When most people hear the word “data,” they’re probably transported back to high school statistics class, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Many news outlets on the cutting edge of journalism have figured out how to present data and information in a way that is not only visually interesting, but even beautiful.
As Simon Rogers of Google News Lab notes, data journalism is now mainstream and is becoming a vital storytelling tool go make numbers visually appealing and meaningful. Journalists use data sets, statistics, and their own studies or surveys to investigate, look for patterns and extrapolate conclusions. Creative visualizations and information graphics (infographics) can be used to present facts that would otherwise be hard for audiences to digest.
Popular Science magazine has the Vizzies every year to recognize beautiful visualizations, but the definitive contest held each year is the Information is Beautiful awards, which began in 2012 thanks to visual journalist David McCandless.
Here are a few of my favorites from past award winners:
What makes an effective infographic or visualization? Beyond an often clean and simple design that makes the graphic easy to read, many of these designs take a huge, abstract concept and turn it into something you can wrap your mind around. The best visualizations allow us to see the “bigger picture”- to boil down a wealth of information into something that the eyes can take in and understand in a single glance. The information can literally come from anywhere and can be anything, sometimes something not even related to journalism- take this image, for example, by artist Jason Salavon.
Believe it or not, you’re looking basically the entirety of the film Titanic, all in one image. Read more about how the artist did it here.
No matter what kind of information they are trying to convey, information graphics help to make the abstract more concrete, and expose patterns and discrepancies.
If you’re interested in creating some interesting data visualizations of your own, Wolfram Alpha is a powerful and free tool for analyzing and visualizing numbers. It’s not so much a tool for creating visualizations for journalism; it touts itself as a “Computational Knowledge Engine.” I highly recommend checking it out and typing in obscure things like your date of birth and see what comes up. And if you’re interested in creating your own data visualizations, some resources can be found here.