In the spring of 2011 I contacted the city of Luxembourg regarding obtaining data on their city bike share system, named vel’oh!, in order to use the data with the students I taught GIS to in the fall of 2011. Unfortunately no students showed interest in the data. I however dove into the data and did all sorts of spatial analysis and determined trends, statistics and visualizations to better understand the data. I was really only scratched the surface. With over 70 bike stations in the city, each one provides large possibilities for analysis. With my supervisor we met with the data donor from the city and presented our findings. During this meeting he asked me whether I thought certain stations required more bike locks/docks. Typically a station has 15-30 bike docks. The data I had could not address this question but I knew how to find the data in order to answer the question.
Infographics serve to simplify the communication of complexity by showing shapes, relationships, metaphors, hues, flows and symbols to represent values. A visually clean and attractive layout is common. We are more quickly able to compare visual values such as areas than numbers. Numbers and words require a more steps: deciphering (reading), translating to meaning and finally absorption. Visual symbols are directly absorbed.
Last year I purchased the book Information is Beautiful (IiB) by David McCandless. Its premise made me add it to my virtual shopping cart instantly. The book is strictly infographics about all sorts of serious, curious and funny topics. I was rather disappointed when reading it and discovered many incomplete pages. I became frustrated with the book and glossed over it a little quickly after that, admiring more the designs than the actual data. McCandless calls it a “freak printing error” but I wonder if it wasn’t partially from the last minute rush. I’ve watched his TED talk and I feel he may be a bit full of himself.
Infographics can fail at many stages. There can be an error in the research as in McCandless’ vitamin supplements graphic. These require you to know well the data to detect errors. There are also representational errors where the values researched are not represented correctly relative to other values. These are easier to detect if the author/artist also displays the values that the graphics are trying to represent. I browsed through IiB a few months back and looked at the data theft infographic. I quickly saw many representation and design errors. I admire his listed source materials / bibliography but I do not think he took to heart Tufte’s lessons.
I have been pondering for some time what the result of displaying bar charts of latitude and longitude population distributions for countries would look like. A co-worker shared a site with city populations for the whole world. I finally managed to get around to creating a mashup of Google Charts and Maps.