new approaches to data visualization from Smashing Magazine

Oh this is great stuff! Smashing mag has a list of work in the  instructional design  and data visualization areas: very attractive and inspiring! It is going to take me awhile to decide on my favorite. I wonder though if some of these are not too cool for school: they look so good and draw so much attention to the aesthetic that they tend to obscure the data!



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6 thoughts on “new approaches to data visualization from Smashing Magazine

  1. Hans Rosling’s Trendalyzer struck me as being the most profound information visualization tool that was being showcased. I completely agree with what he was saying about the data sets being out there, but completely unusable in their raw forms requiring obscene amounts of statistical analysis to have sense made of them. A tool like his would allow people to understand trends and interpret models with such greater ease. Blips within the data can then be further fragmented to understand what caused a shift or change in an otherwise normal curve. Many of the other methods seem to be more gimmicky than anything else, showing novel approaches to data representation but in a way that may not do anything other than model it in a slightly more novel way. Rosling’s approach rather, gives a completely new interpretation to data, making it wholly more important as a visualization method. (as google’s acquisition of his trendalyzer, I beieve shows)

  2. It wasn’t easy to pick a favorite but in the end I had to go with the web trend map. The idea behind the map definitely pulled me in when I found out it was based on the Tokyo Metro Map. While at first appearance it seems very jumbled I think that it’s very easy to hop on a line and follow it around viewing the most successful websites in sub categories just as we would if we were about to ride a metro and we were viewing where stops and neighborhoods were. I find that it’s a far more visually pleasing map than just a list of this same data and it uses text size and color to its advantage and not disadvantage because of its similarity to a real map. I also definitely appreciate the inside jokes concerning the connections between the Japanese neighborhoods and websites.

  3. Mindmap

    I find the mindmap to be very confusing and hard to read. I think mind maps are very effective when using them to organize your own thoughts. It’s a great way to brainstorm ideas, and see how different ideas or subjects can be connected. The problem occurs when you are trying to read a mindmap written by someone else because you may have an entirely different thought process. The use of colored lines in the example on the webpage was a good attempt to help the viewer make connections, but the whole map had to much going on to fully grasp.

    Displaying News

    Although this design isn’t sleek and well designed, I personally liked it because it gets to the point and gives the user exactly what they want. I don’t think the typical user would like it because it’s not very aesthetically pleasing and is overly cluttered. What I like about it is that it is simple and to the point. For news in particular, I don’t need something flashy, I just want to get the information. The best feature of the Newsmap is that it displays the most popular stories larger than the other ones, so I know immediately what news story is the most important. I like this style, but news sights that include pictures with their main headlines can help draw in a potential reader. I feel like this is an effective design, but probably won’t be preferred by the average internet user.

    Displaying Data

    I would consider myself 50/50 on this category of data visualization. The best part of this category, is that its visually appealing. I know you said not to say you like something just because it looks “cool,” but I can’t help it. That’s exactly what this category is. Everything looks really neat and innovative, but the functionality and usability aren’t as much of a factor. For example, the Amaztype and Flickrtime look good because it organizes results in a collage, but I don’t actually see the point. What good does the search results being organized in the shapes of letters and numbers actually do for me? It looks cool, but gets me nowhere closer to finding what I’m actually looking for. The Time Magazine data map was actually useful because it presented data in a 3-D map that gives results similar to that of a graph. It was useful because you could compare results all over the U.S. Other than that example, the other sites and application listed in the article seemed somewhat useless.

    Displaying Connections

    I feel like this approach is very similar to the mindmap and faces many of the same problems. Like many of these approaches, it can somewhat difficult to see the connections that are being made without seeing any reasoning. Only a few of the example sites actually give you reasoning to the connections. I think this would help the user to better comprehend the overall goal of the application. However, I am a fan of the music examples listed. These are very effective because they take the user’s data and map their music history and//or preferences. Because these applications are using the user’s data, it is more relevant and comprehensive to the user themselves.

    Displaying Web-sites

    This is one of the only approaches that I actually have some previous personal experience with. I really like this approach because it’s very practical. They reason I have experience with it is because it’s a very functional concept and in some cases helps you find what you are looking for. Being able to see the website when searching is really effective, because visual clues are key in finding what you’re looking for. The example of the BMW search is a perfect example because if you’re searching for the official BMW website, you’ll be able to tell by looking, which site it the real company’s’. Although I like this approach, it’s not always the best media to use for searching the internet. If I’m looking for specific content, like data or research, the classic search engine is better because search results displays actual wording from the website. Applications like Spacetime are better for trying to find a website you’ve been to previously, or looking for a professionally done website. Because you can tell a lot about a website by their homepage, this is a very effective design. I do have to point out that UBrowser is a bad example, because it design is completely unnecessary. Maybe I’m just behind the times, but I don’t think I’ll ever see an advantage to organizing websites into a cube.

    Articles and Resources

    This approach has a major problem with clutter. These visual applications look good, but there is so much information, I can begin to understand it. The creators these examples did real good job by using effective color schemes and sleek designs, but there is too much going on in each example. I know that with that large amount of information, it’s nearly impossible to minimize clutter, but the designs lose the aesthetic charm when they become difficult to use. If you go to the Visual Complexity website there are actually some really good examples that are aesthetically pleasing, user friendly, and informative. These examples have less data to display, but they are really impressive from a design standpoint and a functional one. However, the majority of the examples are way too complex.

    Tools and Services

    I think this was my favorite modern approach to data visualization. This is probably the most traditional form of data visualization out of the choices, but I think that’s something the average user would take comfort. When talking about usability, what’s easier to use, than something you’ve grown up doing? This approach pretty much focuses on putting data into simple graphs or timelines, something everyone learns about in elementary school. I think the reason I like these ideas so much is because they are simple and efficient. The data is taken and put into a simple, legible visualization that almost anyone can comprehend. This seems like a very straight forward approach that provides the user with the most usable information in the quickest and simplest way.

  4. It was hard to pick one visualization, but I found Fidg’t to be the most appealing. Although most of the data visualizations from the article are aesthetically pleasing, a lot of them are difficult to decipher. I like how Fidg’t is streamlined and aesthetically pleasing, but the data is also easy to see. In addition, it’s really simple and easy to use. You just add a or Flickr account and then you can add “magnets” by typing in tags. These magnets then draw users that have used those tags. It’s an interesting way to show popularity within your network. It’s only an alpha version right now, and I’m interested to see what they add to it in the future.

    However, my favorite visualization in terms of utility is Trulia and Zillow, which allow you to search real estate visually. It’s so much easier to use than sifting through tons of listings on Craigslist or real estate websites.

  5. My favorite is the “We Feel Fine” set of visualizations describing the emotions of the blogosphere. It incorporates so many different kinds of infographics in its explanation. I first encountered this at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in which each of the parts were displayed on several monitors attached to a gallery wall. It was really cool to browse through people’s emotions and read a little bit of what they were thinking and compare it with others who shared the same emotion. And then see real numbers at the same time. Definitely it has easy usability as I had no prior knowledge of the database when I first used it. The service automatically updates all the time which gives the user the feeling that they are connected with the entire network of bloggers without having to go read each of their blogs. The different representations of emotional data sort of seem like a new statistical way to social network or something. It is innovative, interactive, and good looking.

  6. Website As Graphs

    This one was by far my favorite. This is largely because web design is somewhat of a hobby for me. I’m not too great at it, but I am familiar with many of the mechanics involved. I use Firefox equipped with an add-on called Firebug that allows me to press F12 and immediately examine web structures to see what type of tags they are using, how deeply they are nesting all their divs, and how many different “containers” they used to make the site. I ran several of the sites I have made through this applet and learned that I nest divs no more than 7 layers deep. I also noticed that all my sites tended to be only slightly greater than the complexity of Google and had very clear centers. While the information displayed by this application is amazing to web developers, it isn’t easy or quick to decipher. It doesn’t instantly convey an idea like many of these other info graphics do. You have to read and refer to the color key.

    At first the Tokyo Metro map of the 200 most popular/best sites seems like a jumbled, confused mess of things. It looks like someone took a perfectly understandable subway map and crammed twice as much text into it as it could hold. Upon closer examination it provides a very cool depiction of the internet. This, like the ‘website as a graphic’ application, is an amazing graphical representation of information but doesn’t convey a solid message as instantly as some of the others.

    One of the graphics that most instantaneously transfers understanding is the population density map from Time Magazine, but population density maps are typically a ‘gimme’ for easy to understand graphic generation.

    I was also a big fan of Lee Byron’s “What have I been listening to” graphic. I always feel like I am overplaying music. Therefore, I try to mix it up and randomize the songs I select from my cumbersome music library. Though I know that I don’t succeed (its my play lists fault). This would make a great add-on to SongBird (since iTunes doesn’t allow add-ons…).

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