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Posted by on Sep 8, 2010

The Beauty of Data Visualization: a TED talk from David McCandless

This is the man behind one of my favorite blogs in the world, Information is Beautiful, who spends his time visualizing data which transforms the way you perceive the world. No, really. I dare you not to see this and have your worldview altered.

The man’s name is David McCandless, a London-based author, writer, and designer, who writes for a whole mess of publications like The Guardian. This is a TED talk on his visualization on a whole series of things, including Facebook breakups, health foods, military spending, and SARS, among others. I tend to gravitate towards these visualizations as they reduce the cognitive load that one must assume when transferring information. Further, they reduce the amount of filter failure one has by presenting large chunks of information in aesthetically pleasing and elegant ways.

We immediately perceive the utility of its data merely in its presentation. All data should have this capacity for visualization and you see more services trying to emulate this approach (Google Analytics for one). Very few do it better than McCandless.

One of my personal favorite services for visualizing usage data is crazyegg, which does good heat maps of usage on a particular page. Quite useful in tracking user activity in an organic ways. A good interactive exercise based on these types of visualizations, maybe a good learning experience for higher ed based curriculum for human-computer interaction/design types would be to use heat maps and visualization services as predictive games.

Give the novice an interface and have them outline what a proscribed path might look like. Then layer over actual usage data to see accuracy. Remove one navigation option and predict where funneled traffic would venture to. Repeat ad nauseum. 4 years later, degree awarded. Just messing, but I suspect gaming learning scenarios based on actual usage data will make their way into existing curricula.

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