Activity Data Synthesis

Monday, 25 July 2011

Online Exchange #4: Event Recording [21 July 2011]

The fourth, and most likely final, Online Exchange took place last week and the topic this time was data visualisation (or 'visualization' depending on which side of the pond you reside).

The session was an opportunity for the JISC AD projects to share information about the data that they're wrangling as part of their project and their thoughts on/experience of the challenge of presenting that data visually. The main attraction though was a presentation from Tony Hirst who gave a very useful (or should I say 'OUseful' {nice pun Helen!}) overview of the tools and techniques you can use to create data visualisations.

You can playback the whole session by following the link below. [Note that you'll need to run the Java application that launches in order to watch it] The playback is slightly crackly on my machine but hopefully it won't detract from your listening pleasure:
You can see Tony's accompanying slides below and the good news is that he hopes to build and openly release a data viz 'uncourse' along the same lines later this year:

Tony's tour of the various data visualisation tools was great and brought the tools to life in a very engaging way with lots of examples showing how Tony's used them with real data. Personally speaking, the really interesting part for me was listening to Tony talk about the purpose and process of data visualisation. Tony is the first to admit that he is not a statistician and when he describes the process of using visualisation tools as 'having a conversation with your data' and 'exposing the hidden shapes, stories and messages within the data' it strikes me that working with data in this way requires an artistic / poetic / craftsperson mind-set as much as it does an analytic skill-set. I'll be mining Tony's talk to improve the data visualisation Draft Guide we've written but please do add your thoughts and tips below.


  1. I'd just like to point out that people should avoid using piecharts if at all possible. They are not as intuitive as people think because humans have difficulty comparing angles. Don't just take my word for it plenty of reasons on the web

  2. Thanks for that James - (on a slightly unrelated note) I have similar feelings about colour-coding schemas and iconography on websites/in publications/on maps ... it takes a master craftsperson to implement either of those in a way that means anything at all to the average user. Mostly it ends up being overlooked by the user or confusing them.