AIDS, Homophobia and Wild Tigers [GRAPHS]

The Death Rate from AIDS is Dropping

That was the story of last Friday’s Daily Chart from the Economist.  The chart was a visualisation of rare qualities.  It delivered news of genuine importance, and not only that, but the graph was moving in a positive direction.

The latter characteristic made me smile.  The former reminded me just how trivial many visualisations can be.  But here was some real news being represented for a change (see chart below).

Bar graph showing a decline in deaths from AIDS

And no sooner had I read the article in the Economist than I found another piece of positive news in graphic form.

Attitudes towards gay people in the US are improving…

according to Gallup’s annual Values & Beliefs poll, as shown below.


Line Graph from Gallup showing improving attitudes towards gay relationships in the US

via I Love Charts


One more chart appeared on my radar last Friday reporting something of genuine importance.  It wasn’t good news this time however.

Wild Tigers Could Be Extinct by 2022

Poster from the WWF with a graph showing Wild Tigers Could Be Extinct by the year 2022

Image via I LoveCharts


You can find out more about the WWF’s campaign to Save the Tigers here.

Staying with the charts for a second, it was great to see 3 pieces of real newsworthy content displayed so simply and effectively in graphic form.  With my hopes for visualisation pleasantly renewed, I’ll be keeping my eye out for more.

I’ll report back on my findings.

PS  If you have a moment, please do check out the WWF site about the tigers –




21 Everyday Visualisations

How do we use visualisation every day?

This post shows 21 common uses of data visualisation – things we possibly use without even thinking of them as visualisation.  It can be really helpful, if you’re visualising data, to notice the ways in which we incorporate meters, charts, tables and graphs into everyday life.

Those that have become so ingrained into everyday life are usually perfect examples of simplicity and effectiveness.


Calendar by Katy Warner

Weather Map

Weather Map by Ric James


Barometer by Adrian Scottow


Thermometer by Jay Williams


Clock by blue2likeyou


Speedometer by Nik Sibley

Google Map

Map by Google Maps

Traffic Lights

Traffic Lights by AlexNormand

London Bus Map

Bus Routes by bopuc

Green Man Crossing

Pedestrian Crossing by Chris Skoyles

Tube Map

Tube Map by MacKenzie London

Memory Status

Memory Status by jaysun093

Youtube Play Meter

Youtube Play Meter by smil

Rear Car Lights

Rear Lights by Jen Gallardo

Kitchen Scales

Kitchen Scales by Mark Allerton

Oven Gas Knobs

Gas Knobs Ben O’Bryan

Egg Timer

Egg Timer by notanartist

Radio Tuner

Radio Tuner by Anders Ljungberg

Graphic Equaliser

Graphic Equaliser by wblo

Bathroom Scales

Bathroom Scales by davidd

Battery Charging

Battery Charging by Lisa Jacobs

So what did I miss?

If there were any everyday items you would have included in the list, please feel free to let me know in the comments below…

When Function Trumps Form in Infographics

I’m a big fan of the notion of function over form in data visualisation and infographics.  Though often, particularly with regard to usage of the term ‘infographic’, it’s form that’s trumping function online.

This happens when design overwhelms visualisation making it less legible and effective.  Or when visualisation is chosen when there were other more appropriate methods of communication, or indeed, when no form of communication would have been preferable, i.e when there really was no story.  (Silence is often underrated!)

But when you get it right, like a good piece of music, everything has it’s place and complements the other parts.  The design is appealing, the visualisation enhances delivery…

… And Content Remains King!

Take for example, the following speech, which was later transformed into an illustration (underneath)

Watch the first video briefly…

Then watch the animated version…

These two videos were mentioned in a great presentation by Steve Woolgar at a conference called ‘Data Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation’ a couple of weeks ago.  Woolgar pointed out the comments under the Youtube video for the animation are largely focused on the content of the video, not the choice of illustration as a means of communication, or how the illustration is delivered.

Despite the lack of praise for the visualisation or design, on this occasion, these two processes have been executed perfectly.  They work in service of the content.  They are a means, not an end.

The greatest honour for visualisation may not be found in direct praise, but the reflected glory of the content it serves.

It’s a more subtle approach.  It’s like silver service.  When it’s done really well, you might not even notice.


Silence is Underrated

I once worked in a bank while I was a student, and as a ‘treat’ for agreeing to work overtime on a Saturday, we were allowed to listen to music while we counted the cash.  However, being mostly filled with young mothers, we had to endure Shania Twain on repeat.

My colleague – one of the few other guys in the team – turned to me at one point and said…

“Don’t you think silence is underrated?”

I laughed.  I’ve always remembered that moment vividly.

This definitely applies to the amount of online noise we are subjected to, and allow ourselves to be subjected to, daily – the vast amount of infographics very much included!

I’ll be doing a post shortly on filtering, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that tuning out for a while can be even more effective.  I could do with remembering that more often!

4 Powerful Social Media Graphs

Line graphs are amazing!  They can tell a powerful story with so little on the page.

Take this for Example…

1.  Facebook Overtakes Google

Line Graph Showing Facebook Overtaking Google in Traffic

This is a perfect example of a newsworthy hook.

There is little in the way of fancy visualisation or design, but the data and the story are very strong.  So much so, the original post on the Hitwise blog was linked to by 566 different websites.  Now, that’s a serious hook!

Next up…

2.  Foursquare Users Double After Facebook Launches Places

Line Graph Showing Foursquare Users Double After The Launch of Facebook Places

Two things stand out for me here.  The first is, I believe(?!) this backs up some basic principles in business.

The first to enter the market is often the one that remains the leader.

When a competitor enters the market, you might think the first company will lose a share of the market, but in fact, the market grows, and both gain business.

I am not an expert on this matter, but for more info, you should definitely check out the amazing (and short) book by Al Ries & Jack Trout – The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Marketing.

The second thing that struck me about this chart was the headline.  Often in infographics, the headline is a kind of lame effort, like ‘The Rise of Foursquare’ or something similar.  And the readers are left to determine what’s interesting about the graph.

But here, like any good journalist, they’ve pulled out the most surprising fact and slapped it right up front.  That’s standard practice in journalism and copywriting, but something infographics and data visualisation specialists might do well to remember.

And so to graph 3…

3.  The Android Effect on HTC

Line Graph Showing The Increase in HTC Profit After The Launch of Android

The main thing I love about this graph is the annotation.  It’s so simple, yet the inclusion of the iconic Android logo is enough to make the point.  And the way the Android is pointing upwards makes me smile too.

Simple but effective design (which is the best kind, right?!)

And finally…

4.  The Utter Collapse of Myspace

Line Graph Showing The Utter Collapse of Myspace

I was a big fan of Myspace when it first came out, and am still kind of fond of it, though I must confess I mostly only venture over there to see if my account’s still active.

What grabbed me about this visualisation is most people have heard that Myspace is plummeting, so this visualisation hardly seems like news.  But I had no idea just how badly they were heading South.  And this graph really drives it home.

So there you have it – 4 powerful stories told by a simple line graph.

Job done.

The Principle of The Flywheel

This is a slide from Will Critchlow’s presentation at the Distilled seminar in London last Friday.

Will used the slide to describe his experience of building a business, though he mentioned he thought it was applicable to many different areas.  And I agree.

The Flywheel vs Cycling Uphill Line Graph

The analogy goes as follows…

When cycling uphill, you start off with great gusto, and seem to be getting somewhere, but as you cycle further and further uphill, you get to the point where you barely feel like you’re moving.

Contrast this with the flywheel, which can take ages to get moving, but once it’s really going, you would struggle to stop it even if you wanted to.

In the example of building a business, Will discussed how the activities that bring results initially are not the same ones that will bring you long-term success.  For example, when Will first started Distilled (with Duncan Morris), they went door-to-door in the local area.  Their first client job was building a website for the local hairdresser.

However, it was stuff like blogging, tweeting, building relationships and running events that have really enabled Distilled to produce rapid growth, despite the low return of these activities for at least a year!

Anyway, I liked the metaphor (and the graph), so thought I’d share it on here with you.

Effective Use Of The Word Cloud

It’s going to be a short post today, but I just wanted to share an example of an effective word cloud with you.  Before I saw this, I hadn’t really appreciated the word cloud as a form of data visualisation.

Undoubtedly, they can be pretty, but I hadn’t necessarily seen them as useful.

The example below comes from Reevoo, a company that gather online product reviews.  In this example, they created a word cloud from the “most regularly used words in negative reviews of Android phones.”

See if you can guess what the most common complaint was about?

Reevoo Android Word Cloud

For me, this communicates a large amount of data so quickly and powerfully, it really justifies the choice of the Word Cloud on this occasion.  In my opinion, the word cloud has served its purpose here, better than any bar graph or pie chart might have hoped to achieve with the same data.

As an aside, when downloading the word cloud from the Reevoo blog, I discovered that the cloud itself was made using Wordle.

And so as not to be misleading (by taking the above visualisation out of context), I should point out the original post reveals Android phones are actually receiving more favourable reviews than iPhones.  It’s only certain models on the Android platform that are letting the side down.

9 Infographics That Made Me Smile

One of the most popular hooks for an infographic is humour.  If you can make a funny infographic, or even an amusing pie chart, it could spread far and wide across the net.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I don’t claim the following had me laughing out loud, but they definitely raised a smile.

1.  The Shower Faucet (oh, so true!)

Have you ever had a shower that wasn’t like this?

Shower Faucet Infographic

2.  Maslow v Lennon

Differing views on essential human needs… The Psychologist vs Musician

3.  If IKEA Made Stonehenge

Speaks for itself really…

4. The Banana Timeline

Took me a second to get this at first…

Banana Timeline Infographic

5. Life is Simple

Not so much of a humorous one, but it definitely made me smile :o)

Life Is Simple Infographic


Who knows, maybe it is that simple…

6.  The Nun Pie Chart

Come on! – A nun as a pie chart? – That’s some funny s***

7.  iPhone vs Android vs Blackberry

I don’t normally appreciate infographics aimed at the tech crowd, but this was too good to ignore.

8.  Mr T Pie Chart

I Pity The Fool!

Mr T Pie Chart

9. Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

All Together Now, “You Got to Know When To Hold ‘Em…”

“…Know When To Fold ‘Em,

Know When To Walk Away…”

You Know How It Goes…

How Useful Is Your Infographic?

You often hear people describe the goal of data visualisation as communicating something quickly and easily.  And I agree, in part.  But I’ve come to view this description as incomplete.

More accurately…

The goal of data visualisation is to communicate something more quickly and more easily than you would otherwise be able to.

A visualisation does not necessarily need to be quick and easy to understand.  However, the fact that one isn’t quick and easy to understand should be due to the nature of the concept being communicated, and not a failure of design.  Einstein’s quote seems quite appropriate here:

Things should be made “as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

photo of albert einstein

Suppose you’re trying to explain something to someone and they aren’t quite getting it…

You know you have a good piece of data visualisation, if you can imagine pulling it out to support the point you’re making.

Another question to ask yourself might be:

Can you imagine printing out your infographic and referring to it from time to time?

I saw this happen the other day.  I noticed the following on my colleague’s desk:

picture of the social media landscape infographic printed out

This was an infographic I had seen in previously, and I too had thought it to be a useful resource.  But my colleague had felt sufficiently compelled to go one step further, and actually print it off.  The original looks like this:

the original social media landscape infographic from cmo

You can find the original over at CMO, and you can download a copy too.

Note that the above infographic isn’t necessarily quick and easy to understand, but that’s not surprising.  It’s explaining the role that 10 different social media sites can play in branding, SEO, customer engagement and traffic generation.  I challenge anyone to make that quick and easy to understand!

But this infographic definitely does make it quicker and easier, and it has been created as a very useful reference.  Brilliant.

Ultimately, I’m suggesting that if you can imagine pulling out an infographic to help support the point you’re making, or if you could see yourself (or someone else) pinning it to the wall and using it as a reference – these 2 scenarios (imagined or real) present…

2 Quick Ways To Test If Your Infographic Is Actually Useful

Utility (or usefulness) is not the only test of an infographic, however, and there are other hooks you might wish to employ.  (I will be exploring alternative hooks in future posts).

One final note – if you ever happen to come across infographics you do find useful, please get in touch and let me know.  I love to hear people’s stories and experiences with infographics and data visualisation.