20 Great Visualizations of 2011

As the popularity of visualizations grows, so does their range and quality. Here’s a list of 20 of the best Static Visualizations, Interactive Visualizations, and Information Videos from 2011. (Note: while they are numbered for your convenience, the entries are not ranked.)

Static Visualizations

Often, static infographics are created without much thought, just as fodder to get clicks on the web. These eight, however, are well-considered data visualizations that do a fantastic job of conveying information. 1. Language Communities of Twitter shows a map of the world with tweets represented by points on the map. Each point is color coded by language. One of the great things about the map is that the land masses are not drawn. The reason we see the map is just because of the locations of tweets clustering in densely populated areas. 2. It’s rare that a visualization can get away with one to one pictorial representations, but The Evolution of Video Game Controllers does a great job with it. It combines a timeline with a node-link diagram showing ancestry. The pictorial representations are good because they show the characteristics of each controller. What are the grandparents of your favorite game controller? 3. Designers will appreciate The 892 Unique Ways to Partition A 3×4 Grid the most. At first glance, it looks like a grid of grids, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the colors are not random, they indicate the symmetry of the partitioning. Next time you need to design a layout, this might be a good graphic to turn to. 4. Many infographics contain just a little bit of information spread out over a huge image. By The Numbers: Today’s Military does just the opposite. The visualizations NPR chose are also very appropriate for the data. 5. The Global Map of Social Networking 2011 is a great example of successful experimentation with combining multiple visualizations into one. The map is used well to show general location, but it fades into the background since it is not the most important information. The bar charts show great data about quantity, and the venn diagrams show how those quantities overlap each other. In addition, since there are so many venn diagrams, they can be compared to each other like small multiples. It’s wonderful when combinations go so well together! 6. Usually visualizations are supposed to help make data more clear, but The Insane Choices You Face At The Drug Store does just the opposite. The visualization is extremely busy, but this is on purpose. It does a great job of conveying the point; picking a headache reliever is a headache in itself. Sometimes visualization of complexity can be clarifying in itself! 7. Usually we think of technology expanding exponentially, and of timelines being linear. These two concepts don’t seem to go together well, but Envisioning Technology manages to merge both into the same graphic. Time progresses as the radius of the background rings increase, but since these are circular, the available space for each technology branch grows quadratically. The future certainly holds a gloriously diverse set of technology, and this visualization does a good job of showing the predicted arrival times of some of them. 8. Everyone loves space: it’s exciting and mysterious, and floating around weightless looks like a lot of fun. Space Launches shows which countries have put the most effort into getting us there. This visualization combines a timeline with stacked bar charts. It does a great job of showing the focus during the Cold War, and the shift as political and diplomatic pressures change.  

Interactive Visualizations

Interactives are in a different league from static infographics. They take programming to create, they usually have a lot more data, and they allow the viewer to discover things on their own. The effort involved in creating an interactive visualization is much higher so many of them are very good. The seven interactives below are some of the best produced this year. 9. The London riots at the end of the Summer spurred some rumors on Twitter. Riot Rumors does a fantastic job of showing how these rumors are born, spread, and are corrected on one of the fastest social networks around. The analysis done by the team is great, and calls out some pivotal events in the timeline of each rumor. As the timeline progresses, the main visualization grows and changes like popcorn, showing the interaction of different rumor threads. 10. Web technologies are changing rapidly, and the advent of modern web browsers, some exciting possibilities have developed. CNN ECOSPHERE explores the potential of WebGL with some incredibly beautiful results. The visualization is also live, pulling in current Twitter data! You can use a hashtag or add your own tweet to the mix and see your opinion grow on a tree. 11. Visualizing The World’s Food Consumption is a solid visualization, but there is nothing spectacular about it visually. What is so incredible in this visualization is the data! The immense disconnection between the two groups is shocking, and really emphasizes that there are major global human problems yet to be solved. 12. Data Centric Universe shows just how far our knowledge of our universe has come. There are only two time samples, but this works very well for the visualization. The main story is to show the contrast between what we knew in 1950 and what we know in 2011.

13. Data with many different categories can be difficult to get a handle on. The overlap and connections between the data in Trends In Higher Education are complex, and a static would definitely not have done the data justice. This piece does a superb job of allowing the viewer to navigate many different categories and make sense of them all. 14. Posted: US Growth Visualized Through Post Offices is not the first to visualize this data, but it does do a fantastic job of it. The time range slider at the bottom of the map is a great example of filtering in visualization. The color scale is also dramatic while still being functional.

15. In a sense, XKCD’s Money Chart is stuck between two categories. The graphic itself is so big that to really get a good view of it, it needed panning and zooming interaction. It is also a great example of how logarithmic scales can be used in visualization to help viewers comprehend immense quantities.  

Information Videos

Information Videos are a great way to tell a story. They have a built in timeline, and narration can help explain without adding too much text. For an audience they are a great way to passively gain an understanding of a topic. 16. JESS3‘s The State of Wikipedianarrated by Jimmy Wales himself, discusses the story behind the history of the site, the core demographic of the editors, and what the Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for. 17. Facebook Infographic has a dull title, but is amazing student work! I expect there will be more good things coming from Jacques Parys. 18. How Green Is Your Internet? is sparse on the visualizations, but it uses some beautiful depth of field effects and iconic symbols to help teach viewers about the carbon footprint of several tech companies. 19. Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus does a fantastic job of telling a story. The narration and the visuals work well together to give context and presence to a very abstract and formless topic. 20. Last but definitely not least, Oil’d helps you to understand just how much crude spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Drew Skau is a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC, with an undergraduate degree in Architecture.

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