Expert Visualizations: 5 Top Ideas

September 25, 2015 7:00 am PST | Data Apps & Visualization, Data as a Service

Just publishing stacks of data isn’t enough, because most humans turn away at the sight of bleak rows of government stats, or Ye Olde Pie Charts. Others fall asleep. Instead, the Socrata UX team champions a strategy of “If you communicate dynamically, they will engage — phenomenally.”

Visualizations are game changers for the reach of public datasets. Data creators are eager to unlock the power of visualizations, to help staff collaborate across internal departments as well as to partner with the public to improve civic life. The hitch is in the how: What’s the path for creating powerfully relevant visualizations? That can vary by project, internal culture, and local needs.

Here to inspire you are five of our UX team’s favorite visualizations. Ready to go deeper? Watch this video on data visualization.

What’s Warming the World

Global warming sparks discussions in classrooms, corporations, and communities. People’s views on contributing factors vary, and the more data we all have on hand, the more productive the discussions.

To compare and contrast the effects of different factors on rising global temperature over time, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi took data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and created their “What’s Really Warming the World?” visualization for The visualization uses clear, effective animation to make the data accessible and easy to comprehend. It’s also impossible to resist the completely appealing whizzbang quality of their visualization.

Chicago Crime Data

Out of Hollywood and into real-life neighborhoods, Chicago’s crime scenes become meaningful through the city’s crime data portal, created in partnership with Socrata. 

Residents who are just beginning to access public data online can easily learn about reported crimes from 2001 to the present. The data’s engagingly presorted for them, by type, time of year, community, and more. Advanced users — for example, municipal policy analysts and civic tech enthusiasts — can go further, using powerful search and filter tools to reveal contributing factors and patterns.

The Languages of America

This elegant visualization, “Most commonly spoken language other than English or Spanish,” shows how even a static map can be extremely powerful when done insightfully, with the goal of pure communication.

Created by Conrad Hackett of the Pew Research Center, the map is universally relatable. Its sleekness and accessibility comes in part from Hackett’s sparing use of map labels — no geographic names, just the languages. Only boundary lines denote the states, leaving mental space for viewers to ponder the interplay of people, culture, and movement over time.

Boston’s Personalized Subway Data

The Boston subway system is the fourth busiest in the nation. Visualizing MBTA Data, created by Mike Barry and Brian Card, helps Bostonians parse it, to “better understand the trains, how people use the trains, and how the people and trains interact with each other.” It’s also a very fun visualization to use.

It uses interactivity very effectively, allowing insight into individual pieces as well as the whole system. Everyday subway users can personalize the data to apply to their own routes and habits, while analysts and enthusiasts can take advantage of the visualization’s complexity to look at broader patterns.

If you like this type of visualization and want to learn more, the Socrata UX team recommends “Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction” by Bret Victor. Our experienced researchers and designers note how Victor’s piece ties into — and is cited by — the MBTA visualization, and illuminates the process of examining the same piece of data from multiple levels of abstraction.

Flight Data in Real Time

The dreamy world of flight flows through the nitty-gritty aspects of global air traffic in this compelling visualization from the Guardian. To celebrate 100 years of passenger jet travel, the Guardian creators use live data from FlightStats “to show every one of the thousands of commercial planes currently in the air,” making the data story seem effortlessly clear.

Across the bottom of the visualization, a clickable four-part series explores the data, along with changes in aviation over time. Click on “Hitting the Limits?” to examine the potential ultimate constraints on air traffic capacity, by regional growth rates and global projections.

Ask the Experts: Customer Summit

Meet our UX team — creators of the popular Data Lens — at the upcoming Socrata Customer Summit. Learn about our research and how our team designs and builds product interfaces people love to use. Take away great ideas, direction, and new contacts you can lean on when you get back home! Can’t make the Summit? Request a personalized demonstration of Socrata’s products instead.


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