Category Archives: visualisation

BarCampBrighton2 – Seeing Hidden Information

This is a tidying up of my presentation from BarCampBrighton2 over the weekend. The notes I used for my presentation were were pretty much just these URLs with some memory prompts for any points I wanted to raise.


My introductory point was simple: data + understanding == information. For example, when you know that the character string 011000010100001001100011 is in ASCII you will see that the string is really aBc.

Cholera in London

Jeremy Keith brought this one up during the talk and I always forget this one so I thought I’d just slip it in sneakily anyway. This shows plots cholera outbreaks and water pumps on a central London map and pretty much proved the direct relationship between the two.

Charles Minead – Napoleon’s Attack on Russia

Since the last talk there has been an article in the Economist talking about the history of infographics, and there is a much clearer version of this map available. This chart shows six separate pieces of information fairly concisely – geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining.

Florence Nightingale – Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East

Similarly, Florence Nightingale’s chart was also referenced in the Economist article. It has been re-analysed by Henry Woodbury at Dynamic Diagrams and shown in different formats all based off the same data. It is interesting to notice how the choice of representation can influence the implied relationship of meaning. Sparkline

Another reprise from my BarCampLondon2 talk, Sparklines are a quick and easy way to compare changes in a single value over time. This particular grab is from the Wikipedia article, and provides a comparison between these two stock indexes.

This is a link discussion page for Sparklines, that also contains a couple of pages of the original concept as outlined in Edward Tufte’s book, Beautiful Evidence

Treemaps -Sequioa View

Treemaps were created by Ben Shneiderman as a way of discovering where the hard drive space on his server was being used. The size of the square indicates the size of the file – so a file several directories deep can still be noticed. This is a link to the Windows program SequioaView that can be used for the same task. O’Reilly’s State of the Computer Book Market Every year the team at O’Reilly produce a report on the rise and fall of the computer book market, using Treemaps. Rises are indicated by green colours; falls by red colours; intensity indicates the strength of the rise or fall. It is really easy to see what the big winners and losers for the year are.

Smart Money Stockmarket

A natural place for Treemaps to be used is in the stock market – this is a link to the first pretty one that I could find; the colour scheme is the same as the O’Reilly treemap.


NewsMap is an interactive news browser that consumes GoogleNews. This is plotting the number of distinct news articles (size), the type of article (colour), and the age (brightness).


HistoryFlow is an innovative approach to analysing the history of edits of any Wikipedia page. Using this tool you can clearly examine the influence of various authors on a Wikipedia article, contrasting edits over time, and over the number of edits. It also clearly highlights exactly how pointless wiki-vandalism is.

MySociety: More Travel Maps

I talked about the MySociety travel maps at BarCampLondon2, and they’ve updated their travel maps since then. One of the updates is a really cool RIA-let that allows you to contrast travel times to the Department of Transport with London house prices.

State of the Union

The State of the Union address is a good source to analyse for differences overtime. I couldn’t find the original webpage that I’d sourced, but in searching I found this one that is much better. This site allows you to compare the Union addresses, with particular keywords highlighted. You can compare speeches for key presidents going back to Abraham Lincoln. Unsurprisingly more modern presidents are a little more concerned with terrorism, although war does seem to be a constant.


GapMinder is a great site powered by This RIA allows various statistics to be charted against each other, while highlighting specific countries and looking at the changes over time. When I first found this site, I spent nearly an hour playing around combining different statistics – during which time I noticed a bump when the contraceptive pill was introduced to the US, followed a few years later by a bump in the UK. Of course, an important thing to keep in mind is that correlation is not necessarily causation.

Photo Analysis

I found this article referenced in New Scientist a few years ago. It describes a process where the hidden unique information in a photograph – the arrangement of buildings – can be used to identify where in the world that picture was taken.

Aphex Twin – Windowlicker

Richard D James is known for his weird electronic music and using his face as visual branding for his music. The music video for Windowlicker features a group of bikini clad models all wearing his face as a mask – but he has also hidden his face inside the music, visible only through the use of a spectrogram.

Year Zero

And finally, Year Zero. In conjunction with the new Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero, there was an Alternate Reality Game created by the team who made I Love Bees (a Halo promotion). Information for this game was hidden in all sorts of places – amongst others they include:

  • the tour t-shirts had some characters that were slightly brighter than others, spelling out a URL (
  • inside USB keys left in toilets at concerts there is a mp3 of static showing a phone number (1-216-333-1810)
  • the CD when heated shows a binary number leading to a URL (
  • and finally, towards the end of the song Another Version of the Truth the sound of static spells out in morse code yet another URL (gracetheteacher)

BarCampLondon2 – Visualisation Presentation


This is a reworking of my session at BarCampLondon2. I started about 5 minutes late, which means I ended up zooming through the following links at a rate of about one per minute.


Charles Minard – Napolean’s Russian Campaign of 1812
This graphic, first published in 1861, contrasts the size of the French army on the attack and retreat parts of the campaign, and also compares the temperatures faced by the troops on the retreat.

Florence Nightingale’s Causes of Mortality in the Crimean War
This chart was used by Florence Nightingale to show the government the true causes of death during the Crimean war. The graph is not the clearest, but the blue area represents deaths through preventable disease, red is death through wounds and black is all other causes. Its fairly obvious what the main cause of deaths were.


Weighted List
The weighted list is a fairly common technique. used on, flickr, and the example used here is from 43Things. The more popular an item is the larger it’s size is – this provides a quick and easy way to determine popularity.

O’Reilly Treemaps
Tim O’Reilly uses Treemaps to analyse the ups and downs of the computer book industry. Treemaps display hierachical data using areas of comparable size, thus highlighting disproportionate areas and in this example enables easy comparison of shifts in the market place.

This interactive Flash application compares news articles sourced via Google News. Using brightness to indicate freshness, and colour to indicate grouping, the actual relative popularity of news stories can be seen.

Not all data visualisations need to be complicated. Sparklines are a streamlined view of one set of changing data. The example here compares the performance of the stock market, other examples include things such as comparing winning and losing streaks for a sporting team.


US Election Results – Red vs Blue States
After the recent US election, maps appeared of ‘Blue’ vs ‘Red’ states – this site looks into greater detail the ways of representing this data displaying the influence of population, and the middle ground of purple, as opposed to pure Red and Blue.

Californian Vote Distribution
This site applies some statistical normalisation to results of the Californian Gubernatorial elections and then reworks the map of California to draw insights from the original data.

UK Election Shift
This interactive Java applet shows the shifting of seats that occurred during the recent UK elections. Seats that have become more marginal shift away from the edges and gains and losses are represented by seats migrating into a different section entirely.


Travel Time Maps in the UK
In these sets of UK maps, coloured contour are are applied to represent the time taken to travel around the UK. Both train and car are contrasted, showing a slightly asymmetric map of travel times. Journeys within Cambridge and London are also displayed, highlighting comparatively unconnected areas of both cities.

Travel Time Maps in Europe
These maps use map distortion to compare rail travel times in around Europe in 1993 and 2020.

World Data

Worldmapper applies changes to the size and shape of countries based on various data sets to produce distorted maps. Population, economic wealth, air passenger numbers are all vary easily compared across the world. They have produced nearly 300 maps so far, all of which are available in PDF poster format.

World Processor
World processor doesn’t constraint itself to size and shape – it applies images on top of the existing globe of the Earth, changes the topography or removes countries entirely. Not all the examples work well, but those that do highlight the usefulness of this technique.


Data Fountain
The data fountain shows that not all visualisations need to be software. This installation contrasts the relative worth of the Yen, the Euro and US dollar with the height of their associated fountains.

Suicides on Golden Gate Bridge
This infographic shows the reported jumping point for people committing suicides based upon witness and surveillance footage. People are more likely to jump facing San Francisco, than the Pacific Ocean, and light pole #69 is by far the most popular.

Quantum Level Particles
This page demonstrates some conceptual items for representing quantum particles, and their combinations and interactions. While it isn’t ideal, it is an interesting and different way at looking these things.

Circular Calendar
This poster size calendar is designed to be drawn upon. Events and journeys can be non-contiguously marked, and collisions in time can easily become highlighted.

Family Wheel
An interesting look at the family tree, this technique transforms branches into slices of a circle. It is, however, unlikely to be clearer when common ancestors are found.

Lightweight Data Visualisation in Excel
Not all data visualisations need to be complex. This technique for Excel creates easily comparable data using only conditional formatting and a simple command to repeat characters.

Multi-Touch Research
While not quite a visualisation method, this technology – coming soon in the new iPhone – looks to provide a real world interactive with data on screen. The video provided by this research group at NYU shows some quite amazing ways of working with information on the screen.


Edward Tufte

Tufte is a legend in the field of data visualisation and his books are well worth a read for anyone interested in this topic. He also runs courses on this subject, but unfortunately they seem to be US only.

Periodic Table of Visualisation Methods

While this list is inherently flawed, due to its shoehorning of the Periodic table into comparing visualisation methods, it has some use however, in detailing a large number of techniques, both simple and advanced.


information aesthetics and visualcomplexity

I didn’t get a chance to mention these in my talk, but I felt it worthwhile to include them here. Information Aesthetics is a site focused entirely on data visualisation and is a fantastic resource on the subject while VisualComplexity is focused more narrowed onto the domain of complex networks with over 400 examples of different representations.

I think this is a really interesting field of work, getting into the heart of what computers should be used for – making ideas and information clearer to the end user and providing insights which were not previously perceivable.

Feel free to comment below with any additional examples you have found, and without a doubt the visualisation category within my links will continue to grow.