Category Archives: Dataviz / Data Journalism

18 Sep

Anatomy of an Infographic: CATH project flow diagram

This series of blog posts will go behind-the-scenes of some of my favourite portfolio pieces, revisiting the challenges and solutions. 


INTRO: Yes, it’s busy and overwhelming but I love this piece I designed in 2014 for a collaborative arts project in Birmingham.

BACKGROUND: The project, headed up by a team from University of Birmingham, saw 3 types of organisations come together into smaller project groups to essentially ‘see what they could come up with”. Academics would bring a research capability, SME’s would perhaps offer technical services or design skills and SCOs (Small cultural organisations) would bring cultural awareness and challenges.

BRIEF: my brief was to create a diagram that truly captured the complexity and challenges faced by the project and to give a feeling of chaos moving into organisation.

THE DATA: I was given a Word document table, with a row for each group with the name of each SCO, SME and Higher Education representative in that group.

THE PROCESS

  • Expand the data: The data was a useful starting point but I felt there was more interesting data to be uncovered by getting more specific. By drilling down into each individual participant, I uncovered more data and develop a hierarchy / categorisation of everyone involved. So a lecturer from Birmingham University was given a more specific categorisation based on his specialism – e.g. Humanities > History. SME’s and SCO’s were similarly broken down into more specific sub-categories.
  • Structure the data: Whilst I had added new layers to the information, I also had limited space in which to present it, so I had to go through a round of merging and rethinking in order to create some smaller groupings. I also wanted to get data-sign-off before starting the design stage, as it would be much harder to change later on. I used a wireframing app (e.g. Draw.io or xDiagram (mac)) to create a basic flow chart which the client could easily understand. It was also important for each participant to approve their categorisation – this was to be a permanent record of the project and we needed buy-in from everyone involved. These basic wireframes of each sector were sent to the relevant participants for their comment. As you can imagine there were some changes with some valuable feedback and suggestions. By the end of this process I had a spreadsheet with each participant on a different row, with maximum 4 layers of detail for each one, plus their outcome project title.
  • Create the basic diagram:  I used RAW (http://rawgraphs.io/) to create a basic alluvial diagram. Whilst a complete mess it was simply a starting point and once imported into Illustrator as an SVG it was incredibly useful.
  • Finalise the diagram: At this point I realised that the left hand side of the chart required a more hand-drawn approach, whilst the right could rely more heavily on the output from RAW. This had the additional benefit of capturing another element of the project. The tree-branch feel on the left represented the human, natural unstructured growth of the participants, but when pulled together they produce a more digital, structured outcome. I spend considerable time in Illustrator developing the left and side of the chart in order to distribute the ‘chaos’ and ‘twists’ evenly, but also aid comprehension.

 

 

14 Feb

Infographics? Infovisuals? Stop and think

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Visual communication is nothing new.

Man has been daubing on walls and scratching into rock for centuries. Whether it’s “5 Ways to Catch and Skin a Deer” or “The River Styx: Everything You Need to Know”, visual representations of information have been the simplest way to pass information from one person to another.

Nowadays, the data explosion has meant there is not only more information to be conveyed, but an increased demand for access and understanding. We want price checks, reviews and evidence before we hand over our money and companies have to work harder to gain our loyalty. There’s also the decrease in trust of power – public organisations have to be transparent, as each member of the public becomes as hungry for facts and proof as the most voracious reporter of the past. Add the internet and especially social media into the mix and you have the perfect transportation method for this information.

Of course, with every shift in human consciousness, there are those who misunderstand, misuse and abuse this shift. The demand for infographics has reached fever pitch and organisations are now jumping on this dangerously overcrowded bandwagon.

If you’re one of those people thinking, “we need to get visual” but aren’t sure how or why – read on.

 

What are you visualising?

buttons-02-150x150I’ve been approached by organisations in the past who want infographics creating, but have no idea what the content will be. They’d simply heard the phrase and wanted a piece of the action.

Your visual communication must be driven by content. Would you write a press release or blog post, with no idea at the start what it’s for? Of course not. An infographic or data visualisation must be part of your overall communication message.

If you’d like to use visuals, take a look at your current projects. What kind of information are you dealing with?

For example, are you dealing with numbers/stats, the most common form of content for visual communication? Charts and data visualisation are tried and tested methods of explaining numbers. Great for showing prices, budget cuts, population counts and user demographics.

Perhaps you have location data. Maps are the most obvious way of communicating geographical data, as we understand how maps work and can instantly put ourselves into the picture – we can see how the data will affect us directly. New store locations, country of origin of products, transportation routes all work well mapped.

timeMany organisations overlook the third type of data: time and dates. Visit a museum and you’ll probably come across a timeline – again, a tool that allows us to put concepts into a visual form for us to understand. If you’re trying to explain the growth of your company, future development plans for an area or a events schedule, a timeline allows the user to access this data in a logical way.

There is another form of data that does not fall into any of these categories, but often requires the most explanation: systems and processes. How your company is structured, how that process works or why that thing happened. Flow diagrams and mindmaps can be useful tools to turn that understanding into something that anyone could follow.

Of course it could be a mix of these – showing stats on a map or the timescale of a process – and this is where infographics and data visualisations get really interesting.

 

Who is Your Audience?

Spending some time considering your audience will help you pick the right tool for the job. No point using an interactive online only tool if you target audience are not computer users. Of course, infographics and data visualisations can work well in print, whether that’s billboards, posters or flyers – it’s just worth thinking who they are before you start designing.

So here are a few questions to ask yourself about your reader

  1. what do they want from your visual? Why are they engaging with it?
  2. How old are they? You’ll use a different visual for young people and adults
  3. where are they? Reading online? In a doctors surgery? Different attention span, different tool – think
  4. What prior knowledge do they have? Avoid confusing them, but also don’t be condescending.
  5. What are their literacy/numeracy levels? Can you rely on text and stats, or does it need to be simpler than that?
  6. What will they think? You’ll use a different approach to announce job cuts than to promote your new product.
  7. What is their starting point? If you’re mapping libraries in your town, what will they use to search – will they necessarily know the library name or their “ward”? Think about how they’ll interact with your information

 

Why are you doing this?

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What story are you trying to tell with the information? As with a press release, there is something you are trying to get across. Are you announcing some new plans? Is there budget cut information you need to explain?

Each set of data will contain key information – this has probably sparked the idea for a visual in the first place – so make sure your visual tells that story clearly.

Then there’s the message – it may be that you’re not conveying any opinion or feeling on the data – or perhaps you need to make sure you appear sympathetic about those job cuts, or excited about the new product announcements. Either way, you need to make sure that tone is clear through design decisions and tool choice.

The final consideration is action – specifically, what do you want the reader to do? An anti-littering infographic will have the aim of encouraging them to use the rubbish bins. Perhaps you want them to think less harshly of your organisation, or simply understand the situation a little better. Make sure you keep this intended action at the front of your mind when developing your visuals.

 

Caroline Beavon is a freelance infographic and data visualisation designer. She has worked with local authorities and charities offering information design solutions to comms teams across the UK.

27 Apr

Why data is more than just numbers

Quick thought: When I’m delivering a training session, or talking to clients, I try to avoid using the term ‘data’ and instead use the word ‘information’.

 

Many clients and trainees fall into the trap of thinking that data means numbers, whether that’s sales figures, yearly activity data or survey results. However, it’s more useful to think of data as information  – which can cover anything from times and dates, locations, systems, lists of names … anything that can inform.

 

In the same way we can turn statistics into charts, so:

– place names can become maps
– dates and times can become timelines
– systems can become diagrams

 

Adding this non-statistical information to your visuals can help the readers engage with your content. If they’re naturally put off by numbers (as many people are), they may be attracted by a map or diagram alongside them. Adding extra content can also give the reader more rounded information, by adding context to the story. For example, seeing where your offices are located may help the reader understand differences in sales patterns.

 

The benefits of adding non-statistical information to your graphics

 

– more context for the reader
– delivers a more rounded insight into the statistics
– more appealing to readers deterred by statistics

 

If you’re working on an infographic or data visualisation, don’t forget about the other information around this subject. It could make all the difference.

10 Nov

Need a Tableau dashboard? Here’s the information I need

This post discussed my use of Tableau Software. For more information on Tableau visit the official website

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I’ve always used Tableau to quickly get to grips with a new data set and play with different chart types until I come across something effective. I’ve also created several ‘personal’ projects using this tool.

More recently, I’ve been talking to several clients about creating Tableau dashboards or interactive infographics for them.

These are the questions I ask myself / them at the start of any new Tableau project, on top of the usual design questions (which may form another blog post at some point)

Feedback / thoughts welcome via Twitter.

 

CURRENT USE

  • Do you currently use Tableau?
  • Do you use dashboards and / or storyboards?
  • What version of Tableau do you use – Public, Desktop, Server etc
  • Is Tableau part of your usual workflow, or something you use for standalone projects
  • Is there one person who uses Tableau in your organisation, or are most people skilled in Tableau?
  • Do you use Tableau to generate your calculations, or is the bulk of the statistical work done in the original dataset?
  • Can you share files, links or screenshots of how you currently use Tableau?

 

THIS PROJECT (what we are creating)

  • What are your aims for this project? (i.e. “to create a dashboard to let our staff see our monthly statistics”)
  • Is there a particular challenge/problem your are looking to solve?
  • Who is your intended audience?
  • is the dashboard just for internal use?
  • What do you envisage to be the final outcome of this project? – i.e. a single dashboard, multiple dashboards (story), a single visualisation, an interactive infographic

 

VIEWING THE PROJECT

  • do you want the project to be viewable online by anyone?
  • will the project need some explanation/wider context?
  • will the project need some instructions or will all your users be familiar with Tableau?

 

THE DATA

  • is the data for this project part of a larger data set already existing in Tableau or are we starting from scratch?
  • is the data ready to go, or does it need more work to get it into shape?
  • is the data already public?
  • is it ok for the data to be accessible/downloaded by anyone who accesses the project?

 

THE DESIGN

  • is it important for this project to meet corporate branding guidelines?
  • does this need to be suitable for mobile use?
29 Sep

My Route – touchtable design

My Route was a heritage project based in Birmingham. I was commissioned to design a touch table that would show the changing history of the Stratford Road, one of the key routes in the city, from the 1940s to today. You can find out more about the whole project in this short film

After several months of research and trialling, I began developing a map that would allow users to see the businesses along the road in 10 years intervals. Using the Kelly’s Directories, phone books, Yellow Pages and other research, I created a giant spreadsheet showing the business name, type and category.

Working with digital agency Substrakt, and touch table developer John Sear, we created an interactive touch table that was placed in a local community centre and a library for several weeks for the public to use.

The touch table shows a selection of the businesses, with audio, image and video content.

Users interact with the touch table by moving the coloured “decade” lenses over the road, and icons appear when there is content available. Touching the icon reveals the content.

 

My Route touchtable 2 copy IMG_3171

 

15 Jan

If you needed any more proof that I am a data visualisation and productivity nerd …

In order to keep track of the various projects, I use an Excel spreadsheet. This calculates project hours, rates etc.

The spreadsheet breaks each day down into 30 minute blocks, into which I paste a coloured block and code – which helps calculate the running totals.

As well as being useful – it also generated this bonus visualisation!

I started this in Oct 2013 – So now, I present, my work diary from Oct 2013 – Dec 2014.

 

2014 work viz-01

01 Jul

Infographics for Housing Associations

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It’s been all about housing associations recently!

I’m currently working on an annual report infographic for Thames Valley Housing (covering their key statistics) but was also recently invited to speak to a network group of National Housing Federation communications professionals in the West Midlands.

I delivered a 45 minute talk on infographics including:

  • why infographics
  • the process of developing them
  • some key tools.

What I find interesting at these events is hearing about what the individuals are doing, and thinking how infographics / information design could fit into their communication plans.

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Newsletters

There was an interesting discussion about newsletters. It seems many of the HA’s still post out a physical newsletter as opposed to email, as some residents don’t have internet access. These newsletters seem to cover the main events and news since the last issue was released.

Infographics would be a great way to engage readers in the developments of the HA, and the changes in their environment. Each issue could include a really simple diagram or chart giving a snapshot of the demographics of other residents, for example, or the number of new homes acquired.

Using a similar style in each issue, and having the infographic on the same page, could become a really interesting destination for readers.

Annual Reports

As I mentioned above, I’m currently working on an annual report infographic for Thames Valley Housing. This will sit within their full report, but will also work as a standalone graphic.

Annual reports are chock-full of standalone statistics – i.e. customer demographics, number of homes, moves . new lets, size of homes etc. This is perfect for the infographic layout style.

Leaflets / Flyers

Leaflets are a great way to distribute information, especially to a less digitally-active audience. If you’re trying to drum up interest in a subject, for example – a change in rent, a new development or to highlight a particular problem area (i.e. anti-social behaviour) you could turn the leaflet into a fold-out infographic, or use small diagrams to back up the text/argument.

Process Documents

The housing process can be a stressful time for new residents. The paperwork and process can be confusing so HA’s could head off any tension by creating a series of documents with infographics to explain what, when and how things will happen.

For example, a timeline of the application process will allow people to understand how long it will take, whilst a chart could explain what the rent covers and how often it needs to be paid.

Residents could also learn about the various housing options with infographics showing demographic breakdown (i.e. are there other children nearby for mine to play with? or is it a particularly young area).

Environmental

Take a look at the image above! There’s no reason to keep infographics on the page or screen. Tidy Street in Brighton plotted their electricity use on the road itself for a few months back in 2011. Read more about this here

It could be about recycling, fundraising or any other group challenge! Why not?

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

 

15 Apr

Appearing soon at …

I’ve had a flurry of invitations to speak in public recently and, as one of my New Years Resolutions was to say ‘yes’ more, I’ve agreed to all of them.

Over the next 2 months I’ll be appearing at the following events – ticket details below, and if you’re already going, do say hi!

 

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April CAKE Morning

  • Date: April 29th 2014
  • Venue:  Digital Humanities Hub, University of Birmingham, Pritchatts Road, Edgbaston, B15 2TT
  • Talk subject: tbc
  • Tickets: free available here
  • Other speakers: tbc

Official Blurb

Given the wide and diverse range of academics, businesses, students and Heritage organisations working collaboratively on the DHD project, we will be hosting free monthly “cake” (Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange) mornings to showcase current developments, discuss funding opportunities and tackle current challenges. Plus – there will be cake!

Personal Aims

I went to CAKE for the first time in March, and found it a really interesting event, although I didn’t stick around to properly meet many new people! Thankfully I’ve been invited to speak at the April event, and will make a concerted effort to mingle, and hopefully attract some collaborations and new projects.

The focus of my presentation will be cultural examples of data visualisation and info-visualisation – with a focus on historical and cultural examples!

 

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Science Capital – Digital World Meeting:Doing Business with Data

Official Blurb

Big data. Open data. The potential for creating innovative businesses seems limitless. Our communities are looking for useful solutions to complex issues such as mass transit flow, better health systems and effective portals that help us work in new ways.

The Digital World speakers will show how big and open data can be used by individuals and by companies looking to grow. The event is open to all: to those who create, visualise and analyse our data universe; to those seeking new business ideas or research; to those who rebel as well as revel in the opportunities big data brings.

Personal Aims

I’m thinking of focusing my talk on past, present and future of data visualisation – harking back to some of the ‘classics’, to what’s being done today and ideas for the future. I’d really like to present an interesting insight into the world of data design – with some historical context, real world examples and advice for companies looking to explore this avenue.

It would also be great to make some new contacts, and there is a chance to network at the event, so I won’t forget to pack my business cards!

 

Print

 

 

Creating Usable Content

  • Date: May 12th 2014
  • Venue: SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff
  • Workshop: Creating Infographics (50 minutes repeated 3 times during the day)
  • Tickets:  here
  • Other speakers: Dan Slee (@comms2point0) Steve Davies (@filmcafe_steve) and more tbc

Official Blurb

The way we communicate has changed. How can we improve the way we engage with colleagues, stakeholders and the public?
The Creating Useable Content Learning Event is a day of high-tempo workshops that will equip you with the skills to tell your story in a way that attracts attention and triggers conversations.
During the day you’ll discover the benefit of other people sharing your content and spreading your message for you.
With a practical, hands-on emphasis, each of the five workshops will give you the opportunity to begin creating useable content right there and then!

Personal Aims

This sounds like a great event – delegates will rotate round a series of 50 minute workshops using useful introductory skills like social media management, writing blogs and using photography to promote.

It will be great to develop a quick version of my infographics designing course and, of course, meet lots of new organisations who may benefit from my design services!

28 Feb

UPDATE – courses, quickies and connections

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I’m constantly pleased to see the number of organisations thinking about visual communication.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been busy with a series of “Influential Analysis” training courses for Understanding Modern Government, where I have been (hopefully) inspiring people to rethink how they communicate information both internally and externally.

Organisations attending the public courses, or booking in-house sessions, include various NHS trusts, Lincolnshire County Council and even the Department of Transport – all of them equally open and welcoming to new ideas for communicating their data.

I’ve been working with the brilliant Ian Taylor, from Flying Binary who is now taking over the courses. It’s been great working with him, and I’ve learnt a lot. I’d recommend signing up to the next public course if you’re battling with your data.

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screenshotOn the subject of training – I’m testing out an interesting new half-day workshop at Coventry City Council next month. This is a variation of my full-day Data Visualisation training course, but instead of delving into the theory, I’ll be spending 3 hours guiding them through the process of building an infographic from scratch.

I’m interest to see how this is received. I am always preaching that tools like Piktochart allow anyone to create “something” visual – but does it allow them to make something good? With my guidance, I hope so.

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I’m also keen to turn my focus back to my design work – which is my real passion. I’ve had a few long running projects on various back burners and these are now springing back into life.

I’m currently working with Lara Ratnaraja on a data-visualisation for the CATH (Collaborative Arts Triple Helix) project.

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This sees 3 sectors …

  • higher education institutions
  • small-medium enterprises
  • cultural organisations

… working together on a range of really interesting projects, and we want to show those collaborations on a data diagram for the project report. We’re dealing with around 50 organisations, so the trick is to make sure the full complexity of the project is demonstrated, without the chart appearing cluttered.

I’m planning to use RAW to generate an alluvial diagram (above) – but I need to have all the organisations grouped and categorised before I start. The organisations have received the groupings list today and we’re just waiting to get final approval on the copy.

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screenshotIt was also nice this week to receive a “quickie” request – in short, to create an infographic for a PR agency in Germany within 24 hours.

I don’t want to tempt fate (the graphic is currently with the client for approval) but the agency are pleased with the image, and glad I managed to get something turned around so quickly. I’ve normally shied away from this kind of work, but there is definitely a market for these “emergency infographics”!!

They provided all the information, which I shaped and edited down into a structured form that could be transformed into an A4 infographic.

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 Whether you’re after in-house data visualisation training, a data visualisation or something quick  – drop me an email – caroline at carolinebeavon.com

21 Feb

Information Designer for Hire: what to expect

Whilst organisations may have had experience working with graphics or branding designers in the past, the process to develop an infographic is very different.

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Ask any graphics designer who’s been asked to convert a 20 page report into an image, and chances are they’ll tell you that designing an infographic requires a whole new set of skills. I think of myself as a designer-meets-journalist-meets-number cruncher – as the content needs editing, selecting and crafting, and *then* designing.

Your input is vital to the success of the project – you know what you want and you know your industry – it’s up to you to point out the important information and decide on your message.

Here is a run down of the process structure I use:

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Initial Decision

So you’ve decided your company needs an infographic.

You may have a strong idea of what needs communicating (ie you’re end of year finances, a new process or a summary of your work) or you may have simply heard the word, and feel you should get on board.

Knowing what you want communicating (the concept as opposed to the specific content) is important and will save you time . It’s also worth thinking about a few key things, as they will be useful to know at the start of the process:

  • what are you trying to communicate? You can read more about this here
  • who is your audience? age, knowledge, gender, nationality
  • is this for online, print or both?
  • what is your deadline?
  • what is your budget?
  • do you have the information, or do you want me to source it?

You will be asked more questions as the process goes on but these are a good starting point.

Initial Contact

Normally via email or social media asking about prices and timescale

Much of my work comes in via email, Twitter or Linkedin – with a client contacting me with a tentative query about costings. It’s such a new area of design that the pricing structure is an unknown – and few designers (including myself) put prices on their websites. (This is because every job is different. Pricing is based on final output, amount of research required and how quickly you need it).

I’m usually happy to give a ballpark figure but always ask for more information before giving an official quote.

Many designers quote by the hour – I quote per job. I find this puts everyone at ease (including myself). Of course, I have contingency plans in place if the project spirals out of control through changes by the client – but these are explained fully with my initial quote.

I’ll give a full and detailed price quote once we have completed the next stage, the initial discussion.

First Discussion

An opportunity for us to set out initial ideas, and discuss the project in great depth

Your initial conversation with your infographic designer is key. It may be held face to face (my preference) or over the telephone. It’s your time to explain what you want, or be honest and say you don’t really know *what* you want. Make sure you have as much information as possible to hand.

Treat it like a first date – find out as much as you can about each other, the process and how each other works. From this you can decide if working together is right for you.

I may do some rough sketching (on an iPad) whilst we are talking, so we can make sure we understand each other.

Full Quote

 

Once I have a better understanding of the job, and we have worked out the basic aims and objectives, I will send over a final quote, before starting any work. You will be asked to sign a New Job Agreement form, which quotes the price and details of what the quote does (and doesn’t) include.

Depending on the size of the job/length of time it will take, I sometimes ask for 30% or 50% upfront.

First Drafts

A series of draft ideas to show you some options of layout and theme/styling

One we’ve had the initial discussions I’ll spend up to a week (depending on the amount of work you want) developing a series of options. Here I’ll be exploring 2 areas:

  • content layout
  • styling  / theme / concept

I will usually send 2/3 very different images (by PDF or image file), each one showing a different layout and theme, but you can mix and match if you prefer. Of course, you also have the option to scrap all 3 options, and offer feedback or guidance as to why you don’t feel they’re right.

These will not be fully completed images (the themes often develop over time) so I’d ask you to be prepared for some changes in the future and any temporary placeholder content in the image.

One you’ve selected a content layout and theme I will start work on the final image.

Work In Progress

An opportunity for you to see a part-completed image, and make sure you’re happy with the direction

As I said above, this is a collaboration, so I will be checking in with you as I design the final image. This could be for several reasons:

  • if I shift dramatically from the original image
  • if I want to confirm you are still happy with image
  • to avoid the disappointment of you not liking the final image

I may send whole images, or part of images to make sure you’re happy.

Final Proof Image

The final image – before spell-check and final tweaks, for you to approve

Once I’ve worked up a final image I sent it over for you to review. This image may still have typos, spelling errors and require more precise tweaking, but I always leave these until you are is 100% happy with the image (no point pixel-checking content that may change!)

You will then be asked to confirm the content, make any final changes (if major changes it will lead to further charges) and run it past their team (if necessary).

Proof-reading / final tweaks

I employ a proof reader to check final images in terms of spelling mistakes, statistics and grammar issues. If you stare at an image for so long, it’s easy for errors to slip through the net. I also ask you/your team to check the final information as well – the more eyes the better.

Once I’ve made any changes I will tidy the image up, make sure everything is aligned etc and prepare a final files for you (depending on their requirements)

Final Image

Final image is sent over and once you have given it the final OK, I will invoice for the full/balance amount.

 


01 Jul

Tableau Public – creating a map for someone else to update

If you’re not familiar with Tableau Public, you can find out more here

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I’ve recently been working on a project which encourages creative SME’s to explore data as a way of improving their business. I’ll blog more about the project at a later date, but I wanted to share on particular element of the project that I thought may be useful.

After discussions with one company, we decided a series of maps would help them plot future business growth. One map would contain their current activities and would be used on their website.

Factors to Consider

  • the SME could not be expected to pay for the full version of Tableau
  • the map should be publishable on the web
  • the client has no experience of Tableau
  • the client wanted to be able to update the spreadsheet and the map with minimal effort

Solution

  1. Create Tableau Public account using their email address (you won’t be able to change email later). You’ll have to get access or ask them to click on the confirmation link when it arrives
  2. Locate your spreadsheet and save in a specific dropbox folder
  3. Login to Tableau Public with their login details and create your visualisation
  4. Save to the web
  5. (If you create any shapes or images, you will also have to copy these into a Dropbox folder)
  6. Send the person a link to Dropbox folder
  7. Ask them to download Tableau Public and login with the details you used above
  8. They should be able to access the workbook that you have created
  9. Ask them to move the spreadsheet file onto their computer.
  10. (if applicable: ask them to drag the Shapes folder into their Shapes Tableau folder
  11. They will need to update the link to the file,  from within the workbook. Hit f5 and Tableau will walk you through replacing the original file location with the new one.
  12. The workbook should now work as normal
To Update the Data
Open the spreadsheet
Make the changes
Hit F5 in Tableau
File>Save to Web
17 May

Off-the-peg infographics – Easel.ly V Piktochart


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


Technically, as an infographics/data visualisations designer, I really shouldn’t even be promoting these but they’re big news at the moment and you may be tempted to give them a go.

Choosing one of these tools is the equivalent of using a template CV  – it does the job, most people won’t mind and it’s cheaper /easier than doing something else.

The downside is, they can look “off the peg”, you still need a certain amount of creativity to get something original and you’ll end up changing your content to fit into the theme you’re using.

But they’re free/cheap and great if you can’t afford someone like me (If you can, feel free to get in touch … see some of my hand drawn work here)

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The 2 infographics designer tools I’ll be comparing are Easel.ly and Piktochart. Scroll down to SUMMARY if you’re short of time!

Both are free services (with pro versions available with more theme options etc.) I’ll be looking at the free versions today.

The principle is that you pick a theme, and remove/change/add graphics and text to illustrate your information.

 

Piktochart

PIktochart

The 6 themes available with the free version of Piktochart

Piktochart allows you to choose from a selection (seven) themes, which can then be further modified within the editing window i.e. background and images.

The choice of themes is pretty limited (and look a bit dated now) and some of the graphics do verge on the “clipart” but there are some useful items in there if you dig around the “Entertainment” category (would be easier to have broken down a bit!).

You can add or remove entire sections (blocks) within the editing window which is handy for moving chunks of information around the graphic. However, I’ve found this to be more of a hindrance than a help as it’s quick glitchy to use (maybe it needs getting used to!)

Sadly, you cannot accurately use the graphics to denote scale (ie larger circles for larger values)  – yes you can manually drag the size of the icons, but not input a specific size – so your I would suggest avoiding “size” as a visual tool altogether.

There is the function to upload and add your own graphics, useful for photos or corporate logos.

Piktochart comes into it’s own, however, with the function to add charts. Dragging the “chart” tool onto the desktop opens a spreadsheet style window that you simply paste your data into (you can also upload a CSV). Don’t expect miracles if you upload huge swathes of data, however – as the charting tool is about as smart as the one in Excel. I suggest uploading a few select statistics and selecting the chart that suits. You can easily modify colours and style, so it’s a great tool for inserting small snappy charts into your infographic.

Easel.ly

easely screengrab

Just a few of the many themes available with the free version of Easel.ly

Where Piktochart fell down on overall style of themes and graphics, Easel.ly wins hands down. It’s a smooth clean interface, with some great graphics and icons to choose from. It’s very simple to use and there are some very smart themes to give you a head start.

Plus, and this is a big plus for me, you can  open a “clear window“, essentially start from scratch. With Piktochart you have to manually delete all the elements, and as the themes are quick complex, with some “locked” content, this can be a big hassle.

The 2 downsides of Easel.ly are biggies, however.

1. You cannot introduce data or charts. This is a real shame as this would put Easel.ly ahead of Piktochart.

2. As with Piktochart, you cannot specify the size of graphics – so could not use this for visually showing scale.

 

SUMMARY

If you need to introduce accurate charts to your infographics, I suggest using Piktochart. If not, Easel.ly wins hands down on style, ease of use and creativity.

GOOD BAD
EASE.LY nice choice of iconsuseful and stylish layoutseasy to use (not over complicated)simple to use no charts facilitycannot accurately specify size of objectscan’t specify size of image
PIKTOCHART allows you add data/chartsability to add “blocks” of content to change size of imageability to move blocks of content around limited themesno “blank” themetricky to delete current content

cannot accurately specify size of objects
poor choice of icons
icons cheezy/cliche
bit clunky

 

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


26 Apr

Telling Stories with Data

(an edited version of this article originally appeared in the HyperWM newpaper, Nov 2012)

 

Once upon a time …

Alice I by Katratzi, Flickr

When was the last time you sat down and read a fairy story?

It may be a few years, but I’m sure you could tell a few of those childhood stories from memory. Whether it’s the interesting characters, the exciting storylines, the emotion you felt or the moral lessons you learned; the stories stick.

When was the last time you sat down and read a spreadsheet?

I’m guessing, never?

Unlike a fairy story, a spreadsheet has no characters, no thrilling plot, no emotion and no lesson to be learned.

You probably skip straight to the end, check out the total and close the book – you certainly don’t print out all those pages, and take them home for a cosy night by the fire.

 

However, there IS a story in that spreadsheet – it’s the story of a situation, a rise or a fall, a pattern or a trend. It may be a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride, it may be a fascinating insight into the current landscape. Unfortunately, it’s hidden behind all those rows and columns of numbers.

This is where visualisation comes in – taking those statistics and turning them into something the human eye can fathom – colour and shape, placement and size. By presenting these numbers in a visual way you create something that anyone can understand, irrespective of their literacy, numeracy, language, background or prior knowledge of the subject.

Through bar charts, pie charts, line graphs and full-on infographics, the story is revealed, we can see the characters (the different elements) on their journey – we can see the changes, the excitement and the disappointments.

That story will provoke a reaction – anger, satisfaction, joy or disgust – all emotions that will prompt our next move. Do we stay on the same route, or does something need to change?

Without clear and simple representations of the information, there will be many people who simply don’t get it.

And in the current climate of transparency and accountability – data is only open, if everyone can access it.

Once we reach this point, we can all begin to make clear, informed decisions about our future and the future of others and, hopefully …  live happily ever after.

20 Dec

PROJECT: Sampad Annual Report

You can see more of my infographic and data visualization work here

 

A few months ago I was invited to create an infographic for the charity, Sampad.

The challenge was this: to show some of the key statistics from their year of activity, in a small area on a single or series of small infographics.

(They were keen to reduce their annual report in both page-size and page-numbers, but didn’t want to reduce the amount of information on display).

The statistics included the number of events held, audience statistics and educational ventures  -as well as a series of geographical locations showing their relationships across the world.

 

You can view the Annual Report PDF here

 

Interested in the design process? A few notes/thoughts here

 

 

infogrph

 

 

 

05 Aug

10 Ways to Use Infographics: part 2

Please note: not all images are mine  – please click image for source

You can see more of my infographic and data visualization work here

 

 

In 10 WAYS TO USE INFOGRAPHICS: PART 1, I talked about using infographics for linkbait, journalism, article illustrations, annual reports and postcards/posters. This time I’ll be looking at video inserts, explanation, audience analysis, adverts and presentations

Video – bring the numbers to life

Screenshot of NY Times swimming animated infographic It was inevitable that the next stage of business demand would be animated infographics.

This brings in a whole new dimension to the statistics, and requires a different set of skills: animation, use of audio etc. This example, by the New York Times, shows the statistics behind Olympic mens swimming.

Click the image right to watch the animation.

This animation starts with a simple bar chart. Each bar is then turned into a swimming lane, turned on it’s side, add some fantastic design, movement and an audio track and this is a quality tool for showing the facts. There is also the option of animating the visualizations themselves – here is a great example.

http://youtu.be/WgwboxatZPw

Explanation – simplify a complex/unfamiliar situation

http://youtu.be/mkJ-Uy5dt5g We’ve all seen company organization charts – normally a tree shape, with a lone Chief Executive at the top, middle management, and the rest of us at the bottom. These are designed to simplify a complex organization and make sure   employees know where they fit in the “big picture” By why stop there? You could use information design / infographics to explain a whole host of useful knowledge to current and new employees.

  • Office staff overview – gender, structure, age, nationality shown with “person icons”
  • Office seating map and contact details
  • Office facility map – location of WC’s, kitchen, printers, recycling, water fountain
  • Local transport information
  • Company overview – map of other offices, financial information
  • Information flow / work flow – use a flow diagram or map
I’d love to have a go at designing a series of useful induction infographics … let me know if this appeals to your company.

Audience Analysis: know your visitors

Music festivals, venues, clubs and pubs all generate a huge amount of data.

Whether its ticket sales, audience location (from ticket order postcode), social media stats (RT’s, mentions and likes) and amount spent.

The map to the left (click map for original) was created Zarino Zappia from Scraperwiki at the recent Devlab event in Birmingham. Using data from the south asian arts organisation Sampad, the map shows the location of the audience (from ticket order postcode) and location of the events.

This shows exactly where Sampad has an impact and which areas could potentially benefit from more promotion.

Taking this a stage further – we could add socio-economic and ethnicity data from the census. This would show whether those areas were populated with Sampad’s target audience (as an South Asian arts organisation).

For other organisations a combination social data, ticket sales and events would be a great way to show where your brand is making an impact, and if you are failing to target any relevant audiences.

Adverts – attract your audience

Banner ads are still a big part of web content and print – but seasoned internet users are adopting more ways to filter them out either technologically (with ad blockers for online) or by simply ignoring them.

Look at most banner ads and they adopt a traditional design – text, photographics or logos.

What’s stopping your company using a bright, clear infographic instead of a traditional banner ad? Take a strong statistic from your portfolio, make the image colourful and attractive, and it will stand out on a page of traditional content.

Presentations – impress your clients/your class

Business presentations traditionally feature charts – line charts, pie charts and bar charts  – showing the crucial statistics for your company.

These tend to be lifted from spreadsheet software and pasted into the presentation software – uninspiring to say the least. Try rethinking HOW you show your data. Whether you are presenting to your Board of Directors, your entire staff or a room full of children – everyone responds to clear, visually stimulating graphics.

Revisit the list above (under the header “Explanation – simplify a complex/unfamiliar situation”). All that corporate information could be re-purposed for a presentation.

  • Want to quickly show where your company does business? How about a shaded map
  • Want to show trade routes or other geographical movement? How about a map with lines and arrows?
  • Showing personal statistics – people icons are an easy way to represent people count
  • Teachers could use infographics to explain history timelines, maps to show world events and charts to show population increases. With the reliance on graphic imagery as opposed to text,

Even if you don’t have a graphic designers flare for icons and imagery, or the know-how to fire up Photoshop or Illustrator, some free software like Tableau Public could help you spice up your charts and come up with something pretty special. —————— Caroline Beavon is an infographic designer and data journalist. Contact by email with work or collaboration opportunities

29 Jul

Olympics Torchbearers – working on a collaborative data project

I was recently asked by Paul Bradshaw (online journalist and founder of Help me Investigate) to create an infographic as part of his investigations into the Olympic Torchbearers – and more specifically, who got the places?

The investigation has not appeared both on The Guardian DataBlog (read it here) and Help Me Investigate Olympics

And – if you’re feeling in a generous mood, the whole investigation has been turned into an ebook, with a donation option – raising money for Brittle Bone Society.

 

Olympic Torchbearers infographic

25 Jul

10 ways to use infographics: part 1

Part 2 here

Please note: not all images are mine  – please click image for source

Infographics are hot property right now. Many companies use them and image sharing sites like Pinterest and Flickr are full of them. Here are 10 ways you could bring your information to life in an interesting and accessible way.

1. “Linkbait” – sell your services

An example of an infographic used to promote a serviceThis is THE most popular use of infographics. Most of the ones you see online fall into this category.

They tend to be long thin images, stuffed full of interesting facts on a particular subject. They also bear the name of the company which has commissioned the infographic, to promote their services/business.

If the infographic gets some traction online, and goes viral, then the name of the company goes viral along with it They key is to not overdo the promotional message. The infographic has to be interesting in it’s own right otherwise people will not share it. 

Also, think about the subject – pick a topic that will be of interest to potential customers.

Example:The example to the right (click for full image) is an interesting infographic showing a range of education statistics.

I can imagine this being of interest to teachers, education decision makers and funders. These also happen to be the audience who would have a say about the resources used in an educational institution. Scroll to the bottom, and you will see the infographic has been commissioned by Microsoft, to promote their Education services.

2. Journalism – tell a story

New York Times InfographicA growing area for infographics. A major part of journalism is communicating the details of a situation to an audience.

Infographics are a perfect way to show facts, structures and timelines in a different  way. Journalistic infographics  tend to be more stylised and have space to show the detail.

They are are often designed to be examined over a longer period of time than the “snapshot” infographics shown above. The Guardian do great work with animated data visualization (see Reading the Riots) There are also opportunities to use video and animation (I created an animated map to demonstrate the The Spread of Tech over time).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyBEzhhyhIs&feature=player_embedded

3. Graphic – illustrate an article

A quarter page infographic within a written articleNot many magazines are using infographics instead of photographs for print or online articles (the trend tends to be “infographic instead of written article” or use standard bar and line charts if stats need explaining).

Communicate Magazinefeature an article every month focussing on a reader survey. I create several quarter or half page images, each one deals with 1, 2 or 3 particular questions in the survey.

Flick through the magazine and the article stands out – the images are a stark difference to the photographs and adverts.

If your subject does feature statistics, consider moving away from a dry, Excel-chart format and make better use of the space you have. More Communicate work here

4. Annual Report – revive your statistics

Image of circular infographic used in an annual report

Full image not currently available

Annual reports are a great way to show off your company’s work over the past 12 months. It can also be an opportunity to show off your creativity to investors, clients and customers.

The chart to the right (full image not available) was created for the annual report for the Birmingham-based arts organisation Sampad. They had tried infographics before, but with a smaller report planned, they wanted a compact solution to show a series of figures and I managed to match up the data and use a circular chart with a separate map in the middle.

There is so much scope to use your annual statistics to create something very creative and interesting 0- you never know, people may actually start reading your annual report!

5. Postcards/posters – show off your work

The infographic above presented a large amount of data in a small space. However, infographics can also be used to show a few simple facts into a larger, clear graphic.

If your company is attending a conference, hosting a client/investor social event or simply want something to hand out to prospective clients, an infographic can be a short snappy way to show off your achievements. The key here is to find a few vital facts  – and presenting them in an easy-to-digest and entertaining way.

The set of postcards to the left were created for Gateway Family Services. The cards were to be scattered on tables at a gala event for the organisations key contacts.

There are also plans to use these as posters- which would be incredibly effective. As each deals with a different subject area, the posters could be used in the relevant user-centres.

The postcards can also be used by staff members to celebrate the work of the organisation in a non-formal setting (eg in meetings, and networking events) —– If you are interested in introducing infographics to your business, let’s talk!

—–

Part 2 coming soon featuring:

  • inserts for video
  • client  explanation / in-house induction
  • audience analysis / internal and external
  • adverts
  • presentations

Don’t miss it – subscribe to RSS feed or follow me on  Twitter

25 Jul

Communicate – latest issue out now

I am delighted to say that the latest issue of Communicate Magazine is out, featuring a handful of my latest infographics.

As their in-house Visualization Specialist, I create graphics from various research data for their monthly issues.

For this issue, the focus was the attitudes of the PR industry and the media to digital trends, including use of email and social media.

I created more images than the ones used in the article – the rest are going to be used in another publication, a report for researcher Broadland Maingate and for an online animated project.

See my previous work for Communicate

 

29 May

The Spread of Tech [animated]

Key:

  • RED: fixed broadband internet
  • BLUE: mobile phone subscriptions
  • YELLOW: internet users
  • GREEN – telephone lines
  • (all per 100 population)

STORY OF A VIZ:

Altered last minute to the deadline for the Guardian / Google Competition

This gave me 2 hours do something with a range of data available, to address the issue of the worldwide recession and how national behaviour protected against this, or aided recovery.

THE DATA

Due to the limited time made quick decision to use a simple Excel data set Data World Bank dealing with technological advancements around the world over time.

I edited the many (20+) categories down to 4 – mobile phones, internet users, fixed broadband access and telephone lines. I felt there was a clear link between these, and would give a good demonstration of how technology has moved on.

The categories I decided to eliminate included electricity generation, motor cars, paved roads and access to water.  

CREATING THE VIZ

I then posted the edited spreadsheet into Tableau (paid for version – not public)

NOTE: I could have used the entire database in Tableau and simply used the bits I needed, but I often find it easier to edit the base data first (avoids crashing too)

I knew straight away that I wanted a animated map showing the spread of these tech elements over time.

Tableau has an option called Pages, which I haven’t used massively  – so the bulk of my time was spent changing the options (right) to create the right set up.

I was not able to remove the ZERO values, which gave those small red dots on every country when the animation starts  still need to solve this issue

Another issue to take into account was the order at which circles appear: in order for the latter circles not to appear beneath the earlier ones, they had to be ordered (in Indicator Name) in reverse order  – latter elements first.

By sending the animation to Tableau Public, I would be able to embed and link to the animation. Or so I thought.

I attempted to embed the animation into WordPress but usual iframe issues impeded this (seriously – this needs sorting out).

It was now 11:45 – I was running out of time. 

I initially settled on linking to the Tableau Public but sadly the Tableau Public version was not an animation, simply a manual click through option – not quite as good looking.

CREATING THE ANIMATED VIDEO

I then decided to make a VIDEO of the viz. I briefly considered exporting then individual screenshots  into Moviemaker but this would definitely lose some impact.

Then I remembered some screen-recording software I had recently used to create a vidcast – Screencast-0-matic Screen Recorder.

By playing the animation from Tableau Desktop, and selecting just that element of the screen, it produced a relatively nice finished result.

I just need to remember to turn off the mic next time and think more carefully about the font I used (the menu was a little unclear)

 

CONCLUSION

I am pleased with what I achieved in this short time, and discovered a new way of producing video animations.

However, I do accept that the chart, as it stands, does not really answer the brief.

It was fun tough and proves what can be done in a short period of time!

27 Apr

Current Projects – mystery clients, Olympics, forums and rockin’ maps!

After a relatively quiet period, recently I’ve had a flurry of work  and opportunities – and some very interesting ones at that. Excuse the lack of client names, but many of these are active projects.

If you are interested in hiring me – you can find me on Twitter (@carolinebeavon) or email carolinebeavon at gmail.com

Thanks

PROJECTS

Infographic > Local Authority Olympics

I was recently asked to create an infographic of information about the Olympic Torch relay, for a local authority.

This was an unusual project for me as it involved text instead of numbers. Instead of creating charts and diagrams, the project involved illustrating blocks of text and using colour and glyphs to support the issues.

Whilst this infographic was concerning the Olympic Torch Relay, the client was not an official partner of the event. Hence, there are a host of restrictions on use of logo, branding, symbols and colours.

You can read the official guidelines here – and I was genuinely surprised at the extend to which these restrictions extend. For example – the Olympic rings, even if used in silhouette, are restricted, as are the Olympic colours used together in a design.

Working with the client, and based on a website they had already drawn up for the coverage, we opted for simple red, white and blue theme and avoided ALL Olympic shapes or suggestions.

Multiple data graphics  > Communicate Magazine

Communicate Magazine is a monthly B2B (business to business) magazine within the Stakeholder Relations field. As their in-house Data Visualization Specialist I work with research data and create 3/4/5 quarter page graphics to support articles in the magazine.

You can view past work for Communicate here

The task at hand here is not wrangling a huge dataset. In fact, it is often a small set of numbers and the challenge comes in making a few results look appealing and interesting.

The focus here is definitely on design, that works at a small quarter-page scale.

Over recent issues I have used the official brand colours (shades of red) but I was delighted when the client asked for a change – using blues and greens instead.

Infographics > Mystery Client

I have also had the privilege of being contacted by a well known international tech brand (my lips are sealed) who asked me to create a few simple infographics for use in a ideas pitch to a 3rd party.

My contact was based on the West Coast of America, so the time difference has led to a few phone calls at 11pm at night – no problem for me!

Fingers crossed it comes off as it would be a fascinating project to work on.

Infographic > Kerrang! Radio

As a very quick favour to my old friends at Kerrang! Radio, I was recently glad to help out with a map visualization of listener postcodes.

I initially gave some advice to the in-house designer/web dude on tools that would be able to create intensity circles on a map (using Fusion Tables etc) but in the end I stepped in and assisted by using Tableau.

Social Media Strategy > Wolves Civic

I have worked with Wolves Civic (a set of 3 music venues in Wolverhampton) for some time  – formerly looking after their social media content, and now as a consultant.

They are a very innovative team and are keen to embrace the new developments in social media.

I have been working with the Marketing Team on a shake-up of how they deal with their Facebook and Twitter accounts – it’s something pretty innovative and I will be watching with interest.

EVENTS

Thanks to my former tutor, now work colleague Paul Bradshaw, I have been receiving some very interesting offers to get involved with media conferences, workshops and forums.

AOP Data Journalism Forum – 16 May 2012

I will be featuring on an expert panel at the AOP Data Journalism Forum. I am awaiting more information so will update you when I know more!

The Specialist Media Show – 24th May 2012

I will he holding a workshop on Data Journalism for Publishers at the Specialist Media Show on 24th May 2012

Data is the new buzz word. As public bodies bow under increasing pressure to be transparent and open, so companies are coming under the same pressures. The new breed of savvy consumer is not content with the story that YOU give them. They want the background, they want to interrogate, play, sort, visualize and they want to share across their social networks. It is up to publishers to be more open with their research, and present it in an accessible, interesting and honest way. From simple downloads, to high-end interactive pieces, there are a host of opportunities for publishers to get involved in this data revolution.

(extended blog post on this workshop here)

28 Feb

Data journalism: more than numbers and charts

 

 

I have been a Visiting Tutor at Birmingham City University on and off for more than a year, but today I experienced that mythical “sense of satisfaction” that teachers talk about.

I held a short data visualization workshop for some 2nd year Online Journalism students today  – who were incredibly hungry for the information. For the past few weeks they had been gathering spreadsheets and reports and were now desperate for interesting ways to show this. Some were also concerned that they didn’t have any data as such, just lots of information

 

  • data is not just numbers – it is information, lists, reports, structures, things you’ve found out  – anything that could be displayed visually
  • expand the data – add new information – i.e. bring value to a list of companies by adding company type, location, size etc.
  • shrink the data – a list of spending at every university could be rehashed into a smaller dataset of spending in the West Midlands – compare across region.
  • compare the data – download the same dataset for previous years, so you can compare over time.
  • confused.com? – untangle a complex situation with an organisational chart – help the reader understand who does what.
  • processes – have you found out how something gets done? Then, why not create a flow chart showing the process – ie the flow of money, responsibility, communication
  •  missing information? – start a partial organisational chart – flag up where data is unavailable due to corporate privacy protection – ask why
  • tell the backstory – create a timeline showing key events. Helps the reader understand the context of the story
  • compare lists side by side  – a list of UK universities by League table position, next to a list of UK universities by satisfaction rating  – draw lines between the same establishment in each list, and you show any general patterns, are satisfying universities generally the best performing?
  • Word Clouds – not to be used for academic/journalistic analysis but definitely interesting as a bit of illustration/front cover.

 

28 Feb

The Age You’re Most Likely to Win a Brit Award

Checking the latest data from the Brit Awards (courtesy of the Guardian Data Blog) is seems 24 is the age a musician is most likely to win a Brit Award

Age of Brit Award Winners (2005-2012)

Since 2005 12 awards have gone to pop stars at this age including Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash and Ellie Goulding. Similarly, Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine and JLS all tapped in at this age when they picked up their awards.

Could it be down to our education system, 3 years at uni, where they perhaps form a band, and 3 years focusing on it when they leave? Is it the power of the Brit School (London’s very own pop factory – which has produced Brit Award winners Adele, Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and more) putting its alumni on a sure fire Brit success route within 2/3 years of them leaving? (see Brit School chart below)

Or could it simply be a co-incidence?

Other Charts

It is also interesting to see the spread of ages, over the last few years. It’s no great surprise to see the 20’s (olive green) is the dominant age group, but it is interesting to see the gradual shift to younger artists (although 2012 bucks this trend slightly).

Age of Brit Award Winners over time

This chart also shows an increase in age coverage as a whole, as the bulk of the chart takes a triangular shape, with younger and older artists being represented. (the average age of the charts, however, remains the same.

How about by category? Well, again – no great surprises – although it is interesting to see the change in categories over the years (a removal of genre specific awards, for example)

Issues with the Data

As I worked out their age from the year they were born, as opposed to the exact date, their exact age at the time of the award is a guess. Hence there is a very real chance that the actual date is a bit wonky. However, I had problems finding the YEARS of some peoples birth, finding their exact birthday would be a bigger job for another time.

What I would like to do now is explore more interested elements – perhaps carry out a an age study of the album charts (using the data from my MA Project) and see if there is a similar pattern.

The Brit School

Known Brit School alumni marked in orange

27 Feb

Actors Working in Teams [infographic]

Sometimes I’ll start a data project, and duing the process one of several things may happen:

  • I lose interest
  • something more important comes along
  • I realized it’s just not “working”

The latter happened as I was working on a piece for the latest Information is Beautiful challenge – which involved chomping through a large and very interesting data set regarding Hollywood movies.

These challenges encourage you to use a data set provided by the website to create either a visualization, napkin drawing ( sketch) or an interactive piece.

After several hours of looking through the data, looking for interesting angles, and hunting for more data I could add to the set (via Google Refine) I settled on looking at the connections between the actors involved in the top films.

Ask anyone who’s watched a film with me and they’ll tell you that I have a VERY annoying habit of opening Wikipedia to find out where I’ve seen a particular actor before. It’s annoying in everyday life, but for this – it was a dream.

I was also intrigued by the success of the films starring Seth Rogen / Jonah Hill et al, and the idea of teams working together – and how prevalent this was across other areas of Hollywood.

(see below for more details and why I eventually shelved it)

 

 

 

What it Means

Yes, it’s a bit of a headache isn’t it? The original dataset with featured the films coming out of the major studios, over a certain time period.

I added actor information to the cataset from Freebase (within Google Refine) and worked out which ones had appeared in the most films over the time period. I then cross referenced the films and created the above chart.

I had originally intended to give each film a different colour but this became unworkable – so I limited the colours to the films featuring 3 or more actors on the chart. The rest I coloured in grey.

Why It Didnt Work

For one, it was too damn complicated – no chart should take 3 paragraphs to explain. Kinda defeats the point, right?

Secondly, the choice of resulting entries was nonsense.

  • Original Data (limited to major studios)
  • Actors added to each film (according to Wikipedia, via Freebase)
  • Top 26 hardest working actors selected (based on original list, so ignoring independent or smaller budget films)
And thirdly – it didn’t really say anything. I always put the success of my last Information is Beautiful entry down to the quirky subject matter (comparing the lifespan of important earth resources to celebrities). This didn’t have that element. Yes, it was interesting to see which actors work together, but the dataset was too limited to show any major patterns. 
I eventually decided to stop working on the design (hence a few wonky areas) and shelve it.

So why am I publishing it here?

Because I spent all day on it, I like the IDEA and design and I wanted to share my experiences of when to walk away.

I’d love to hear your experiences of when you’ve had to walk away – and why.

26 Feb

Who is my data idol?

There must be something in the water …. twice this week I have received emails from online journalism students asking for my thoughts on data journalism – and more specifically, my data idols.

The first was an email from Germany – or student Katarina Bons to be precise – asking for information about any studies into data journalism in the UK and who the key players were.

During the completion of my final MA Online Journalism project, during a desperate need to relieve tension, I pasted the text of my MA final dissertation into Wordle. Whilst I regrettably did not save the final image there were some surprising, and not so surprising results. Data, was of course – one of the most commonly used words (so much in fact that the A key on my laptop broke off and flew across the room).

Another word that cropped up, worryingly often, was McCandless.

Poster boy for the data generation, but not without his critics, David McCandless is definitely my data-crush – his simplistic yet visually stimulating work is a definite inspiration to me and – in times of creative drought – I have asked – “what would McCandless do?”. (to make the shortlist of an Information is Beautiful challenge was one of my personal highlights)

Then I received an email, a few days later, from BCU MA Online Journalism student Duarte Romero Varela asking for a recorded interview about data journalism.

Being an alumni of that particular course, and a self-confessed data geek, I was more than happy to hold forth.

Meeting in Cafe Blend in Birmingham, Duarte interviewed me for a podcast (listen here) covering a range of issues including:

  • Q: who is my data viz hero? (A: see above)
  • Q: what tools do I use? (A: Excel > Tableau > Illustrator)
  • Q: what is more important, how clear a viz is, or how it looks? (A: both – a clear ugly chart is like a badly written article – who’d want to publish it?)

This question was of particular interest to me – the tide does appear to be turning against data viz / infographics at the moment, thanks to the tsunami of terrible examples finding their way into web content, newspapers and onto billboards, bus stops and the side of coffee cups.  There are cases, and I am definitely guilty of this at times, of being seduced along a path of beauty, and forgetting about the practicalities and the journalism.

Here’s how I see it …

Journalism: what are you trying to convey? What is the story?

Clarity: it has to tell that story

Design: it has to look attractive for people to want to interact with it

 

It’s a shame that there are so bad examples out there, outweighing the good and giving the whole area a bad name.

There is a real need in some cases for highly complex information to be reworked into a visible format and it would be a shame if we threw the useful bar chart out with the overdesigned viz

04 Jan

Uni applications drop off – but which subject area is hardest hit?

Thanks to a hike in tuition fees, there has been a drop off in the numbers of people applying to UK universities, compared to the 2011 figures.

Usefully, the Guardian has posted the numbers on their Datablog and I’m starting to munch through the data

Here’s the first set of findings – by subject area grouped into discipline, thanks to Wikipedia’s List of Academic Disciplines

03 Jan

MP’s subsidized dining rooms [visualization]

So MP’s are expected to pay the equivalent of “high street pub” prices when buying food in the subsidized restaurant in House of Commons are they? (Telegraph)

Let’s see if that’s the case.

Taking 5 dishes mentioned in the article above – I compared them to an equivalent TYPE of dish at Wetherspoons, Walkabout and All Bar One. (click for larger image)

Sources:

http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/

http://www.allbarone.co.uk/

http://www.walkabout.eu.com/

And special thanks to @keridavies (http://www.keridavies.net)

 

 

 

 

01 Jul

5 ways to gather data


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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Everyone is talking about data journalism nowadays: creating maps, visualizations and infographics. However, before you can do any of that you need some DATA

Here is how I sourced the data for my Datamud project, a look at the statistics behind the big UK music music festivals.

[toc]

1. SEARCH

Official Site

The last thing you want to do is call up a press officer asking for some stats, when they are there, for all to see, on the website. Dig around in any areas labelled information, statistics, FOI and Press Area. Often companies will post useful statistics if they are often requested,but they won’t necessarily make those statistics easy to find.

The Glastonbury Festival Educational Resources area is rich with information. A series of PDF’s contain details about every element of the event – from crowd management, security, stalls, sanitation etc. As the UK’s largest festival is is often the subject of assignments and reports. This was useful as I looked for recycling information to back up the organisers claims that they are a green event.

Google

Google is a wonderful tool – it not only searches websites, but also blogs, news postings, pictures and videos. It’s well worth checking the NEWS section as someone else may have already done similar research and posted the stats online.

Unfortunately a search can return thousands of pages, so you need to be smart when submitting your search. Inverted commas around a phrase will search for those words as written, but combined with simple searches it can be a useful tool.

e.g. “were arrested” 2010

Don’t forget to check the later pages of the search too – sometimes you will find some juicy stuff buried on the less Google juicy sites.

Governing Bodies

Often Google won’t be able to pick up deep linked pages, or documents embedded or linked in pages so it’s always worth looking at official agencies and Governing bodies websites too.
Councils and the Government are now much better at archiving their agendas and minutes and whilst the search facilities are still pretty archaic and frustrating, it’s a start.

None of the various police forces websites had the crime stats that I needed, although they do often have documents that may be of use e.g. Leicestershire Police

Search / Scraping Sites

Although I did not use this during this assignment, in retrospect using a site like Scraperwiki to access data from an official site would have saved me a lot of time. I could have used it to draw together all the line ups, for example, instead of a long winded cut-and-paste process, and plenty of cleaning up.

Nowadays there are also sites that have done a lot of the work for you, by monitoring official sites and databases and turning the data into an easy to handle format.

First stop should be What Do They Know – a site geared up around FOI requests (more on this in a moment) but also you should definitely visit TheyWorkForYou (I set up an alert in regards to the Glastonbury festival, which would tell me whenever it was mentioned. My hope was that the crime levels, or crowd management would be raised at some point and reference to information given.)

Interest Sites

I mentioned Google News search above, but it’s also worth looking for sites that deal with the specific subject area. They may have useful resources but may not appear on page 1 of a Google Search.

When I was compiling lists of the bands playing the various festivals, often the official sites were clunky or the names were shown on a JPG of the official event poster. However festival news/interest sites, such as EFestivals, present the information in a more useful way

2. ASK PRESS OFFICE

For archive or very up to date statistics, often a call to the press office is necessary.

I wanted to find out more about historical weather forecasts so a visit to the MetOffice website informed me that they had a library of data that could be accessed. Within one quick email conversation I was furnished with a link to a host of archive weather data with records often going back to the 1700’sIn CSV format, these were simple to manipulate and visualise.

Press Offices are used to to dealing with requests for information, its their job, as well as being happy to help you meet deadlines.

3. FOI

FOI requests are for those tricky bits of data othat an organisation is less reluctant to send out (for time, size, sensitivity etc issues). I set ONE FOI request, for crime stats to a police force, foolishly thinking this would be quicker than contacting the press office directly. It was not.

Use these if you do not need the information urgently (it can take up to a month from start to finish)

Interesting article on FOI Requests from Channel 4

4. CROWDSOURCE

Of course carrying out ryour own research is one way of gathering data, but this project relied on the theory that “many hands make light work”.

I wanted to find out how much it would cost to see the various mainstage bands, if you were to see them on their own headline tours. I could have spent DAYS trawling the internet ticketing sites (both UK and international) collecting the data. Instead I started a public Google Docs spreadsheet. Through the social networks I encouraged people to enter the prices of tickets they had recently bought. The database was soon a third full, and a chance message from an old friend (the man behind Ents24) completed the rest by gaining access to their database.

Google Docs is a fantastic way of collaborating and getting large jobs completed.

5. I GOT MY CALCULATOR OUT

This can be hard work if you are dealing with a lot of data, but for me it was feasible

I wanted to assess the nationalities of the various bands, and compare the overall nationalties of the different lineups. This involved a lot of searches on Myspace and Wikipedia (still both very useful resources for the facts about bands) and using visualisation Software Tableau.

In retrospect I should have doubled this database up with the ticket prices one, and asked people to fill in the nationalities of the bands as well. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

 

Want more? – DATA JOURNALISM: MORE THAN NUMBERS AND CHARTS

 

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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24 Mar

Another flash project …

As I gather my portfolio together for my MA Online Journalism Multimedia module, I discovered my first ever Flash project.

Sad story, a British student missing in America, where he was studying.

I decided to take the facts of the story and turn it into a roll-over breakdown.

It’s basic, but it works. It still needs an embedded link (to the Facebook group) and some embedded video, but it works as a basic test of the theory.

[kml_flashembed publishmethod=”static” fversion=”8.0.0″ movie=”http://carolinebeavon.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/jonny-dorey.swf” width=”550″ height=”400″ targetclass=”flashmovie”]Get Adobe Flash player

[/kml_flashembed]

24 Mar

UK Festival headliners map

[kml_flashembed publishmethod=”static” fversion=”8.0.0″ movie=”http://carolinebeavon.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/festivals-map-X.swf” width=”550″ height=”400″ targetclass=”flashmovie”]

Get Adobe Flash player

[/kml_flashembed]

As a keen festival goer, I thought it would be interesting to MAP where some the larger bands can be seen playing this summer.

I am hoping to work on a larger version of this map for a later assignment, but this is a taster of what is to come!

I took the 6 big UK festivals, Glastonbury, T in the Park, Reading/Leeds, V Festival, Download and Sonisphere and noted down all the bands who headlining, whether that is the main stage or second stage.

I wanted a clickable flash map where you could see where your favourite band was playing, and if they were playing multiple events over the summer.

METHOD

  • Find headliner information from official festival website
  • paste a map of the UK into new Flash CS4 document
  • Create a second layer and write a list of bands names down the left hand side (leaving room for further additions as Reading/Leeds have not announced any bands yet)
  • Turn each band name into a BUTTON, with the text turning red and showing red points, Festival name, and appearance date on the map for the OVER, DOWN and HIT options
  • export map as *.swf file, upload into WordPress and embed

PROBLEMS

I wanted to create a second tier to the map, where the user could click on the Festival point on the map and be shown all the band playing (marked with red boxes around their names)

Unfortunately the map was too crowded with “hotspots” and became messy

I may still simply add a list of festival names NEXT to the map, so the user can click on those and see all the bands playing.

There is a slight glitch with the map in that it has turned the FESTIVAL NAMES TEXT BOXES into buttons – so if the mouse rolls over those, it highlights one of the bands playing. (If it highlighted ALL of them, that would have solved my above problem, but it does not)

I also had a few problems working out how to embed the file into Wordress. The solution was simple

  • upload the file into Media
  • install the Kimili Flash Embed Tag plugin
  • Type in the name, tweak the size and it’s done!
18 Mar

Looks like I’m not into metal any more Toto

Data can be an interesting and eye opening thing.

I decided to cut and paste some sections of my ITunes library into Google Docs and create a data set from Artist Track, Genre and Plays.

  1. sort tracks by PLAY COUNT
  2. remove TIME, BITRATE, DATE ADDED and TRACK NO columns
  3. scroll down to the bottom of the tracks with “2” plays
  4. select every song with 2+ plays
  5. CTRL+C
  6. open a blank spreadsheet (I use Google Docs) and CTRL-V into the top left corner of the page
  7. the Itunes data appear in the Spreadsheet

Obviously this data is immediately out of date, so I am looking now into turning this into a live feed. As a PC user ITunes stats is not an option.

Points to Note

  • I often listen to Spotify instead of Itunes at home
  • I only listen to Itunes when I am working – this does not take into account Ipod plays, or CD listening in car
  • genre categorizations on Itunes can be questionable

So the first chart:

I’m not sure what I find more interesting – that metal is SUCH a tiny category (smaller than Country, worryingly) or that I seem to really like pop. I will investigate this further. Ok – a quick tweak to the options (colour to genre and label to ARTIST) showed that, phew, Ive not turned into a pop-loving indie kid just yet. It’s just that someone thinks Celldweller (industrial drum n bass noise) is alternative (see for yourself). (See, mislabelling , very deceiving)

NEXT STOP:

  • Find a way to make my Itunes data public, feed this into a live chart.
  • Create a flash animation using one of these charts, with shooty out bits that play music from that artist or genre …
  • Stop messing around with data for today and make some tea.
18 Mar

Glastonbury data mashup

NOTE: This is very much a work in progress, so any advice, feedback or tips, much appreciated! Also some of the data used is from news reports/blogs and hence is of a speculative nature but has been included for demonstrative purposes.

As part of my MA Online Journalism I have been playing around with some data from the Glastonbury festival archives.

I wanted to show the statistical history of the festival, through a visual media.

I started a spreadsheet in Google Docs and used the ManyEyes site to create my charts.

Michael Eavis officially took over the regular running of the festival in 1981 and this is where I began my research. Using official data from the Glastonbury website, I built a spreadsheet of the standard weekend camping ticket prices and official capacity (later finding this all laid out in table form on an license application PDF!)

I started by comparing ticket prices, over the years, with capacity.

Interestingly this shows a DROP in capacity between 2005 and 2007 (there was no Glastonbury in 2006).

However, this only shows the official capacity. Glastonbury festival has had a long running battle with gatecrashers (or fence-hoppers) and I felt it would be interesting to compare the actual capacity with the official one.

Unfortunately, actual capacity is hard to come by  – I gathered some information from news reports and blogs, although I accept these figures are largely speculative and may be inaccurate.

(On a personal note I was also concerned that, despite recent successful measures to prevent gatecrashers, according to some reports thousands of people are still getting into the site without paying. I am aware that there is constant scrutiny of the management of the festival and I did feel uncomfortable publishing speculative figures that could be taken out of context by critics)

I inputted the data into a scatter diagram, as above, but this did not clearly show the distinction between the 2 sets of data. I converted it into a simple bar chart which , in this case, is a lot more effective.

Although I still have some data to gather, it is interesting to see the sizeable spike in 1995, 1999 and 2000, which led to the festival being called off the following year for a “rethink”.

Next, I decided to compare the three sets of data – price, official capacity and actual capacity to see if there is was a link between the numbers of people “fencehopping” and the price of the ticket. Instead of placing all 3 data sets on one chart, I decided to create a fourth column, showing the difference between official capacity, and actual capacity.

The problem with this chart is currently the lack of data. I have plotted the years where I do not have estimated capacity, which is making the ones where I do seem dramatically out of sync. I will retry this chart once I have more data.

This is a work in progress, so any feedback or advice – much appreciated!

NEXT STOP:

  • Try Tableau
  • create a Glastonbury chart with “events boxes” that explain the data – ie NEW FENCE, bad weather, Jay-Z headline controversy etc.
  • create a word tree
  • experiment with live data

 

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020