data journalism, the increase use of maps – good and bad ones -, and “storytelling” are among the most referenced topics in this list, but for a more comprehensive review of the year in data visualization, don’t miss the recent episodes of Data Sories and Tableau Wanna Be podcasts.

Hope you enjoy the reading:

Jen Christiansen, the art director of information graphics at Scientific American, wrote this piece after attending the Visualized conference, inspired by Sha Hwang’s presentation in that event. The core issue here is the use of emotional components to communicate scientific topics to a broader audience, without falling in to the pitfalls of biased interpretations.

We open with this somewhat controversial article by Gert K Nielsen, with a detailed list of reasons against last year’s Malofiej ‘Peter Sullivan Award’ for printed graphics winning piece, the New York Times’ “State gun laws enacted in Year since Newtown”. See it below, in case you missed it on our list of Malofiej 22 awarded infographics.

(image: The New York Times)


A highly praised post by infographic designer Patrick Garvin, who also teaches at the Missouri School of Journalism. Patrick shares his frustration about the infamous paper ‘What Makes a Visualization Memorable?‘.

In this post, Enrico Bertini offers some thoughts about data, after attending the Aid Data Convening, a conference organized by the Aid Data Consortium (ARC) to talk exclusively about a single data set: the Aid Data, a curated database of more than a million records collecting information about foreign aid.

Comparing infoposters (or “infauxgraphics”) with PowerPoint, Francis Gagnon points out that these “infauxgraphics” have fallen for the bullet point fallacy, the perception that facts are conveyed faster and better by using short scattered sentences.

In this new post, Sheila Pontis gives an overview of the learning process every information designer goes trough, when facing the challenge of making sense of a particular situation – or data set. She then discusses how the attitude and commitment can influence the quality of the final outcome.

Graphics and visualizations give us a method to use images to describe a story in a way that we can understand. If children want to comprehend the world around them, infographics can help, writes Simon Rogers in this article for The Guardian. Simon mentions two books in which he was involved: Infographics: Human body and the Animal Kingdom.

“The ‘bad maps’ exist in multiple forms”, something that lately has drawn some attention in the data visualization community. Mike Foster, a professional cartographer, GIS Analyst, and designer, not only talks about that in this article, but also leaves a useful list of five simple habits that will improve map reading abilities.

More maps are made today than at any previous point in history, and Ian Delaney shares his thoughts about the use of this powerful storytelling tool in modern journalism, as well as in the Internet. The reasons behind the popularity of maps, good and bad practices, and the importance of criticism are some of the issues covered in this article.

The debate about storytelling and data visualization lead to interesting, in-depth blog posts, thrpoughout the whole year, mostly after Moritz Stefaner’s post Worlds, not stories. Here, Robert Kosara gives his two cents about the discussion, and you should also read the ones by Dino Citaro, Lynn Cherney, Jeff Clark, Andy Cotgreave, Jon Schwabish, among so many others. A very hot topic, without question, in 2014.

This was also the year of the new data journalism websites like Vox, The UpShot, and the first one to come out, FiveThirtyEight. Despite all the criticism that would soon follow – something not exclusive to FiveThirtyEight – , Nate Silver‘s manifesto was one of the highlights of the launch. Besides explaining in detail the role and fields of action that the team would be covering, Nate also goes on sharing his view on the data journalism landscape, and the approach he feels suitable for journalism in this new digital age. As he puts it, “our methods are not meant to replace “traditional” or conventional journalism.”

A long article by Felix Salmon, on why the current boom in data journalism – the ‘Wonk Bubble’ – actually makes sense. Besides mentioning Vox and FiveThirtyEight, Salmon lists his top five reasons why, despite all the initial criticism, these initiatives will succeed.

If you follow him on Twitter, you are aware that Alberto Cairo regularly complaints about some of the stories coming out websites such as FiveThirtyEight and, which have, overall, overpromised and underdelivered. In this article, he shares some of key reasons behind such constant failures and malpractices, and how these media organizations can improve the quality of its data journalism pieces.

Excellent overview of the current “Explanatory journalism” phenomena, by Ken Doctor, news industry analyst and the author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get (St. Martin’s Press). He spoke recently with David Leonhardt, who heads The New York Times’ three-month-old The Upshot, about the whole movement, which this week got a new competitor with The Washington Post’s Storyline.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver makes the case for the importance of introducing data and visualization concepts and skills in journalism courses, and provides some very useful tips and ideas on how teachers can start applying those concepts in classrooms.

With a title like this, you know that something interesting is coming our way. Science fiction writer and blogger Jamie Todd Rubin shows how data journalism is far from being something new, and how similar some of Isaac Asimov’s essays he wrote for F&SF from 1958 – 1992 are to what has being done in sites like FiveThirtyEight

The urge for a better understanding – or ate least, for a consensual definition – of what is data journalism reached Robert Kosara. “Is a data journalist one who unearths the data, who finds the insights in the data, who finds the right way to visually communicate the data?” The answer is, of course, all three, as Robert points out in the first paragraph.

Data journalism has tremendous potential to drive transparency and reveal corruption in developing countries and many donors are funding data journalism as a means to good governance and transparency. This was the central theme of Eva Constantaras‘ session at the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival, that we talked about here. In this article Eva shares her impressions of this session, and some of the overall conclusions that surfaced among the 50+ participants, and don’t forget to check our interview with Eva as well, with more on this topic.

A series of questions that define the many “nuances” of data journalistic best practices, compiled by Simon Rogers. As Simon explains, this post was adapted from materials for an introduction to data journalism MOOC run earlier last year.

Post written by Vikram Sundar, with a brief history of Data Journalism and its influence on electoral reporting, since in 2008 Nate Silver, a relatively unknown baseball statistician at that time, correctly predicted every Senate race and all but one state in the presidential election.

This article is part of a new series about design principles that can serve both as a refresher for seasoned designers and reference for newcomers to the industry. Written by Steven Bradley, here you’ll find a good overview of each of the The Principles Of Gestalt, widely used as guidelines in many areas of Design – including information design.

One of those top “post+comments combos” that everyone should read. Enrico Bertini speaks from the heart about his fear that the standards for which one should uphold to create visualizations are being lost, or at least diminished in importance. The comments following his post are also worth reading.

Last year, the White House released its report on big data and its privacy implications, the result of a 90-day study commissioned by President Obama during his January 17 speech on NSA surveillance reforms. After reading the document, Jeremy Gillula, Kurt Opsahl and Rainey Reitman share their thoughts on what they liked, what they didn’t, and what they thought was missing.

An article by Shilpi Choudhury, in which she highlights the five changes on the horizon that will deepen user experience with data, in a scenario when more and more businesses are waking up to the idea of data-driven decisions and looking for applications powered with visualization capabilities to help them comprehend their data well.

Longtime news artist and graphics reporter Charles Apple talks about two of the most commented ‘infographic fails’ of 2014, sharing a bit of his experience with alternative ways of displaying information in graphics and leaving 8 quick rules to consider when creating a visualization. Others have talked about these cases, like Andy Kirk and Alberto Cairo.

The two 'infographic fails' of the week: 'Changing Face of America' (NBC News) and 'Gun deaths in Florida' (Reuters)
Two ‘infographic fails’ of the 2014: ‘Changing Face of America’ (NBC News) and ‘Gun deaths in Florida’ (Reuters)


An inspiring tale by visual journalist Sarah Slobin , showing that sometimes graphics can actually get in the way of telling an important story, even if there’s lots of data available.

This post is actually the last one of a series by Robert Kosara, about IEEE VIS 2014. Similar in level of detail and insights, the 8-part coverage by Jon Schwabish of the Visualized conference is also a must-read.

The core idea of this post by Enrico Bertini is that we should move towards a concept of visualization as a two-way communication tool, in which the transfer of information and knowledge can flow between both man and machine. After getting some reactions to this idea, Enrico wrote a follow-up post, discussing if we should also evolve in the concept of “data visualization”, to something like “Data Interaction”

A very complete post for those starting in the data visualization field, with some fundamental advises and plenty of examples. During 2014, Ann K. Emery, a evaluator and data analyst in Washington, DC. who also speaks, teaches, and writes about data visualization, published lots of interesting articles, so take your time exploring her blog.

Gathering quotes from data visualization experts such as Alberto Cairo, Cole Nussbaumer and Stephanie Evergreen, Arnie Kuenn, the president of Vertical Measures, wrote this overview of the current state and future developments related to infographics.

Good article by Roger Peng, on the “crisis in data analysis” involving Thomas Piketty‘s best-selling book Capital in the 21st Century, and the criticism that has followed, especially the ones published by Chris Giles, a journalist for the Financial Times. Among other points, Giles claims that numerous errors were made in assembling the data and in Piketty’s original analysis.

A must-read article by Kate Crawford, on the fear that all the data we are shedding every day is too revealing of our intimate selves but may also misrepresent us.

A series of tips and recommendations by Nathan Yau, on how Government Data Sites should handle the data they make available. Also read Jon Schwabish‘s take on this, in this interview.

Alberto Cairo published this article (PDF) in the Spring issue of The IRE Journal, the magazine of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. For those of you who follow Alberto’s opinions, most of the content in the article won’t come as a surprise. And if – by some strange and inexplicable reason – you don’t follow him yet, this is definitively a great way of getting yourself familiar with him.

This is actually an adaption of Mike Bostock‘s talk at Eyeo 2014, but even so, well deserving of being in this list Here’s also an interesting follow up by Liam Andrew, published in the Nieman Journalism Lab.

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.

If you follow our round ups of vintage maps, infographics and diagrams (published every Monday), you know that we are huge fans of the work of Otto Neurath and the graphical language he created, Isotype. If you’re not familiar with the importance of Neurath’s work, this article Helen Kennedy is a good way to start.

A The New York Times senior software architect, Jacob Harris wrote this rant against “World Clouds” presented as insight, especially by well-known publishers. He further explains the fallacies of applying this form of visualization in the wrong context, in situations where textual analysis is not even appropriate. And if you want a world cloud of his article, don’t worry

Doing some research in the National Archives in Washington this summer, Ben Schmidt came across an early set of rules for graphic presentation by the Bureau of the Census from February 1915. Just a year after the 1910 census’s atlas was published, the Census bureau circulated this memo to their advisors as sort of style guide for the Census in particular – but they are obviously transferable to the general case. Besides the list, Schmidt also shares the comments made at the time, possibly by Joseph Adna Hill, about each one of these guidelines.

The power of constructive criticism, demonstrated by Alberto Cairo in this post. Cairo talks about a recent Twitter conversation surrounding a story published by New Republic’s senior editor Jonathan Cohn. The map featured in the story provoked several reactions – mostly with negative remarks. However, as Cairo explains, this was the first attempt in creating a map by the reporter, and he actually updated the maps after the reactions on Twitter. The discussion in the comments section is also worth reading.

Very nice article by Lena Groeger, about “wee things” – more specifically, the wee things that we see as part of graphics, maps, visualizations, as well as the wee things we experience as part of interactions, navigation, and usability. This means everything from sequences of small graphics that help us make comparisons, to tiny locator maps that help orient us within a larger graphic, to navigation icons that give hints about how we should make our way around a page.

Data Visualization is a great way to show off your data. It reveals patterns and trends, and can grab attention better than a table of numbers. But vision isn’t the only sense we can use to get a feel for data. Hearing can also be a great way to input data into our brains, as Drew Skaw shows in this article.

Interesting post by Jill Walker Rettberg, professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen, explaining the meaning and importance for Humanities of “dataism” – a term coined by Prof. José van Dijck, in an article she published this spring.

For Centennial Voices, part of AIGA’s Centennial celebration of the past, present and future of design, the organization has invited industry leaders to write short essays that spark conversations within the design community and beyond by reflecting on design history, sharing personal experiences in the industry, examining the design practice today or imagining the role of design tomorrow. Here’s one by no other than Nigel Holmes.

(illustration: Nigel Holmes)


The New York Times has the luxury of having both a map department and a graphics department that includes several cartographers. The map department specializes in making reference maps in no time, like the one created when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 went down over Ukraine in July – The Times graphics team compiled data from several sources to make a map of the MH17 crash site in a couple hours. Greg Miller talked with Tim Wallace, a cartographer and graphics editor at The Times, about the creation of the cartographic gems we see out of the newspaper on a regular base.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of the most well-known Japanese prints of all time. It’s also a great metaphor for better understanding the diverse nature of data visualization, as Manuel Lima explains in this article.

For Mark Rolston, the new design challenge is to use all the data being collected for the same humanistic outcomes that we have in mind when we shape products through the user interface or physical form.

One of the great articles about the static vs interactive visualizations discussion is this one published by The Economist, Indeed, it seems nowadays “the default is shifting whereby dynamic charts will become the standard format, and data-visualisation editors will have to deliberately choose to depict data in a static format. The stationary chart will be a preference not a limitation.”

Numeracy, or numerical literacy, is at the heart of data journalism. In this article, Meredith Broussard shares a couple of tips for those interested to become more numerate in order to do data journalism.

After receiving lots of emails asking for a tutorial on how to make the gif-animated infographics that have caught the attention of the data viz community all over the place, Seattle-based designer Eleanor Lutz made this incredibly detailed step-by-step guide… animated, of course.

( How to make the gif-animated infographic, a tutorial by Eleanor Lutz)


Time to close this special post, and again, we invite you to share your own list with articles published in 2014 that we should bookmark. And next week, we’ll return to our usual posts with Data Viz News.

Written by Tiago Veloso

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