Flexible data

Posted to Guides  |  Tags:  |  Nathan Yau

Data is an abstraction of something that happened in the real world. How people move. How they spend money. How a computer works. The tendency is to approach data and by default, visualization, as rigid facts stripped of joy, humor, conflict, and sadness — because that makes analysis easier. Visualization is easier when you can strip the data down to unwavering fact and then reduce the process to a set of unwavering rules.

The world is complex though. There are exceptions, limitations, and interactions that aren’t expressed explicitly through data. So we make inferences with uncertainty attached. We make an educated guess and then compare to the actual thing or stuff that was measured to see if the data and our findings make sense.

Data isn’t rigid so neither is visualization.

Are there rules? There are, just like there are in statistics. And you should learn them.

However, in statistics, you eventually learn that there’s more to analysis than hypothesis tests and normal distributions, and in visualization you eventually learn that there’s more to the process than efficient graphical perception and avoidance of all things round. Design matters, no doubt, but your understanding of the data matters much more.

Favorites

Marrying Age

People get married at various ages, but there are definite trends that vary across demographic groups. What do these trends look like?

Real Chart Rules to Follow

There are rules—usually for specific chart types meant to be read in a specific way—that you shouldn’t break. When they are, everyone loses. This is that small handful.

Causes of Death

There are many ways to die. Cancer. Infection. Mental. External. This is how different groups of people died over the past 10 years, visualized by age.

Reviving the Statistical Atlas of the United States with New Data

Due to budget cuts, there is no plan for an updated atlas. So I recreated the original 1870 Atlas using today’s publicly available data.