A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

~ posted by Ann G.

Sadly, this post is NOT going to be about pretty pictures or images.  It is about data visualization—WAIT, DON’T STOP READING!  They can be fun!  Whenever you see an infographic (which is one small subset of the many types of data visualizations), like this one about what happens to your body in the first 60 minutes after drinking Coke, you’re looking at someone’s vision of what the underlying data are telling us (remember, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so you should always be a savvy consumer of any chart you see).

There are some great online sites that help you create your own infographic, but, since data visualization is a garbage-in garbage-out kind of situation, it makes sense to do a little basic background work before diving in.  Not surprisingly the internet is full of advice; we like this site which is a beginner’s toolkit, this site which takes you step by step from data to graphic, this site which tells you pitfalls to avoid, and this site which helps you think through some of the issues you will encounter.

And, there are MANY great items in our collection to delve into a little deeper!  (just search data visualization as the subject).  The classic work is by Edward Tufte, who was ahead of his time with his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  He calls this graphic of Napoleon’s march to and from Moscow the best statistical graphic ever drawn.  Beyond Tufte, for books on how to get at the background and purpose of going from data to visuals, try Design for Information, Data Design, and Data Visualization: Principles and Practice.  For ideas about using visualizations as communication tools, check out Data Points: Visualization That Means Something and Presenting Data Effectively.  And for the most fun of all, the finished products, see Cool Infographics, and the Best American Infographics series.

Also, don’t forget to stop by the Central Library tomorrow night at 6 pm, for our amazing program From Data to Action: Open Data and You (http://bit.ly/SPLdata), which will help you get started figuring out what data you might want to explore, so you can make your own infographic or visualization!  Whether or not it involves Argentina!

Don't Cry for me, Argentina
Data Visualization credit: John Bullas on Flickr

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