Tag Archives: data visualization

A Prompt Plus 2

24 May

I’ve spent most of today preparing for a joint department retreat that I’m co-leading next Friday. We’re incorporating some of the tools learned through participation in the EXCITE Transformation for Libraries learning program that several of us in the library have attended over the past year. One of these tools is the use of picture cards to prompt responses. For example, I give you a picture of a chicken and you share how you’re like the picture and how you’re not like it. You can really ask any kind of question. The goal is to use the images to help you think creatively.

Here’s one to try: 

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Kangaroo Island, South Australia

How is this picture like your job? How is it not like your job?

My answers: It’s like my job because I always have something going on, some movement, some project, some task to tackle. They ebb and flow, like waves, but never stop completely. It’s not like my job because it’s repetitive. The waves have a rhythm to them. My job can be different every day. Now you’re turn. Feel free to add your answers in the comments section. 

 

New Arrivals!

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I was most excited when my brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of Stephanie Evergreen’s Effective Data Visualization, 2nd Edition arrived early this week. The 1st edition has been an invaluable resource over the past few years. The latest offers up a whole new section on charts for qualitative data, plus additional types of charts and graphs for quantitative data. Evergreen is a terrific instructor and her knowledge jumps from the page. I’ve touted her work numerous times on my blog. Count this as one more. She’s a go-to resource, for sure.

I also treated myself to her new, The Data Visualization Sketch Book. It’s filled with tips and templates, all designed to get my thinking cap and my pencil going before I sit down at my computer. This is a vital step in good data visualization and one that too often gets skipped. The sketch book is a nice tool to build the habit into your process.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, enjoy the holiday weekend (here in the USA), and happy graduation to many! Until next time…

Data Viz Sing-Along!

13 Sep

I was invited to give an 8-minute lightning talk at this evening’s SLA New England event in Boston called, Organizing Our Digital World. My topic is data visualization. Easy, right? Normally, yes, but in this case I have to give a talk on data visualization without the use of any visuals! I love a good challenge and this was just that. I mulled for weeks over how I might pull this off until it finally came to me, Schoolhouse Rock! Remember those? I loved them as a kid. I still know many by heart. And so I thought, if I can still remember conjunctions thanks to Conjunction Junction, maybe folks will be able to remember a few things about choosing the right chart for presenting data if I put the rules into a song.

Well, per my usual, my song became lengthy and wordy and without a good hook like, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function…” but I still think it will work for tonight. Now I just need 2 minutes of fill to get to the 8-minute mark!

A huge credit for the basis of this song goes to Stephanie Evergreen. Her book, Effective Data Visualization, is a constant companion in my work and what I know of choosing the right charts, I learned from her books, tutorials, blog posts, and more. If you need some expert advice in this area, do seek her out.

So here’s the song (truly, a one-shot practice filmed in my studio last night). You’ll find the lyrics below. Feel free to sing along!

Data Viz: A Lesson in Verse
Sally Gore

I was spending time looking at some data
Figuring out the story it could tell.
Taking time studying the data
Lots of rows and columns in Excel.
I needed to get a report to my boss,
I needed to get it to her quick.
And though I wasn’t shooting for form over function
I still wanted to make it something slick.

I took a moment, pulled some books from my shelf.
Seeking out some expert advice.
Two books by Stephanie Evergreen,
I think they’re worth much more than their price.
I flipped to the page that talks about the science,
The work of Cleveland and McGill
Turns out that humans aren’t innate at reading data
And choosing the right charts takes some skill.

One of the books has a “Chart Chooser Cheat Sheet”
That I find an awful handy tool.
Plus a deck of “Chart Chooser” cards
Together they help me learn the rules.
So when I was invited to give this talk
Without the use of any picture cues
I thought I’d try and turn the rules into song
To quickly teach them all to you.

So here we go …

When you’ve got a single number
That you’re trying to convey
A single number of great importance,
The simple, single thing the numbers say.
The easiest means to get that thought across,
Is forget about charts of any kind,
Just write that number big and loud on the page
There’s no need to clutter people’s minds.

Other times you need to describe,
How two numbers are alike or not.
Bars side-by-side or back-to-back,
Try these or else a dot plot.
If you’ve got one group in particular
That changes while the others stay the same
Consider how a slopegraph can easily show
The difference that you’re trying to claim.

Many times you’ll find you’ve got a benchmark
And the story’s all about meeting goals.
Often times we measure performance
It’s important when we’re talking bankrolls.
A benchmark line across a line of columns
Will easily get the point across.
So will a bullet chart or indicator dots,
Pick and choose from these for the boss.

Now you know we LOVE to give surveys,
So what the survey says, we’ll need to show.
For this task there are lots of choices
Involving bars stacked up in a row.
Stacked or diverging, aggregated, too,
Or a bunch of small multiples across the top.
And if you get tired of plain old bars,
Show the same thing with a lollipop.

What about when there are parts of a whole,
Like a bunch of demographics of a group?
It’s easy to default to that famous old pie chart
But listen up folks, here’s the scoop.
Pie charts are old, pie charts are boring
But most they’re often difficult to read
Try a histogram, a tree map, a stacked bar instead
Or perhaps no visual is what you need.

Sometimes you’ve got some data that shows
How things changed over time.
It’s really pretty common, we see it quite a lot,
Did our numbers shrink or did they climb?
Well a few chart types that I sung about already
In this case will also do the trick
Think line graph, a slope graph, a dot plot, too,
Or a deviation bar’s a perfect pick.

Now you might be asking, “How about a scatterplot?”
I learned of those in Stats 101.”
And I must admit finding patterns in a scatter
Really can be a lot of fun.
A bunch of points plotted ‘cross an “X” and a “Y”
Show relationships between “A” and “B” –
When “A” does this, “B” does that,
And is there any trend that you can see?

Sometimes your data isn’t numbers at all,
But rather lots of words said or wrote.
Qualitative methods produce the kind of data,
Where the words give the meaning to take note.
Callouts are useful, heat maps can help,
Or you can make a cloud filled with words.
Each of these is handy, each of these works,
And your meaning won’t get lost on numbers nerds.

So that’s a few tips, I hope you find helpful
When you think about the story you can tell
As you’re sitting there staring at a spreadsheet of data
And all you really want to do is yell.
Start at step one, learn the different charts
And when and how and where they work best.
Once you’ve conquered that you just need to learn to make them
Step-by-step, you’ll have passed the test.

And no one will sit there staring at your PowerPoint slide or your report or your article wondering, “What the heck does this mean?!

Rabbit Rabbit!

1 Sep

Wild_Rabbits_at_Edinburgh_ZooHappy September, everyone! Cooler temperatures and warmer colors are on their way. Fall is my favorite season of the year and the arrival of the “-ber” months makes me happy. I know many are sad to see summer ending, but it’ll be back again soon enough.

I’ve stumbled across a few cool sites and tools and such to share. No better day than the first of the month to do so. I hope you find some of them as interesting and/or helpful as I have.

First off, The Pudding: A Weekly Journal of Visual EssaysWhat an amazing find! This is a fascinating (and growing) collection of articles about topics ranging from culture to politics to sports to music, each enhanced by some terrific graphs and tables. It’s a great way to see how data visualization can be used to make essays more readable, understandable, and fun. Check it out!

If you want to get cracking on your own data visualizations to accompany your writing, you can find all the inspiration and quick start you need at Stephanie Evergreen’s new collection of step-by-step guides to a whole host of charts. You will bookmark it and visit often. Guaranteed.

ChartsBin is a useful site for finding and creating data visualizations. If making dynamic/interactive visuals for the web isn’t your forte (it’s not mine), a site like ChartsBin can come in very handy.

Helping professionals write and speak without using the jargon of their field is a challenge. For scientists, the new De-Jargonizer tool can help. It’s a quick way to check how well a written piece translates to different levels of the general public. I’ve popped a few abstracts from articles into it and the results have been pretty good. It’s helpful to see which words/phrases might be edited for a lay audience. 

Lastly for today, my next big learning adventure in life is to launch a podcast. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but I struggled to come up with the right bent for it. I finally did and am now in the process of learning all about the ins and outs of creating podcasts. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll stay tuned for updates and tune in, once I take off. I can’t wait!

Podcast-Art-1

For those celebrating the long weekend ahead, Happy Labor Day! 

 

Show Me A Story

27 Oct

(The following is from a spotlight talk that I gave at the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association in New Haven, CT, October 25, 2016.)

nahsl_viz_01

nahsl_viz_02I was listening to economist and presentation expert, Jonathan Schwabish’s, PolicyViz Podcast last week. It was an episode from about a month ago; an interview with Andy Kirk, a data visualization specialist and the person behind the terrific website, Visualising Data. Andy is also the author of the new book, Visualizing Data: A Handbook for Data Driven Design, a must-have reference text for anyone seeking to produce effective visualizations. When asked why he wrote the book and the essence behind it, he replied,

Visualization is a game of decisions and to make good decisions you need to be aware of all of the options that you’ve got and then be aware of the influencing factors that shape what choices you can make. What skills have you got? How does that restrict or open up opportunities around chart types or interactivity? What are the formats that you happen to aspire towards and what does that impact in terms of the choices that you have to make for a given context?

I so appreciated this statement for a couple of reasons. First, looking at the act of creating visualizations as a decision-making process gets to the heart of why and how visuals either work or they don’t. In other words, good decision-making is key to good visuals, regardless of all the know-how one might have in terms of tools and/or design. You need to start and end with good decisions. Secondly, you need to have some skills and the more you develop your skills, the greater number of choices you’ll have available to you in the decision-making process. “Aspire.” It’s a grand word.

nahsl_viz_03My story of creating visuals started on a Friday afternoon when I was staring at a spreadsheet/report that I’m frequently asked for in my work. It’s a tracking form of our clinical research scholars, telling the number of grants they’ve applied for, the number and percentage of said applications are funded, the amount of money associated with each, the number of publications they’ve written, and other such metrics that tell the UMCCTS their return on investment, if you will, for these researchers. 

nahsl_viz_04As I was looking at it – and as it was a Friday afternoon and I was needing something fun to do to finish my work week – I wondered if I could draw a picture that told the same story that the numbers and information in this spreadsheet told. I like to draw, so I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t sure that my bosses would like it, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try.

So I did just that and ended up with this:nahsl_viz_05Surprisingly, my bosses loved it! And I was quickly asked to make some more, so I did. 

nahsl_viz_06I made one to show how all five UMass campuses are involved with the UMCCTS. I made one highlighting the team science and/or collaborative nature of our sponsored programs. I made one showing the outcomes of our pilot awards, one illustrating the work of the Center for Microbiome Research, and one highlighting the peaks achieved by our Conquering Diseases Program. I covered my office door with them, put them in our monthly newsletter, and eventually we made a page on our Center’s website so that they live online.

nahsl_viz_07Next, we had our annual research retreat and when it came time for me to produce and give a report on the evaluations from the day, I decided to expand my chart-making skills, and learned how to make stacked horizontal bar charts to present the information more clearly and concisely. (Thank you, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.)

nahsl_viz_08Of course, the more charts I made, the more folks came to me with requests to make more. Each was an opportunity to learn something new, to try something different, to make choices and decisions – some good, some bad, some better. I made slides for a presentation that our Quality Assurance leader was giving to a group of clinical research administrators. 

nahsl_viz_09I made a tree map for the director of our Institutional Review Board. When I showed it to her she asked, “Where’s the pie?” So I made her a pie and she said, “You know, I like the tree better.” Yay! So did I.

nahsl_viz_10I also made her a 100% stacked bar chart to show average IRB approval times and in doing so, also finally made a color template of our UMCCTS colors. (Thank you, Stephanie Evergreen.)

 

nahsl_viz_11And then, taking Andy’s words to heart (before I even knew them) I read and learned and practiced and expanded my skill set, learning dot plots, split bar graphs, lollipop graphs, embedding labels, and creating both heat maps and bar graphs in R. (Thank you, Nathan Yau.) It’s fun and it’s appreciated and it’s become a big part of my job now.

nahsl_viz_12And so when people continue to ask me why I’m no longer a librarian or what an evaluator does, I reply, that I AM a librarian. I’m a librarian who does evaluation and now that I’ve added the drawing pictures aspect to my toolkit, my wife calls me an INFORMATION ARTIST! It’s the best job title that I’ve ever had, by far. 

What I hope everyone takes away from this talk – or this post – is that when it comes to being an information professional, the sky is the limit for all that you can do. Find what you like, find what you do well, find what you want to do, learn what you want to learn, and grow with the profession. It makes for a great career.

Where the Boys Are

22 Sep
sally-and-rosanne

Rosanne Cash … always wonderful!

I attended the wonderful 3-day music festival, FreshGrass, last weekend. I saw a plethora of talent and a whole host of favorite musicians including Rosanne Cash, Glen Hansard, Aoife O’Donovan, Sierra Hull, Ruthie Foster, Alison Brown … but WAIT! By this account, one might think that the festival was dominated by women, but alas, it was far from a reconceived Lilith Fair. No, no. FreshGrass is a bluegrass / roots / Americana music festival and bluegrass / roots / Americana music is dominated by dudes. 

Rather than letting my feminist self get all riled up over the gender gap and put a damper on my fun (because when I get angry I tend to have less fun), I decided instead to make a little data collection and data visualization project out of the experience. That’s fun. 

You can see the total percentage of players, by instrument, in the first graphic. In the second one, each instrument represents one musician. I didn’t count all of the smaller groups on the courtyard stage and the pop-up performers (there were just too many to keep up with), but from casual observation, doing so wouldn’t have changed the results.

What’s all this to say? Probably plenty, but I’m simply going to take it as motivation to keep practicing so that I can do my part to close the gap.

where-the-boys-are_freshgrass-2016

boys-and-girls-clubs

Summer Sightseeing

20 Jul

I subscribe to #dataviz guru, Stephanie Evergreen’s blog and found this morning’s post about timelines really great.  I love timelines, both aesthetically and functionally. I particularly liked Stephanie’s idea to use a visual timeline to outline a day’s agenda:

Timeline

The next time I put together a presentation and am tempted to do that requisite “Here’s What We’re Going to Cover in this Talk” slide, I’m going to use this technique rather than some boring list of bullet points. For sure.

My friend and authorstrator, Suzy Becker, shared a wonderful article with me from the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine. The Surprising History of the Infographic will be required reading for the data visualization course that I’m putting together for next spring. And as I told Suzy, I’m changing my job title to “polymath.” I love it.

If you’re interested in joining me in this new old vocation, writer Nir Eyal’s post, Three Steps to Get Up to Speed on Any Subject Quickly may be of help. “Google once, take notes, then stop Googling and start sketching” was perhaps my favorite bit of advice.

And a few other good things I’ve come across and/or have been shared with me over the last couple of weeks:

15 Data Visualization Tools to Help You Present Ideas Effectively has a few listed that I’ve yet to try. I’m always up for trying new tools.

The Analog is a brilliant site for reviews of all things analog – you know, pens, paper, pencils and such. If you’re like me and read James Ward’s, The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession in one sitting, you’ll love this blog.

Design Observer is also a beautiful and enlightening blog that I came across through a tweet to its posts, 50 Books and 50 Covers. Books can be art, in more ways than one.

Finally, July is always a month of celebrations and anniversaries. This very day marks the 47th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon (Do you remember where you were?) and July 5th was the 20th birthday of perhaps the most famous sheep since Lamb Chop, Dolly. Yes, Dolly, “the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, was born July 5, 1996.” Scientific American’s story behind the story of Dolly is a fascinating summer read. Enjoy! 

‘Til next time…Sheep

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Pt.1)

12 Jul

Well, truth be told, I’ve not had a summer vacation just yet. Still, things do seem to slow down a little bit at work during the summer months and I’ve taken advantage of the time to learn a few new things that will hopefully make me better in my job. I thought I’d share some of them, along with resources in case you wish to add some arrows to your quiver, too.

One of the biggest challenges that I face as an evaluator is being able to quickly (and often on the fly) answer questions about the different programs and projects of the UMCCTS. I struggle with rarely getting the same question twice – or at least my ability, yet, to hear the same question twice – and too often find myself scrambling to gather data from different sources, analyze it, and present it back to a particular stakeholder “by the end of the day.” Granted, I was certainly used to giving quick answers to questions from patrons when I worked in the library, but I had a couple of advantages there; (1) I’d worked for a number of years as a medical librarian, so I was pretty up to speed on the library’s resources and (2) the library was a nice, neat, set container of resources as opposed to any number of individuals and project leads and program directors and data gatherers spread across the campus. Praise be the library! It’s difficult to overstate the value of organization. But I digress…

My challenge now is to make my own library, to build my own collection of resources, and to keep them current so that those stressful “by the end of the day” requests are less so. Enter spreadsheets, pivot tables, and dashboards. I was hardly a novice Excel user when I started this work, but enough reading in the literature and best practices of evaluation led me to believe that I needed to expand my know-how about Excel in order to make things easier for myself. After my last scramble to fulfill a “just in time” request, I decided to get to it. I read two excellent books on data visualization that base most of their material on examples from Excel; Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s, Storytelling with Data, and Stephanie Evergreen’s, Effective Data Visualization. These are both great, hands-on books to get you going. I also came across Excel Campus, with one of the best series of video tutorials I’ve ever viewed. The 3-part series on building pivot tables and dashboards was just what I needed.

With these new skills, I’m able to take lengthy, unwieldy (to me) spreadsheets and turn them into several separate sheets with associated pivot tables for analysis and interactive dashboards that let me quickly see the who, what, when, and where of our different programs. It’s a work in progress, but I can tell already that it will be helpful for me and – hopefully – when I develop more tables based upon the questions of the Center’s staff, it will be helpful for them, too.

Next up, I wanted to learn how to create both an overlapping bar chart and a heat map. I was inspired to learn the former from a blog post that I read, coupled with the task I had of writing a report summarizing the evaluation results of our annual research retreat. You know, when you create a survey to evaluate an event (a class, a retreat, a workshop, etc.), you’re often stuck with a whole bunch of questions producing a whole bunch of bar graphs showing how much people appreciated this, that, or the other thing about the event. My survey for the retreat was no different, but I knew that there had to be a better way to present the findings – “better,” meaning a one-page document. Overlapping bar charts seemed perfect. As you can see, I was able to use this type of chart to combine the results of several questions into one visual, making things a lot easier to read and a lot shorter in format.

Feedback

Five charts become one with an overlapping/stacked bar chart.

Now the heat map. Why? Oh, I don’t know. It was last Friday and a quiet day. And they’re kind of cool looking, so … back to tackling R for analysis and visualizations. (My goal here is to be able to be comfortable with these tasks in Excel, R, and Tableau, thus I switch off between them, to hone some skills.) I’ve mentioned here before that I find Nathan Yau’s books and website, Flowing Data, to be essential to understanding and doing data visualization. To learn (better said, “follow the instructions”) to make a heat map, I used the example that he offers in his book, Visualize This, but he also makes this particular exercise available in his collection of online tutorials, so you can have at it, too, if you wish. As you can see, I did indeed follow the instructions and made a nice little heat map of NBA players’ stats.

NBA HeatmapI also wanted to try making a heat map in Excel (easier said than done, though you can find resources online). I downloaded the data from my Jawbone fitness band that I’ve been wearing since December and made a nice map of my daily step count. Nothing fancy, but it worked just fine as a learning exercise.

Step Count Heat Map

I still plan to tackle making heat maps in Tableau, as well as other dashboards and charts that will be useful. The tool kit is never full and the summer isn’t even half over yet.

Enjoy!