10 Ways to Up Your Data Viz Game

Explore new ways to tell a data-powered story with these inspiring charts and graphs

Erin McCoy
Nov 19, 2019 · 7 min read

Strong data visualization is the primary building block of almost all great infographics. But it’s not just important in infographic design. Whether you’re designing an annual report, preparing a conference presentation, or analyzing key business metrics, data visualization can more quickly and effectively bring key trends to light — and help you discover a solution to any problems you may be facing.

But as Stephanie Evergreen points out in “2 Questions Designers Should Ask Data Nerds,” beautiful design isn’t enough. The designer needs to understand why the data visualization exists and who it’s speaking to. In short, a data visualization should marry form and function — because if it doesn’t have both, it probably won’t achieve its goals.

As Evergreen explains in her article:

“[W]hen we show audiences graphs, even pretty ones, that don’t have a clear point, we waste that power of the visual and teach them to generally ignore our entire organizational body of work because it’ll take a ton of effort to pull out meaning from what we deliver. This is not the path to success.”

Still, designers who are working hard to achieve accuracy can start to feel like they’re creating the same styles of data visualization over and over. So I’d like to highlight just a few of the infographics that are delivering real value to their audiences by incorporating fantastic and unusual data visualizations to enhance their underlying message.

Let these examples serve as an inspiration to you the next time you kick off a visual communication project.

1. A high-speed visualization

Data visualization of train speeds
This infographic shares a variety of data on train speed and routes. Source: Francesco Franchi

You don’t need to be able to read Italian to appreciate the elegance of the data visualization in this infographic by Francesco Franchi. Not only do we learn the relative speeds of these trains broken down by geographical location, but we can also glean extra information through color coding — for instance, whether a train line is under construction.

These many layers of information are laid out clearly and cleanly, making it easy for the reader to engage with whatever data points are most relevant or interesting to them.

2. Data visualization as part of the story

Data visualization of the financial crash as a metaphorical wave/graph
This data visualization embodies and channels the central metaphor of the infographic. Source: DaSantosh

One thing we love to see is effective data visualization that visually embodies a central, unifying metaphor. The infographic above likens a series of global mergers and acquisitions to a “wave” — and the metaphor takes off from there.

A bar chart transforms into that very wave, while dolphins are sized relative to the data they’re representing. A bird draws a line chart across the sky to round out the scene.

If you want your infographics to tell self-contained narratives, ask your design service how they can ensure that your data visualization is fully tied, thematically and stylistically, to your infographic design as a whole.

3. An inventive approach

data visualization related to inventors in different countries.
This infographic makes an efficient use of space to communicate a lot of data in a single data visualization. Source: TIME

The mini-infographic shown at left is one of a series that visualizes the 2013 TIME Invention Poll.

Like most infographics, it aims to deliver just a few data points at a time. This way, audiences can quickly glean the primary information it’s delivering and then, if they like, choose to share that information far and wide on social and other channels.

What’s unusual about this data visualization is the way it visualizes poll data with relative bubble size. This type of data visualization is often referred to as a proportional area chart. (For a fantastic resource on the different types of data viz and what they’re called, check out the Data Visualization Catalogue.)

The organization of data in this infographic allows us to quickly notice outliers, many of which — including Sweden and Singapore — are called out specifically, with more data offered on those outliers.

4. An elegant bar graph

Bar graph related to preferred tennis racquet brands
The design of this data visualization makes it easy to quickly identify trends and make comparisons. Source: sacks08

The bar graph above allows us to quickly see which tennis racquet brands are most popular and compare trends between male and female players. If we want to dive in deeper, we can learn which specific players use each brand.

As Lucy Todd explains in her article on how to master data viz, the goal of any strong data visualization or infographic should be to make it easy to learn and notice trends. Here, it’s immediately clear that there are some stark differences in racquet brand preference between male and female players. A tennis enthusiast could use this information to quickly decide which racquet brand might be right for them.

Because this is essentially a single standalone graph, it would normally be called a mini-infographic or a micro-narrative. These are perfect for sharing on social media to tease a longer infographic or encourage engagement and sharing.

5. A brief visualization of time

Gantt chart related to George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo”
This Gantt chart tracks the various narrators in the audiobook of George Saunders’s “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Source: Killer Visual Strategies

In the infographic magazine spread excerpted at left, a simple chart visualizes the proportion of time each narrator controls in the audiobook version of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo.

In order to visualize this, we used a Gantt chart, a kind of bar chart that’s typically used to outline the schedule for a project. This data visualization style nonetheless translated perfectly to the context at hand.

It represents a huge volume of data in a very clean, minimalistic way, and captures the tone of the book in the process.

6. The power of color

color-coded map
color-coded map
This map’s minimalist design makes it possible to include a wealth of information without overwhelming the viewer. Source: Bryan Boyer

The color-coding on this 1959 map and corresponding pie charts empowers us to dig in and explore the data in multiple ways. The style, meanwhile, remains clean and minimalistic. That’s not easy to achieve given how much information this single image contains.

Still, the amount of information never becomes overwhelming. That’s because the image contains no more than what is necessary to communicate the relevant info. Imagine, for instance, if not only the roads but the footprint of every building or structure were outlined. These would likely make the graph look messy and overwhelming. Instead, a consistent, limited color palette that’s pleasing to the eye combines with a simple map to deliver a beautiful, elegant design.

7. Animated data visualizations

Bar graph from Bluetooth interactive infographic annual report
This dynamically illustrated data visualization combines depth and geometric patterns for a clean, modern look. Source: Killer Visual Strategies

Interactive infographics like this one for Bluetooth offer the opportunity to animate a data visualization and even interact with it. In the case of the chart pictured above, the animations occur as you scroll down the page. (Click here to view the full animation.)

Other data visualizations in the infographic maintain the same clean, modern design style and seek out unique ways to visualize the information at hand, such as in the case of this proportional area chart:

Data visualization from Bluetooth Interactive Annual Report
This proportional area chart continues the same motifs seen above, incorporating an unusual data visualization style in the process. Source: Killer Visual Strategies

8. A vast geography

The right kind of map visualization can help us picture numbers that are normally too hard to imagine. Source: Sakari Pitkänen

It can be hard to imagine something that is very large — a 100-story building, a whole ocean, a planet. That’s why data visualizations that assist us in doing this are so useful.

Ideally, they help us compare something we’re less familiar with (in this case, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) with something we might be more familiar with (the Iberian Peninsula). The data visualization shown at left offers an effective example of what you can do when dealing with problems of scale.

9. A nested pie chart

Nested pie chart
Nested pie chart
This nested pie chart presents a clear hierarchy of data. Source: Killer Visual Strategies

This series of infographics for BSquare features a variety of data visualizations, including the pie chart shown above. The chart combines a variety of data points without being confusing. Color-coding and a clear hierarchy of information prevents it from looking busy, messy, or overwhelming. It’s a great example of how to prioritize different data visually.

10. A mini-infographic featuring unique 3D data visualizations

3-dimensional data visualizations
3-dimensional data visualizations
These data visualizations rendered in three dimensions feel like they jump off the page to engage the reader. Source: Andrii Bezvershenko

While this mini-infographic from designer and illustrator Andrii Bezvershenko doesn’t visualize a real dataset, I just had to include it because of the unique way it visualizes charts, graphs, calendars, and other data in three dimensions. The style feels clean, modern, and fun all at the same time.

Whether you’re designing infographics, motion graphics, or some other type of visual content, these data visualization examples will hopefully spark some interesting ideas and help you explore new ways to tell compelling visual stories.

Originally published on the Killer Visual Strategies blog.

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Erin McCoy

Written by

Editor @ medium.com/the-visual-marketer | Director, Content Marketing & Public Relations @ Killer Visual Strategies killervisualstrategies.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Erin McCoy

Written by

Editor @ medium.com/the-visual-marketer | Director, Content Marketing & Public Relations @ Killer Visual Strategies killervisualstrategies.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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