The Possibilities of Data Visualization

The other day I went to my local art supply store and picked up a set of drawing pencils, an eraser, and a sharpener. I can’t remember the last time I held any of these in my hands, but one of the things I’m working on this year is getting re-aquianted with my creativity.

I had dreams of being a painter in high school, but foolishly stopped painting in college (because I didn’t think it was important to maintain). There were a few reasons for this, but the major one was that I didn’t do very well on my AP art exam and as a result I dropped it altogether.

That was a foolish thing to do. Now years later I’m struggling to draw fruit.

Despite this, one of the better things about this (literal) renaissance of my desire to make visual art is an interest in data visualization. Visualizations are almost ubiquitous. Journalism is the place I notice them most often, but they also play a huge role in web applications, as well as dashboards for business intelligence.

In my world, I spend a lot of time using bar charts to make dashboards that explain what I frequently call “the heartbeat” of my organization. I make them with Excel and more often than not, I’m really bummed by how limited they are in terms of storytelling. Most of the data I deal with tells a definite human story. The dashboards are intended to help upper management see the big picture but: 1) require a human to give a narrative; and 2) are BORING as hell.

Then along came this article: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to d3.js by Ian Johnson.

It’s a short read, and gave me tons of inspiration and motivation. I’m obviously not going to be learning d3.js tomorrow but I’m definitely going to keep drawing bad fruit and keeping a list of good data visualization resources. I’ll let you know if my dashboards improve:)