My love for this profession is more of a sickness. Those of us that have this illness, can’t resist the temptation to dig in, play and visualize data. With the latest November Power BI Desktop release, I can finally unleash my creative spirit and truly go wild with background colors, images, custom visualizations, shapes, R and new data sources. As soon as the new build was available, I wasted no time looking for old demos to makeover. Beware: it is an addiction. Before I knew it, Friday night turned into 5:00 AM Saturday morning. Ghost show episodes were repeating. I had stayed up all night…again. Here are a few of my makeovers.
I also revived my popular Inspirations Gallery so you can download my files or learn about different tips, tricks and techniques. The Power BI Community Site will also get a public showcase soon of Power BI contributions made by talent all around the world. I can’t wait to see what gets developed. It is so much fun to see the variety of design ideas ranging from ESPN/Sports Center looking themes to alternative, modern, futuristic, classic, art deco, neutral and feminine designs. It is a good thing for me that data visualization consumers are gender balanced versus the male dominated technical world that I live in today. Sorry guys, sports demos do not appeal to 100% of women software buyers. Especially if they are tired of seeing football and every other sport monopolize the best television in the house.
Data Visualization to Storytelling to Infographics
Before I get too far out of control updating my old demos with visual noise, I decided that I’d better learn more about visual storytelling and infographics. Information graphics aka infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. They typically consist of a composition of shapes, charts, images, call outs, captions, and headlines. These elements are organized with a consistent theme, colors, layout and typography. A composition is divided into groups. Groups can have multiple visualization elements in it and can be further divided into individual components. A component is the smallest, self-sufficient data fact per se. It can be a simple number with data caption or it can be a bar chart with labels and headlines. The smallest part of an infographic is an element such as a caption or individual number that does not have much meaning by itself.
In the wild, you will see two types of infographics: statistics and concepts. Statistics infographics contain numbers and insights represented in the form of charts, maps, and images. Concepts are visual metaphors in the form of images, shapes, icons and diagrams. For example, a metaphor might be a mountain, tip of an iceberg or roadmap. Infographics are extremely popular in journalism and marketing. Here a few examples. You can see many more with a simple search.
As a visually engaging representation of data and information, this form of data visualization tells a story on its own. To effectively design infographics, you will need to have a mix of graphic design, data visualization, and storytelling skills. I already have a little graphic design experience with Adobe Creative Cloud. I also have fabulous data visualization books from Edward Tufte, Stephen Few and others sprinkled around my desk that were shared previously in my SlideShare data visualization presentations. Now it is time to build upon that foundation and my passion for data by exploring related areas of communication.
To jump start my studies, I invested in several excellent storytelling and infographics books. Then I came across Alberto Cairo’s wonderful Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization. After I complete Cairo’s course, I will be able to share far more informed blogs on this cool topic. I am nothing more than an enthusiastic fan and a huge wannabe right now when it comes to infographics.
According to Cairo, the purpose of infographics and visualizations of data is to enlighten or inform people – not to entertain them or sell products, services, or ideas. Of course the marketers out there don’t care…sell, sell, sell. You know the mantra. We need to get buyer attention with a slick design and more infographics. As the amount of data we work with continues to grow exponentially, the insights and the stories that people want to find in that data also continues to grow. Thus using infographics to tell data stories that inform and influence others is a valuable skill for data analysts.
If you want to create quality infographics, Cairo shares that the following items are important to achieve in your creative designs.
- Reliable information – prerequisite that you have valid data or research
- Visually encoded for relevant patterns to be noticeable
- Organized in a way that enables some further exploration
- Presented in an attractive manner
You will likely end up adding many more items to your creative design checklist if you develop infographics for a large organization. Here are a couple other items that I have to be cognizant of when I build content for Microsoft today.
- Does the information logically flow?
- Is the content easy to scan and effectively structured? Is there good use of visual elements to divide the content into easily scannable chunks, such as tables, lists, bullets, and headings?
- Is the terminology consistent and does similar content use the same terms to mean the same thing?
- Is there technical jargon that a reader may not understand?
- Does the content meet all necessary security and legal issues?
- If there is artwork, would the reader find that the illustrations complement or supplement ideas without being too simple?
- Fictional user and company names must come from a special approved list.
- Is the data suitable for international use?
- Images and photos must be selected from the Microsoft brand tools site. (If you have seen the ugly Microsoft cartoon characters…sigh, that is what we are supposed to use. That is why I love having my own web site = I get a little more creative freedom.)
- Send all maps, globes, and flags for formal sensitivity review. Be extra attentive to the following: a) Borders, boundaries, and disputed territories. b) Names of countries/regions, cities, towns, and rivers, mountain ranges, or seas
At the moment, I am just wrapping up Module 1 of Cairo’s MOOC. It begins with learning a new appreciation for the art of infographics by understanding what to look for in designs, evaluating infographics and doing infographics makeovers with peer students. It then progresses to applying infographics in the field of journalism. From what I can tell so far, you will need to dedicate approximately 8 to 10 hours per week to read, watch lectures, participate in forums, take quizzes and design infographics submissions for peer critique to succeed in this class.
If you want to create infographics, there are many tools that you can use today. For Microsoft fans, we have Power BI, Excel, Visio, Revo R, PowerPoint and Sway. (Note: You can publish Power BI Desktop created infographics to PowerBI.com for secure sharing within your organization.) If you have not seen it yet, there is a lovely David McCandless infographics video that was used to highlight new data visualization types in the latest release of Excel 2016.
Cairo mentions use of Adobe Illustrator in his courses. You could also try using other data discovery tools in the market today – Tableau, Qlik, SAP Lumira or TIBCO Spotfire. Not all of them will have the design flexibility, granular control, object overlapping, sharing and publishing that you may want. At least that has been my experience playing with these tools in the past. There are a zillion other tools out there if you search around for them.
Until I learn more about storytelling with infographics, here are a few resources with informative eye candy on this fabulously fun topic to further inspire you.
- Column Five Media Book Tour
- David McCandless website
- Alberto Cairo website
- Cole Knaflik website
- Ted Cuzzillo: Data Doodle
- The Guardian Data Blog
- Chart Porn
- Information is Beautiful
- Flowing Data
- Interactive Things
- Daily Infographic
- 90 Infographics Web Sites