August 5th, 2014 Not All Data Needs Visualizing

Not all data visualization requires rendering, even with the available tools now.

Keith Collins, interactive graphics journalist of Bloomberg, cautioned the use and abuse of interactive graphics. Ask yourself if people are going to read it, he  said, and only then can you turn it into an interactive graphic.

Collins was at the General Assembly last August 5 to talk about the growing use of data visualization in reporting the news. The other speakers were Derek Watkins, graphics editor of the NYTimes and Allison McCann, visual journalist/data reporter of Five Thirty Eight, the Nate Silver site.

It’s not every day you find the NY Times, Bloomberg and Five Thirty Eight in meetups, but the General Assembly managed to have the three media companies in one roof.

With so many tools out there, Collins still insists that not every news report can be turned into an interactive infographic. More than once, he stressed how important it was for anyone to think carefully if a graphic “will be read.”

But what do they use in making those interesting interactive infographic and how many people it takes to do one?

Watkins will tell you it that it takes 40 people to make one while Collins will tell you it takes one. It also depends on the project. But if you want to come up with your own graphic, here are some tools they mentioned their organization have used: Python, Kartograph, D3, Data Google Chrome as well as Copy Xpath for scraping data. What is almost standard is the use of the old standby, Adobe Illustrator.

The talk was mostly about D3 and to a certain extent, Kartograph.

For the uninitiated, D3.js is a JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data. D3 helps you bring data to life using HTML, SVG and CSS.  It is said that D3’s emphasis on web standards gives you the full capabilities of modern browsers without tying yourself to a proprietary framework, combining powerful visualization components and a data-driven approach to DOM manipulation.

A Kartograph, on the other hand, is a simple and lightweight framework for building interactive map applications without Google Maps or any other mapping service. It was created with the needs of designers and data journalists in mind.

They all said they work closely with writers, making sure they also have someone to check data before any work is done.