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Data Visualization Best Practices

Data visualization is part of the analytical process—and a discipline unto itself, with a thriving community full of opinions on the best way to communicate data. From the pros and cons of pie charts to y-axis debates, here's advice from the most experienced data visualization practitioners around.

There be dragons: dataviz in the industry

There’s one nut data visualization practitioners haven't been able to crack: anchoring bespoke data visualization as a full fledged profession in corporate settings. - Moritz Stefaner

If Data Visualization is So Hot, Why Are People Leaving?

There are prominent theorists and practitioners in data visualization that simply do not believe there is such a thing as a dedicated data visualization role in industry. - Elijah Meeks

Tapestry 2017 Recap

Tapestry is a conference that brings together data storytellers of all stripes to share and learn from each other. Here’s a recap in the form of beautifully drawn sketchnotes. - Catherine Madden

Data GIFs and How to Make Them

Ah, the GIF. For 28 years, this file type has been used to elicit chuckles and combine multiple images and ideas. When a static chart simply won’t do, check out this tutorial for making data visualization GIFs of your very own. - Lena Groeger

3 Data Viz Hacks We Learned While Mapping Drought Data

Sensors, beacons, GPS data, and satellites have been able to generate a deluge of big data about the U.S. drought. But some of the most meaningful insights can be found by taking a “small data” approach to location data. - CARTO

Getting critical with data literacy

“The skills needed to copy and paste your spreadsheet into a great tool like Datawrapper or RAW seem far less urgent to me than being able to critically assess the limitations of your data and what it might make your viewer think.” - Zara Rahman

How to Spot Visualization Lies

“It used to be that we’d see a poorly made graph or a data design goof, laugh it up a bit, and then carry on. At some point though — during this past year especially — it grew more difficult to distinguish a visualization snafu from bias and deliberate misinformation.” - FlowingData

Data Humanism, the Revolution will be Visualized.

The second wave of data visualization will value complexity, personalization, and imperfection over simplification, efficiency, and infallibility. - Giorgia Lupi

The best R package for learning to “think about visualization”

Spoiler alert: it’s ggplot2. - Sharp Sight Labs

Awesome visualization research

A curated list of data visualization research papers, books, blog posts, and other readings. It’s pretty fresh, so submit a pull request and contribute! - Matthew Conlen

Visual Vocabulary

A handy reference used at the Financial Times to improve chart literacy across the newsroom. Chart types are divided into categories by data relationship (e.g. deviation, correlation, distribution), so you can get some initial ideas for which visualization might work best. - Financial Times

Two Alternatives to Using a Second Y-Axis

“Almost as often as I see a pie chart with a hundred tiny slivers, I see line graphs using two y-axes. And it is just as bad.” - Stephanie Evergreen

A Data Point Walks Into a Bar

Mother Teresa said “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Here are ways to encourage people to act when looking at the mass. - Lisa Charlotte Rost

Visualizing Distributions

16 ways to display distributions, from the barcode chart to the bean plot. - Darkhorse Analytics

What I Learned Recreating One Chart Using 24 Tools

An incredibly insightful and nuanced lay of the charting tools land. - Source

The Rhythm of Food: Analyzing food seasonality

Remember those beautiful charts depicting food seasonality a few weeks back? The data viz practitioner responsible shares his process for investigating a complex cultural phenomenon using Google Trends data. - Truth & Beauty

Gauging Election Reactions

Electoral maps received a lot of scrutiny this election, but the New York Times gauge charts (and their jittery needles) were met with a forceful backlash. The issue at hand? Conveying uncertainty in charts. - http://www.visualisingdata.com/2016/11/gauging-election-reaction/

Against storytelling: We need Data Explorers to make sense of Open Data.

“Making data sources available to un-guided analysis is the foundational step of the whole thing. They offer none or few guidance to the user, unleashing a virtually infinite set of interpretations.” - DataPirata

Why we used jittery gauges in our live election forecast

There has been some debate about the jittery gauge chart we used in our live election forecast. Rather than replying to dozens of tweets I decided to wrap this up in an old-fashioned blog post. - Gregor Aisch

415 Data Visualization Tools

This collection of tools might seem overwhelming at first. Fear not! Filtering by features, data types, cost, and several other variables will help you find what you need, fast. - Adil Yalçın

Let’s Chart: stop those lying line charts

In a quest for connected points and smoothed lines, we may be implying continuity where it doesn’t exist. - Signal v. Noise

Election maps are telling you big lies about small things

This kind of map is common in almost every election: 50 states (and the District), two colors, one winner. Despite its ubiquity, it is profoundly flawed. - Washington Post

All Those Misleading Election Maps

Would you draw a line chart with the lines all over the place, not where the values actually are? Of course not. Yet somehow, every single election map works like that. - eagereyes

There Are Many Ways to Map Election Results. We’ve Tried Most of Them.

There is no perfect form for showing results in a nuanced way that is at once fair, accessible and revealing. Different types of maps, and charts for that matter, are better at each of these things than others. - New York Times

Violin Plots 101: Visualizing Distribution and Probability Density

Violin plots are a hybrid of box plots and kernel density plots. They're particularly useful for seeing the full distribution of a dataset. - Mode

Data-Driven Guides: Supporting Expressive Design for Information Graphics

Right now, there are two types of tools for making data visualizations: rigid charting tools or freeform illustration tools. Data-Driven Guides is a technique that makes the best of both worlds. - Nam Wook Kim

Why I Believe That US Election Maps Should Show Electoral And Popular Votes

Because of the “winner take all” U.S. election system, electoral maps are a better representation of who will become president. But they hide how diverse the popular vote can be within each state. - Lisa Charlotte Rost

Exploratory Data Analysis: Widening Your View Point

Visualization is as instrumental for exploratory analysis as it is for communicating results. Here’s a framework for using visual techniques to interrogate your data. - Statistics Views

How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages

This deep-dive into the methodology of an election poll highlights how decisions about sample size weighting can increase the impact of a single data point. - The Upshot

When Did Charts Become Popular?

Charts have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take their existence for granted. Explore how the use of charts in the media has changed dramatically throughout the past 150 years, using data from the New York Times. - Priceonomics

We Gave Four Good Pollsters the Same Raw Data. They Had Four Different Results.

Dig into the methodology of four different pollsters to learn how choices made about handling data, such as adjusting the sample and identifying likely voters, can impact results. - New York Times

How important is creativity in a data visualisation?

What makes a data viz creative? This post tackles the question by examining real-world examples from practitioners like Andy Kirk, Giorgia Lupi, and Stefanie Posavec. - Neil Richards

Introduction to Data Visualization with Altair

Looking for a new Python data viz library? Try out Altair, which does some of the visualization work for you by attempting to interpret your data and make reasonable assumptions about how to display it. - Practical Business Python

To the point: 7 reasons you should use dot graphs

The pros of dot plots (illustrated with real-world examples) and why they’re often a better choice over bar and line charts. - Maarten Lambrechts

Pareto Chart 101: Visualizing the 80-20 Rule

The Pareto chart is a bar + line chart that's useful for determining which actions will result in the most value for a business. - Mode

Statisticians, Remember Your Native Tongue

“You can be the most advanced statistician in the world, but if you cannot clearly report your findings to decision makers, your work is wasted.” - Perceptual Edge

Colorgorical: A tool generating categorical color palettes

Any data viz practitioner worth her salt knows color is important. Don’t spend time painstakingly picking out a color palette for your charts—Colorgorical will generate one for you based on number of colors, perceptual distance, and hue. Colorgorical is also on Github if you want to peek under the hood. - Colorgorical

The Repetitive and Boring History of Visualization

Ask someone about the history of data visualization and you’re sure to hear the same mantra of example: William Playfair’s trade-balance time-series chart, Florence Nightingale’s 'rose diagrams', John Snow’s cholera map. While these early data viz have great stories attached to them, we don’t know exactly how impactful they were during their day. This post highlights three little-known examples that probably shaped the craft more than any of the usual suspects. - eagereyes

Design Better Tables

The ire raised by data tables is due, no doubt, to just how awful they can look when they’re not well designed. The design of a table is its linchpin: if it’s done right, it makes complex data easy to scan and compare. If it’s done wrong, it can render information completely incomprehensible. - Mission Log

Our nine-point guide to spotting a dodgy statistic

Numbers might appear unwavering and objective, but they’re easily manipulated—especially by politicians. Here are some common ways people spin numbers to support their agenda, with real-life examples from Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, and more. - The Guardian

10 Significant Visualisation Developments: January to June 2016

Every six months, visualization expert Andy Kirk puts together a list of people and projects he feels have impacted the field. This roundup includes climate spiral plots, #MakeoverMonday, and a talk from the Deputy Graphics Editor at The New York Times. - Visualising Data

Simple requirements gathering questions for dashboard design

Next time someone asks you to make a dashboard, pull this list out. It provides a framework for sussing out what’s needed for the dashboard to be useful and effective. - Paint by Numbers

The Surprising History of the Infographic

How did data visualization influence the Civil War, Florence Nightingale, and the 19th century U.K. wheat industry? Take a tour of infographics past to find out. - Smithsonian.com

Why we didn’t use a cartogram in the Brexit map

After Brexit, tons of publications released maps of how the U.K. voted. Graphics editor Gregor Aisch shares why The New York Times opted for a simple map—and the challenges of using cartograms in the news. - Gregor Aisch

11 Data Visualization Experts Who Will Constantly Inspire You

These data visualization experts contribute to the community on a daily basis. Follow them, and you'll never be short on inspiration. - Mode

Visualising Data: A Handbook for Data Driven Design

Data viz thought leader Andy Kirk recently released his first book. He put together a companion site full of resources and references that are useful whether you buy the book or not. - Visualising Data

A Pair of Pie Chart Papers

Conventional wisdom states that we read pie charts according to the angle of each pie slice, but is that actually true? These new studies show that it has very little to do with angles at all. - eagereyes

How the Sketching Process Works

Sometimes figuring out how to visualize a dataset means stepping back from your computer and getting out a pen and paper. - Ann K. Emery

Subreddit breakdown: AskScience

Hundreds of questions pour into the AskScience subreddit each day, but which branch of science gets asked about most? Analyses of Reddit datasets are almost always fascinating, and this one is no exception. - Uncertain Decisions

Ask Me Anything with Scott Berinato, HBR senior editor

Scott Berinato, senior editor at Harvard Business Review and author of Good Charts, recently did an AMA on the Data is Beautiful subreddit about data visualizations in business. - Reddit

What Election Map History Can Teach You About Presenting Data

Great data presentations hit the sweet spot between clarity and conciseness. Here are some tips for presenting data, gleaned from examining the history of U.S. election maps. - Mode

One Chart, Twelve Tools

Most data practitioners have a favorite data visualization tool—whether it’s ggplot, Seaborn, or good old-fashioned Excel. But for a beginner, the range of options can be overwhelming. This post explores 12 tools for creating the same bubble chart, complete with code. - Lisa Charlotte Rost

One Chart, Twelve Charting Libraries

In the following blog post, I will try to get to know a few [libraries] out of the great sea of possibilities. I want to understand their differences and how easy it is to learn them. To do so, I created the same bubble chart with twelve different frameworks. - Lisa Charlotte Rost

The Data Visualisation Catalogue

What’s the best way to visualize this distribution? Or that range of data? Sometimes the answer isn’t so clear. This comprehensive collection of data visualizations will help you find the right method for your needs. Select the function you’re trying to achieve, and (BAM!) you’ve got a list of charts to choose from. - The Data Visualisation Catalogue

The Need for Openness in Data Journalism

What would it look like if data journalism borrowed the scientific practices of sharing research and reviewing findings? Here’s a peek, using a FiveThirtyEight article as the example. - Brian Keegan

All the ‘Six Questions with…’

Interviews with 15 data viz experts. All in one place. Get readin’. - Visualising Data

The Art and Science of Storytelling Through Data at Jawbone

Analysis can be worthless if it’s not communicated well. Jawbone data scientist Kirstin Aschbacher shares how she develops a data story that inspires action, from concept to presentation. - Insight Data Science

The correct way to use pie charts

Pie charts get a lot of flack in the data visualization community, but sometimes they prove useful. Can this post salvage their reputation? - Randy Olson

The Trials and Tribulations of Data Visualization for Good

This observation from Jake Porway, Executive Director of Datakind, is particularly compelling: 'Data visualization is incredibly good for allowing one to ask questions, not answer them.' - Markets for Good

Revisiting the vaccine visualizations

The right color palette can make a great visualization even better. This redesign of Wall Street Journal heat maps sets the bar. - Randal S. Olson

The Little of Visualisation Design

Whether it’s the positioning of labels or the placement of the y-axis, the smallest detail can make or break a visualization. In this new, bite-size series, data visualization specialist Andy Kirk evaluates the effectiveness of charts found in the real world. - Visualising Data

Rees & Mushon on DataViz Empathy

Mushon Zer-Aviv from Shual Design Studio and Kim Rees from Periscopic talk about whether data visualizations can elicit empathy, who is responsible for calls to action, and compassion fatigue. - PolicyViz

How a Small Data Design Company Visualized the World’s Scientific Collaborations

Nature recently published an interactive visualization capturing the patterns of scientific collaboration across the globe. Go behind the scenes with Small Multiples, the design firm that created the graphic, to learn how they approach designing with data. A great read for any digital storyteller. - Storybench

What Would Feminist Data Visualization Look Like?

Data visualizations wield immense power. It’s up to their makers to ensure visualizations represent subjects responsibly. This article provides some great suggestions for how to recognize the limitations of your visualization, investigate data provenance, and become comfortable with uncertainty by inviting dissent. - MIT Center for Civic Media

The most misleading charts of 2015, fixed

[W]hen we see charts in the wild that use fuzzy or bad data, improperly skew axes, or are otherwise misleading, we get sad. - Quartz

Electoral Maps All Look a Little Different. Here’s Why

Every map makes compromises. The Mercator projection, which sacrifices accurate geography for nice, straight lines, is a classic example. Electoral cartograms, which visualize the political climates of individual states, are another.