The information that we consume is overflowing into content overwhelm. The price of ‘content clutter’ results in crucial information getting lost amid the waves of “more content.” Even the most diligent in simplicity cannot separate what is important and what is trivial. This leads to lost opportunity and confusion.

Every minute:

·         Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content.

·         Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.

·         Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.

·         YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.

·         Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.

·         Email users send over 200 million messages.

·         Amazon generates over $80,000 in online sales.

Shifting information into something more easily digestible started with fusing data and CGI (computer graphics interface). But in the eagerness to create artful infographics, too much information is included, leading to meaningless pictures filled and data.

If your work involves the graphic and information verticals, there’s a growing need to understand real-time data viz examples. But the question remains as to whether the marriage of these two elements can get successfully accomplished so that it stands the test of time as information continues to grow.

Style is everything and choosing the right data visualization for presentations is often a “make or break” scenario.

Let Go of the Lines

Initial graphical presentations began with thin, semi-transparent and overlapping line charts. These were powerful representations for the initial data. But as additional information was increased, the ability to plot hundreds to thousands of data points could not scale. The resulting images were confusing and lacked any sense of logic.

An example of this can be demonstrated in GPS tracking of national development statistics. What began as a clear picture became increasingly convoluted as more data was added. All “‘transparency” was lost and the message became a bunch of meaningless lines. It takes time to sift through the data to create visuals that make sense. The challenge is how to tease this information out so that it conveys the message with clarity.

GPS traces of jogging paths in major world cities.

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Nathan Yau, Flowing Data

To show how much data visualization has improved through interactive graphics, here’s a different example. These visualizations take initial views and display the results in a graphic as new information is added. It is a cause-and-effect scenario that the human brain can easily receive, enabling the critical information to be seen from the clutter of lines on the graphs. This concept incorporates tens of thousands of data points and moves them forward into millions, so that the story fits into a larger picture.

The Integration of Sweeping Arcs

Visual images that incorporate dense, long sweeping arcs that include overlaps and curves are now quite popular as a visualization method. But too much of this method can be confusing. Simplifying the process through the literal ‘big picture’ and adding in color can highlight the key points and takeaways for the viewers.

A motion-graphic visualization produced by EBay Newsroom in 2013 details the donations collected after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated communities in the Philippines.

<A simple chart> “Might be the best way of conveying the information, but it isn’t effective at generating empathy or a deeper understanding of consequence. A data visualization that resonates, works on the level of metaphor: “We map the data to a metaphor and use interactivity to reveal information at a self-directed pace.”

        – Dino Citraro, Pitch Interactive creator

The concept that works the best with this format is to find the deeper message, start simple, and then build it from that point.

Circular Charts Showcase Data

From an ornamentation standpoint, circular data may be the most attractive contrast to the usual graphs and lines. But they are also more difficult to read. The only way to convey a message is through a slow motion cartwheel. Without getting too technical, plotting the data along the circle perimeter with a chord diagram requires a connection with something called “sinuous flow bars.” This format can be challenging, but if done correctly, it can bring together the data through interactivity.

Using contrasting colors in an interactive flow can work if carefully planned. It is also recommended to include a ‘how to use this graphic’ instruction guideline.

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WITTGENSTEIN CENTRE FOR DEMOGRAPHY AND GLOBAL HUMAN CAPITAL, VIENNA

This visualization shows migration patterns that cover a five-year span, beginning in 1990. Named ‘The Global Glow of People”, the ‘chord’ diagram demonstrates the migration of around 50,000 people as lines connect to countries and regions.

A summary guideline for circular charts helps the viewer understand the context of the message.

Use Bubble Maps for Specific Purposes

Bubble maps have their use in topics that relate to cartography and ‘mapping’, but they don’t always work for presentations that require detailed accuracy. With intense information, there is a tendency to have overlapping bubbles that hide the story and create ‘hollow rings’ that hinder instead of helping.

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ECOWEST AND BILL LANE CENTER FOR THE AMERICAN WEST, STANFORD UNIVERSITY

This detailed map of U.S. wildfires displays yellow and red ‘bubbles’ for the number of represented fires. This is a good example of showing overall data in a summary format.

Gathering Points in Bins or Rows

Getting the information across by showing every single detail in the data point is inefficient in today’s world. Summarizing in an artful way through ‘binning’ or grouping is an attractive alternative. Through the use of larger shapes, such as hexagons, squares or bubbles, you can make use of color and information to display appealing results.

The example below from National Geographic is a map of landslides in the U.S. The interactive map uses a technique of multiple points in a map grid overlay. Using ‘bin points’ most of the grid is visible.

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XAQUÍN G.V. AND KELSEY NOWAKOWSKI, NGM STAFF

This form of data visualization can be both artful and precise when done correctly.

Multiples Can Be Excellent Graphics

Although considered to be a ‘humble’ part of data visualization, the ‘small multiples’ that repeat data in progressive movements can be compared to movie frames. When placed side by side, they are easily digested by the viewers.  Place a limit of the number of multiples so that the information doesn’t get out of control. Visually, they should be clear and concise, making use of the ‘less is more’ concept.

Also known as ‘charticles’ an example of multiples is shown in the Los Angeles Times tracking of the California drought.

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Kyle Kim, Thomas Suh Lauder, The Los Angeles Times

The ability to show a clear 1:1 comparison, blended with maps that are moved along in a time-series gives the viewer full understanding of the depth of the drought problem. Each map, beginning with 2012, represents as single week status.

The Future of Data Visualization

As more information flows in, various styles may change with popularity as well as need. The key element is to stay on top of the best methods and trends and to adjust accordingly.

To avoid data visualization breakdown, additional information that is applied to visuals requires a ‘legend’ or ‘code’. This will help the viewer so that they can fuse the image and the message more easily.

Add data visualization as part of your organization’s communication methods.

Click here to download The Ultimate Guide To Data Visualization.

Image credit: Marcin Ignac

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