D.C. data viz


Six lessons from the experts A few weeks ago, I was in Washington with ten Scripps College of Communication students who are the pioneers of our “Semester in D.C.” program. We visited several top data visualization (and infographic) departments, who were very generous with their time. There were some common (and often encouraging) themes.

The points below are not great relevations to the people who read this blog, but perhaps it’s a good thing for us all to stop and reflect on the way forward for our field. They are skewed somewhat towards news outlets, as those were mainly the places we visited.

1. Mobile first Everyone is seeing their audience steadily migrating to mobile, so that has become a big factor in data design. Simpler, often static, displays with limited interactivity are common. Many of them are controlled by scrolling.

2. Limited interactivity On all platforms, if a tap or click is required it has to deliver something that feels worth it. Obviously, mobile (with it’s limited screen size) can be challenging for this kind of interaction anyway.

3. Design for the intended user 
Crucial when making decisions about the level of complexity, and the type of presentation. Often, displays of data are not well-enough refined for their target audience. For example, Vox aims for general consumption, especially through social media, and takes a more edited and popular approach, while the Pew Research Center provides a more comprehensive (“Fact Tank”) view for people who need more information.

4. Basic chart types are often the most effective The more challenging types of chart forms should be used with caution. Make sure that they are the best way to display the information. Often they look exciting, but are not good in terms of clearly visualizing a particular dataset.

5. Transparency Let your readers download the data that you’ve used. They can then see for themselves if the visualization clearly reflects the dataset. Even chart it themselves with their own preferred software.

6. Sketch out ideas Every department used rough visuals, drawn with pencil and paper (or it’s digital equivalent) to initially explore data presentation ideas. Great news for veteran infographic people like me who are always advocating this (to the point of being really annoying).

(In the order that we visited them). The trends mentioned above are, of course, reflected in these examples.

The Urban Institute https://www.urban.org/data-viz

The New York Times (We visited the Washington Bureau.)
The cost of Hurricane Harvey: goo.gl/ZeJLdR
The UpShot: https://www.nytimes.com/section/upshot
A gallery of last year’s visual stories and graphics: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/28/us/year-in-interactive-graphics.html

5W Infographics (Juan Velasco led a one-day workshop at the National Press Club.) http://www.5wgraphics.com/en/gallery.php

The Washington Post http://postgraphics.tumblr.com

Vox Calories in booze: https://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12251286/calories-alcoholic-drinks-chart
Map projections: https://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/2/13817712/map-projection-mercator-globe

NPR Gun violence: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/06/555861898/gun-violence-how-the-u-s-compares-to-other-countries

The Pew Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org
How voters switched candidates: http://www.people-press.org/interactives/gop-candidate-switching/

National Geographic http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2017/09/cassini-saturn-nasa-3d-grand-tour/