Friday, August 24, 2012

By Andrew Disselkoen

Presenting research results can be one of the biggest challenges in the social sciences, business, politics, and journalism.  Words are too often the typical medium, but many times written text does not succinctly display the findings.  Even if words can clearly describe a phenomenon, most individuals lack the motivation to read a full article.  Visualizations can captivate an audience.  Effective graphics synthesize information. That’s why visualization is so important!  When you have one chance to convey findings, visualizations can captivate attention and expose otherwise hidden observations neatly and effectively. 

As we embark on this visualization journey, look here to find helpful visualization tips and useful resources to make the most of any visualization project.  As with any skill, designing successful visuals takes practice.  Refining technique takes time, but I hope these resources will speed the learning process. 

Andy Disselkoen

Breaking Defaults

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

By Traci Montgomery

Visualizing data is relatively easy to do these days considering the wide variety of tools at our disposal. Visual.ly, a great data viz blog, names Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, Tableau, Google Public Data, Many Data, and Stat Silk as just a few tools to visualize data.

While some programs require a steeper learning curve to efficiently use, any user with a data set and some basic knowledge of Excel can produce a wide range of visualization types including bar graphs, pie charts, area charts, and scatterplots. Guest author to The Why Axis, Jon Schwabish, takes a look at a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) visualization, done in Excel, for job openings in November 2012. While the visualization passes for use of appropriate chart type, it fails in its details. Because the BLS utilized default settings from Excel, the true story of the data is lost.

Schwabish takes us through minor changes, all done in Excel, to create a visualization that more effectively tells the story of job openings in November 2012. Schwabish explains the things he finds appealing about the visualization: sourcing, a left-aligned title, and values measured in thousands to name a few; however, the default coloring, automatic spacing, and ordering of the bars and industries are a few things to be improved upon.


His first of a series of changes is a quick sort on industry by descending values which helps to give more order to the graph. A change in colors helps to make the most recent data value stand out against the previous months while creating a more cohesive visualization.

First Change

Schwabish goes on to show more suggested changes to better the storytelling of Job Openings in November 2012. The take away here is not exclusive to Excel, but all data visualization programs. Simple design elements including descriptive text, color, font, and order are important to telling a story and, often times, the default settings for telling that story are not optimal.

Read the full blog post here and make sure to examine the transition from one version of the visualization to the next.

Spending Ourselves Out of Recession?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

By Andrew Disselkoen

Keynesian economics tells us that expansionary fiscal policy can help kick-start a struggling economy.  Following the Great Recession, the United States and many other countries tried this approach.  Despite your view on the effectiveness of these policies, this visualization tracks the changes in Gross Domestic Production and the changes in total debt within a country.  When a country engages in fiscal stimulus the trend line with move horizontal.  GDP growth is measured by vertical movements.  If a country expanded both simultaneously, a 45 degree line could be drawn.  Notice the vertical drops in Japan’s GDP - these signal a serious economic slowdown that began in the late 1990s in Japan.  Also note the use of expansionary fiscal policy in an attempt to lift Japan out of recession. 


Click Read More to see the Graphic


Partisanship in the United States

Thursday, November 01, 2012

By Andrew Disselkoen

The current political climate is rift with partisanship.  Congress is currently stuck in gridlock but, politics wasn’t always so partisan.  Take a look at this xkcd graphic which illuminates the changing nature of political alignment.  The following graphic visualizes the changing alignments of political blocks within Congress. 


Unemployment, Jobs, and the Overall Economy

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By Andrew Disselkoen

The economy and jobs are perhaps the central issue in the 2012 Presidential Race.  Both politicians have thrown out statistics on the current state of the economy.  Numbers have ranged from 5 million new jobs created to a total gain of only 500,000.  The unemployment rate is also hotly debated as it just dropped below 8%.  Construct your own visualization mimicking the visualization below or create a new product that you believe accurately depicts the current of state of the economy, jobs, and/or unemployment.

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