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A DataViz Book Trifecta

2013 September 30
by Ben Jones

Data visualization touches many disciplines. Engineers, business practitioners, journalists, researchers and academics are all using graphical representations of numerical information to discover and communicate. There are many tools and resources available, and I’ve found the following three books helpful to give a sense of the overall picture of “data viz” right now.


Why are these three books particularly complementary? They give three different views of this emerging discipline – the view of the analyst, the view of the journalist and the view of the technologist, as follows:

  • The analyst seeks to convey information accurately and clearly. The 1st book shows how to visualize data “right” (and how to avoid doing it wrong).
  • The journalist is interested primarily in attracting and engaging readers. The 2nd book is a journalist’s bible for doing just that with data.
  • The technologist is interested in pushing the boundaries and innovating. The 3rd book gives a glimpse into the lives of 24 such geniuses.

To be fair, this is an oversimplification, and all three books touch on all three aspects to some degree. But each book has it’s primary focus and perspective. I highly recommend all three. It would be best to read them in order. Here they are:

1. Creating More Effective Graphs - Naomi Robbins (2013)

Creating More Effective Graphs

What it’s about: This book is about how to make charts and graphs that avoid common pitfalls and effectively communicate quantitative information in visual form. The emphasis is on clarity and accuracy.

Who it’s for: This book would be a great resource for students, analysts and journalists who are new to communicating data in visual form. More experienced visualizers will also benefit from a review of best practices.

What I liked about it: Naomi doesn’t just tell you what’s better, she shows you. She shows you a poorly designed chart (all bad examples have a stop sign labeled “NOT Recommended”) and then she asks you a question or two about the chart, such as “What do you see when you look at Figure 6.2?” In this way, she engages the reader to think. Naomi does a great job advocating for her favorite chart types: trellis plots and dot plots.

What could have been better: Naomi does such a great job with black and white, but color would be even better. Also, the examples are all individual charts; I’d love to hear her thoughts on multi-view interactive dashboards.


2. The Functional Art – Alberto Cairo (2012)

The Functional Art

What it’s about: “An introduction to information graphics and visualization”, this book covers a wide range of topics, from visualization principles to journalism to the biology of the human visual system. It’s divided into four parts: foundations (from data to encoding to understanding), cognition (how the eye and brain process images), practice (creating static and interactive pieces), and profiles (interviews with experts who practice or study visualization).

Who it’s for: While this book will be illuminating for anyone, it’s primarily useful for journalists in my opinion. I believe analysts and practitioners could benefit by learning how to present information in an interesting and engaging way.

What I liked about it: I thoroughly enjoyed Alberto’s accounts of the creation of various examples of stunning data journalism, complete with richly detailed color images. This is his background, and it’s where he really shines.

What could have been better: Not much, though I didn’t feel the sections on anatomy added much value for me.


3. Beautiful Visualization - Edited by Steele and Iliinsky (2010)

Beautiful Visualization

What it’s about: This book gives you a sneak peek into the world of two dozen experts who are pushing the limits of data visualization. Each expert tells in their own words how visualization is being used to understand and present complex relationships in data. The techniques used are novel and innovative, and the images that emerge are mesmerizing.

Who it’s for: This book is for anyone who wants to understand what’s happening on the fringes of “Data Viz”. This book complements the other two because any thriving field needs creative thinkers who are trying new things.

What I liked about it: It reads more like an RSS feed reader than a book – I liked the constant, fresh perspective by the various contributors, and I learned a lot about visualizing networks.

What could have been better: So much has happened in this field since this collection was published in June, 2010 that another version is warranted in my opinion. This book whets your appetite for more.


Have you read any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts? Are there others you strongly recommend, and if so, why?

Thanks for stopping by,


The Briefing Room: FEMA Disasters in the U.S.

2013 September 17
by Ben Jones

I had the privilege of presenting on The Briefing Room today (view the full recording here). Here is the dashboard I built about floods in the U.S. as part of The Briefing Room with Eric Kavanagh and Robin Bloor.

It’s an example of an “exploratory” dashboard (as opposed to an explanatory one) that allows you to see where different types of disasters have occurred since 1953, and how their occurrences were spread over time. The default view shows floods, and you can use the drop-down filter to change the map to show hurricanes, or storms, or earthquakes. You can also show all declared FEMA disasters, in which case you’ll find that I wasn’t so dumb to leave Los Angeles County earlier this year.

The point of this data dashboard is that you can take a story like the floods in Colorado, find the data from the FEMA site, download the spreadsheet, create an interactive data dashboard in publish it to your website in a very short amount of time. The demo took about 10 minutes, and I’d say that it took me a total of 1 hour to create the fully formatted version that you see here:

Here are the slides from the presentation portion, entitled “How Data Visualization Enhances the News”

The briefing room how data visualization enhances the news from dataremixed


7 Pioneers of Data Visualization

2013 September 7
by Ben Jones

I’m delighted to be able to deliver a presentation this coming Monday at TCC13 at 4pm called “7 Things We Can Learn from the Pioneers of Data Visualization”. The timeline and visualization below reveal the seven pioneers we’ll be considering, but I won’t reveal the “7 things” we can learn from them until the session itself. If you’re at TCC, be sure to swing by the Chesapeake 4-6 conference room to hear what they are. Suffice it to say that anyone who has ever tried to change their corner of the world by communicating data to others will make seven new friends before the session is over.

See you there!

How to View your Website Stats in Tableau

2013 August 27
by Ben Jones turns 2 today(!), so I’m giving my website a little more breathing room by increasing the overall width of the site. Now I’ll be able to publish wider visualizations and interactive dashboards, which should hopefully result in better overall quality. By all means, hold me to it!

Last year, when DataRemixed turned one, I published 4 DataViz Blogging Lessons Learned. I re-read it today and I still stand by those words a year later. If anything, I’d add a 5th lesson – “Add your unique perspective”. Charles Joseph Mindard was a civil engineer and built canals and railroads. Is it any wonder that he made great flow maps after his engineering career was over? Flow maps were part of his DNA by that point. What is your unique perspective, and how does it inform your best work?

This year, I’m taking a look back at the usage of this site in its second full year of existence. Using Tableau Desktop’s Google Analytics connector, I pulled in data about my website and created this interactive dashboard, which I’m happy to share with the world:

What are my key take-aways from this dashboard?

  1. Be Helpful. Look at the top 6 destinations. 4 start with the two simple words “How to”. It’s as simple as that.
  2. Think about SEO. Google is the #1 source of traffic for my website. What does it look like to a search engine?
  3. Data Viz is global. My site is a very small corner of the world wide web, but visitors from 155 countries stopped by. Incredible

Taking #1 above seriously, let me show you how I created this dashboard. Chances are you care about your website stats more than you care about mine, so the next section includes a detailed dashboard walk-through so you can do the same. You’ll need Tableau Desktop. If you don’t already have it, you can get a 14 day trial here. If you’re a student or a member of IRE, you can get it for free. You can also open and explore my workbook if you want by clicking on “Download” in the bottom right corner and opening the .twbx file in Tableau.

Here goes.

How did I make it?
This slideshare document walks you through the steps I took to build this interactive web traffic dashboard. Click to the right of the slides to advance them one by one:

I hope this was a helpful tutorial, and please let me know if anything was unclear, or if you have any suggestions to make this dashboard even better.

Thanks for stopping by,

Worldwide Open Data Sites

2013 August 8
by Ben Jones

Hi, it’s been a while since I posted last! The Tableau Public team has been busy launching author profiles (here’s mine) and expanding the free application’s data limit from 100k rows to 1M rows, so I haven’t posted very often this summer. After wrapping up another project I’m working on, I’ll pick it back up again here at DataRemixed.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a handy dandy tool that helps users find Open Data sites around the world.

In researching sites to give users who are looking to find data to play with, I came across a website called “Open Data Sites” that provides a csv file containing a bunch of links to sites (292 294 of them) from different countries (48 50 different ones, to be exact). To get to the sites, you have to download the csv, open it, and click the links. Not the best workflow, so I created this viz to ‘lean out’ the process, which I hope you also find useful:

If you know of other useful sites to find publicly available data sets, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment for everyone else’s benefit.

Thanks for stopping by,

Remixing it up in New York

2013 July 5
by Ben Jones

Earlier this week I had the pleasure and honor of presenting after Giorgia Lupi of Accurat at Data Visualization New York. My presentation focused on how to use Tableau as a data discovery tool, and luckily for me, the amount of data about New York is as abundant as everything else about the city. There was no shortage of material, from garbage to graffiti to rat sightings and electric consumption. New York hiccups, and it gets recorded.

Sharing data on the web with Tableau Public is both my job and my hobby, but this presentation allowed me to demonstrate how quickly Tableau allows users to find insights in data. Data discovery is a very important part of the overall process, which I conceptualized as a horse race track:


I made the analogy that using Tableau is like riding Secretariat – you get the distinct advantage of being able to race around the track a rapid rate, transitioning between the phases and quickly identifying patterns, outliers and trends in your data.

I also made a somewhat philosophical point that data is only one type of input in the overall learning process. Using data has its benefits and limitations. A benefit is that you can obtain valuable “explicit knowledge” – who, what, when and where? A limitation is that it’s often difficult to answer “why?” and “how?” using only data. Consider riding a bike: what’s a better way to learn, reading about it or doing it? And consider New York: no matter how many charts you see about the city, nothing replaces the unique experience of walking its streets and riding its subways. Tacit knowledge. Often the best outcome of data discovery is that you know what questions to ask in the analog world.


Here is a diagram showing the overall learning process, and how data fits in as a specific type of input:

As I mentioned, there was a wealth of data to explore and visualize about New York. I explored a number of those data sets, and here are a few of the projects I recreated during the 1 hour time slot I was given (focus was on learning, not fit & finish).

Click to open an interactive version:

1. “Know what” – Garbage data: DSNY Collection Tonnages (get the data here)

2. “Know where” – The Bridges of NY & NJ (get the data here):

3. “Know when” – Rat sightings in NYC (get the data here)

It was an amazing and unique experience for me. I had a lot of fun presenting (not shown here is the Homer Simpson bologna viz I created in response to Accurat’s project “A Slice for Everyone“), and I met a number of fellow visualization enthusiasts, including Naomi Robbins. Naomi was gracious enough to sign a copy of her newly reprinted Creating More Effective Graphs, which I am currently reading and hope to review soon.

I’d like to say a special thanks to meetup organizers Christian Lilley and Paul Trowbridge for the invitation to present, and to McKinsey for hosting the event.

Thanks for stopping by,



Beyond the Written Word – IRE 2013

2013 June 22
by Ben Jones

I spent the past few days with some colleagues in San Antonio at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Conference training journalists to use Tableau and meeting others interested in data visualization and data journalism.

I also had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with Ryan Murphy of the Texas Tribune, Steve Thompson of the Dallas Morning News and Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

My core message is that there are different tools for different situations. I’m a big believer that static charts made with Excel and R have their place, and so do intricate and elegant coded visualization masterpieces. I also see Tableau as a unique tool that affords much of the interactivity with a user interface that is easy to learn. A bowl of porridge that’s often “just right”.

Here are my slides from the presentation. As always, these are my nascent thoughts, and I’d love to get your take:

Beyond the written word – visual data in journalism IRE 2013 from dataremixed

Here are hyperlinks to the visualizations and websites included in the presentation:

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Upcoming Data Viz Contests, Summer 2013

2013 June 12
by Ben Jones

DataViz Competition

Hi all,

There are a number of interesting data visualization contests going on right now that I thought I’d bring your attention to. There are contests for people with different interests: volunteering, healthcare, online transparency and neuroscience. Prizes are fairly generous this time around – trips to conferences, cash, products and software. Here goes:


1. Tableau’s Civic Data Viz Contest

  • Challenge: “use Tableau Public to visualize data about your community” (global)
  • Data: links to various sources provided here
  • Winner gets: 3-day trip to TCC13 in Washington D.C. (crowd favorite wins $500)
  • Deadline: June 24, 2013
2.’s Visualizing Online Takedown Requests
  • Challenge: “We challenge you to visualize the removal requests in Google’s Transparency Report”
  • Data: Google Transparency Report
  • Winner gets: $3,250 (2nd place gets $1,250, 3rd place gets $500)
  • Deadline: June 27, 2013, 11:59 pm EDT


3. Civic Data Challenge 2013
  • Challenge: “turn the raw data of ‘civic health’ into useful applications and visualizations that have direct impact on public decision-making” (U.S)
  • Data: files available for download here
  • Winner gets: “2013 Prizes will be announced throughout the Challenge” (check the Prizes site here)
  • Deadline: July 28, 2013, 11:59 pm EDT


4. 2013 IEEE Scientific Visualization Contest

  • Challenge: “help identify spatial and temporal gene expression patterns in the developing mouse brain”
  • Data: Download here
  • Winner gets: Free full registration for the VIZ 2013 Conference
  • Deadline: July 31, 2013


5.’s Visualizing Hospital Price Data

  • Challenge: “We challenge you to visualize the hospital price data to create greater transparency in the healthcare field”
  • Data: Medicare Provide Charge Data for Inpatient and Outpatient
  • Winner gets: $9,000 (interactive) and $6,000 (static) – see website for full list of prizes totaling $30,000
  • Deadline: August 25, 2013, 11:59 pm EDT


Best of luck!  Let me know if I missed any.


How to Embed a Google Map in Tableau

2013 June 7
by Ben Jones

(For this post, I owe a word of thanks to Andrew Beers – VP of Product Development at Tableau, for the raw data, and Mike Klaczynski – Data Analyst on the Tableau Public team, for showing me this method).

At the Seattle Hacks/Hackers event last night, we built an interactive data dashboard that allows the reader to explore bridges in the state of Washington, where a bridge crossing the Skagit River recently collapsed into the water after being struck by a truck carrying an oversize load.

What’s notable about this dashboard is that you can click on any of the 2,489 circles on the map and bring up an embedded Google satellite image of the bridge within the dashboard itself. I didn’t have to take a screen shot of each satellite image – that would be way too much fun. Instead, I used a little-known feature in Tableau Public – embedded web pages (similar to the Embedding YouTube post from a few weeks ago).

How to embed a Google satellite image in a Tableau Public visualization:

The first group of 5 steps shows you how to create a url for each bridge, and the second group of 5 steps shows you how to add a box to your dashboard to pull up the bridges.

I. Create the URLs
1. First, notice that the data file contains Latitude (“LAT”) & Longitude (“LON”) for each bridge.

2. A Google Maps search for a particular Latitude & Longitude (say, 48.445781 and -122.341108) yields a link url like this:,-122.341108&hl=en&sll=48.445781,-122.341108&sspn=0.009949,0.026157&t=h&z=16

3. The url can be simplified a little bit as follows:,-122.341108&z=17&t=h&output=svembed

4. Breaking down the elements of the url, we can see that after the latitude & longitude, there are three parameters in the url:

  • “q=48.445781,-122.341108″ – these are your coordinates. Note that if you have an address field instead of Lat/Long, you can put an address after “q=” as well
  • &z=17 – this specifies the zoom level. Higher numbers zoom in, lower numbers zoom out
  • &t=h – this specifies the type of map. (t=m is a map, t=h is a satellite view)
  • &output=svembed – this is a key parameter that makes sure the website you embed in your viz doesn’t include the entire site – just the map itself

5.  You could then generalize the url to:


You can see that the actual numbers for Latitude and Longitude have been replaced with field names <LAT> and <LON>

The next group of steps walks you through how to add a box to your dashboard that pulls up this embedded satellite image when a user clicks on a particular circle.

II. Add dynamic Satellite Images to your Dashboard

1. First, in the dashboard tab, drag a Web Page onto your dashboard from the left-center panel (just leave the “Edit URL” dialog box blank and click “OK” for now):

Add Web Page

2. From the Dashboard file menu, click Actions and click the “Add Action >” button and choose “URL…”

3. In the Add URL Action dialog box, select whatever sheet you have created that includes the fields LAT and LON, and choose what event you’d like to trigger navigation to the new image (Hover, Select, or Menu). In this case, I’ve selected Map as my Source Sheet and Select as my trigger event, but you could trigger the action from a table or other type of sheet. Here’s what the dialog box looks like:

Triggering the URL Action

4. Now comes the magic. Copy and paste the generalized url above to the URL field of the dialog box, and replace <LAT> and <LON> with the corresponding field names in your data source by clicking the small arrow to the right of the URL text entry field:

Specify URL to go to

5. That’s it! Test it out by clicking on the map circles and see the satellite image change accordingly.

I can see this being useful for organizations that would like to include images of office locations or real estate assets in their dashboards. For data journalists, it’s about allowing readers to interact with the abstract and the real in the same graphic.

If you make a dashboard with a dynamic Google map, be sure to post the link in the comments field for all to see.

Added 6/10: Here are the slides from the event:

Thanks for stopping by,



See, Data is for Parties

2013 June 2
by Ben Jones

Being a Canadian (eh) living south of the border, I’ve watched the US political process as an outsider looking in for all of my adult life. It’s a fascinating system, with plenty of fine points and flaws, which just means it’s a human system.

I had the chance to visit and present data visualization using Tableau at the TechActivist conference this weekend. I learned a lot about how people deeply involved in the political machinery of this country think, relate to each other and approach their goals. There is no doubt that they all see data as a huge opportunity going forward.

To prepare for the conference, I was given Washington State election results from 2012. My colleagues at Tableau Mike Klaczynski, Jewel Loree and I spent some time playing with the data and mashing it up with census data to see if we could find anything interesting in the results. We presented a number of findings, and created this voting results analytics dashboard at a county level.

Click to see an interactive version, use the drop-down in the upper right to switch between Republican and Democratic perspectives:

Here are the slides I presented based on my cursory research into the subject of data visualization and US politics. I don’t claim to be an expert in politics, but I did find some interesting articles and visualizations that I felt compelled to share:

As always, feel free to leave comments, feedback, suggestions, etc. If you really want to get my attention, go get Tableau Public (it’s free), download the workbook (click “Download” in the bottom right corner of the dashboard) and remix the data to show it the way you’d like to see it.

Lastly, here’s a link to many other election day visualizations created by the aforementioned Mike Klaczynski.

Thanks for stopping by,