From October to December 2016, we launched our first Stakeholder Initiative called Data Visualisation.
The aim of this initiative was to showcase how researchers and practitioners illustrated their urban metabolism studies. In fact, as these studies are (often) very data intensive it is crucial to use data visualization tools to help users understand the findings.
And so, we collected one visualisation per day for three months, putting together more than 90 diagrams.
While some patterns appeared, all these illustrations have a different feel, and convey their message differently.
To see which illustration appealed to most of our audience, we enabled a voting system. After several weeks of voting, the most popular viz was «Wiring the City» from Simon Scarr, representing the Electricity Use of Hong Kong in 2010.
Little did we know, Simon is Deputy Head of Graphics for Thomson Reuters.
No wonder, his illustration was preferred by our audience.
When announcing to Simon his award, we asked him some questions about him and how to make data visualisations. Here is the interview :
- Could you briefly present yourself?
I'm currently Deputy Head of Graphics for Thomson Reuters, the world’s largest international multimedia news provider. I'm based in Singapore and responsible for directing information graphic and data visualisation products, managing teams of graphics editors in Asia and London. We work on a range of graphics including topics such as breaking news, financial data and sports.
I’ve spent my career working in journalism, first at a broadsheet newspaper in Scotland, and more recently, Hong Kong as Graphics Director of the South China Morning Post. I'm originally from the North East of England, where I studied Information Graphics and Newspaper Design at Newcastle College.
- What is the story behind your visualisation (Wiring the City)?
Back in 2013, while working at the SCMP, the government announced a possible revamp of electricity tariffs. When looking for related data I stumbled across this very specific breakdown on electricity consumption. Some of the data was missing so I had to contact the government's Electrical and Mechanical Services Department in order to get the full matrix.
We occasionally occupied the full back page of the newspaper with a relevant information graphic or data visualisation. After settling on the Sankey format and design concept I executed the graphic within a couple of days and published while the subject was still timely.
- What is your (creative) process when you carry out a visualisation (where do you find data, how do you choose the topic, how do you choose the representation, etc.)
Given the industry I work in, coverage is usually related to current news events. The story and content always comes first. We have to have a story to tell with the graphic or a goal. From there we determine how to tell that story and what techniques to use. This can include maps and spatial data, explanatory diagrams, and illustrations as well as data visualisations. Within each of those disciplines come more choices. For example, what is the best way to visualise the data or the best chart type to use? Do we need interactivity or animation or can we accurately portray the information in a static format?
Art direction and design is always at the forefront of my mind and in larger projects it can have some influence on the format but clarity should not be sacrificed for the sake of design.
- Have you ever came across the expression urban metabolism? If yes, how would you define it? If not, what are the first thoughts that come to mind when hearing this expression?
I haven't came across the expression prior to this. The first thing that comes to mind is how a built up area or population digests resources. I wouldn't necessarily say purely consumption. By products and relationships also come to mind.
- Most of the visualisations in our initiative are made from academics. In our research we often have or create large datasets but we often lack notions of graphical representations. After having a look at the results of our data visualisation initiative do you have any practical advice for academics?
Some general pieces of advice for anyone would be:
1) Remember the key word 'clarity'. Even a very granular visualisation should have a focus. Make sure you tell your story clearly.
2) Think about a hierarchy of information you want to communicate. You can relay the main story while also drawing attention to other elements. A great data visualisation can tell you many important pieces of information as you peel away layers.
3) All design decisions should be made for a reason. Think hard about your colour palette and layout. They are vital tools in helping to communicate information, place emphasis, and add structure to narrative.
4) I'm also a fan of annotation. Don't be afraid to tell the reader what to look at and exactly what it means.