Visualization Blog

Ideas, Papers and Thoughts on the field of Visualization

Interactive visualization at your fingertips

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With today’s release of Tableau Public, Tableau Software has opened up infinite possibilites for researchers, corporations and enthusiasts alike to interact, explore and play with their data. More importantly, with Tableau Public one can now have ‘interactive’ visualizations online as opposed to static images. This is a step in the right direction for Data Visualization software, since increasingly one hears from domain experts who want to ‘use’ software and not have to write programs (however small or easy those programs may seem to the developer of the software). Tableau now allows researchers to explore their data and collaborate more effectively instead of having to share static ‘screenshots’ via email.

Such uses of visualization software have already been explored and shown to be hugely successful by the ManyEyes team in their CHI ’08 paper, but the capabilities and strengths of both the products are in somewhat disjoint areas. For example, Tableau focuses on the Business Intelligence community and lacks certain visualizations such as Treemaps or Text visualizations (which ManyEyes seem to do really well). Other interesting and inspiring uses of Tableau Public can be found in their Gallery at Dont forget to check out the NYC Graffiti workbook that they have online. Detailed training videos can be found at

ManyEyes – Reader s of this blog already know my fondness for IBM’s Many Eyes. ManyEyes has been a pioneer in this field of online visualization software that facilitates data visualization without the need for programming. Research papers from the Many Eyes team detailing user interactions and unexpected uses of the visualization software can be found at

Verifiable is another such website that allows online visualization of data. So far the data visualizations that are possible are limited to bar charts, scatter plots and line charts but the trend is definitely promising and I hope they continue to improve the excellent service. A video can be found online at

Swivel is similar to Verifiable, where one can upload data and create online interactive visualizations. Videos for all the features in Swivel can be found at Unfortunately, they have a 15-day free trial that restricts the widespread use of their tools.

As I interact with experts and students from domains as wide as political sciences, biology, economics and so on, I am pleased to hear the awareness that they have for effective visualization but I am sometimes disheartened to have to tell them to learn programming to learn some of our nifty tools. Tableau Public, IBM Many Eyes and others are exceptional in the service that they provide. I envision more research groups, corporate websites and so on posting interactive visualizations with a ‘Powered by Tableau’ icon or something similar in the bottom right corner.

Redesigned Visualizations

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Lately, we have been seeing a high number of ‘bad’ visualizations in media. Over at Infosthetics, they even had a contest to identify the ‘Most Ugly and Useless Infographic‘. It was worth a few chuckles but it definitely made one realize the importance of effective data visualization. It is unfortunate that some people have to make decisions based on such visual representations.

More than just looking at bad visual representations, there seems to be an increasingly constructive trend of redesigning graphs/visualizations that seem to get very popular in media. I wholeheartedly support this endeavor and hope to see more. It is naturally easy to criticize other visualizations, but redesigning it to ‘put your visualization where your mouth is’ takes courage. Here are a few examples.

Original Visualization – Infamous Fox News Pie chart
Redesigned Visualization – Jon Peltier’s take on the same data
Original Visualization- Health Care Reform Chart
Redesigned Health Care Visualization
Original Visualization – GE’s The cost of getting sick
Robert Kosara’s Redesigned Visualization
Original Visualization – National Geographic’s The Cost of Care
Jon Peltier’s Redesigned Visualization

If you have seen any other interesting visualization critiques, please send them my way and I shall be happy to update this post.

Big car, Small car – Which one is safer?

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As a new parent, I have always been guilty of driving a compact car when everyone around me keeps telling me that even though SUV’s are bad for the environment they are so much safer in case of an accident. I cringed a bit at every such discussion but thought that maybe they had a point.

But then I thought why not use data visualization to get to the bottom of this and find out what the truth is. Let me preface this by saying that this is my first attempt at visualizing the data I could find for free and any visualization suggestions or data sources that you are aware of will be greatly appreciated.
[Note: No fancy visualizations here :) Only good old bar graphs]

Step 1 – Type of the car vs Fatalities

I first wanted to find out what is the breakdown of car crashes as compared to the type of car. I found that there is extensive data (see data sources below) about car crashes and fatalities. I decided to use fatalities as a measure of how ‘safe’ the car is and so this graph shows the type of car as compared to the fatalities in 2008. I was sad to see that ‘Passenger cars’ were ranked first but happy to see that ‘Light trucks’ were pretty high up too. Minivans, Compact utility and Large Utility vehicles had far fewer fatalities and I was worrying whether my worst fears (SUV/Minivan = safer) were coming true.

Step 2 – Sales for each type of car

But then I thought that the number of accidents obviously is very dependent on the number of cars that get sold per year and if more passenger cars were getting sold, then more of them would be in a fatal accident thus giving it a higher number. So I found out what the car sale numbers were for 2008 (see data source below) and decided to plot that.

Step 3 – Comparing the Fatalities/Sales ratio

Then the next obvious thing to do was to compute a ratio of the number of fatal accident per type of car with the number of cars sold for that type in a year. On computing the ratio, I found something very interesting. Sorting the graph based on this ratio, I found that Compact Utility vehicles had the highest ratio of fatal accidents to sales. If you look at the first graph, you will see that the compact utility vehicles do not have a large amount of fatal accidents to begin with, but then when that number is divided by the total amount of compact utility vehicles sold, we find an interesting insight (much to my relief and joy).

Passenger cars have a lower ratio than Compact utility vehicles, Large utility vehicles and Light trucks. :)

Anyone who has used Tableau has probably already guessed that all these visualizations were created using Tableau Software and so I visualized the Ratio, Fatal Accidents, Sales all in one image. It shows clearly how compact utility vehicles have a high ratio even though trucks and passenger cars have higher fatalities and more cars of those types were sold.

My current data sources are (Please let me know if you are aware of better ones):

Fatality analysis reporting system –

WSJ – Car sales for the year so far -

Things to look out for at InfoVis 2009

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InfoVis (Information Visualization) 2009 is an integral part of the Annual VisWeek conference. This year the VisWeek conference will be held in Atlantic city, NJ from October  11th-16th. In the next few posts, I shall post my views on things to look out for in each of the tracks at the VisWeek conference: VAST, Vis and Infovis. Here are some exciting talks/panels/workshops/tutorials that I’m looking forward to at InfoVis this year (Links and other material shall be updated as material becomes available):

Collaborative Visualization on Interactive Surfaces (CoVIS)
Organizers: Petra Isenberg, Michael Sedlmair, Dominikus Baur,
Tobias Isenberg, Andreas Butz

Visualization and Analysis Using VisIt
Organizer: Hank Childs

Exploring Design Decisions for Effective Information Visualization
Organizers: Jo Wood, Jason Dykes, Aidan Slingsby

Keynote: Visual Thinking and Visual Thinking Tools
Speaker: Colin Ware, Data Visualization Research Lab, University of New Hampshire

Changing the World with Visualization
Organizer: Robert Kosara
Panelists: Sarah Cohen, Jerome Cukier, Martin Wattenberg

InfoVis Best Paper Award
ABySS-Explorer: Visualizing Genome Sequence Assemblies
Cydney B. Nielsen, Shaun D. Jackman, Inanç Birol, Steven J.M. Jones

InfoVis Best Paper Award
Mapping Text with Phrase Nets
Frank van Ham, Martin Wattenberg, Fernanda B. Viégas

InfoVis Honorable Mention
MizBee: A Multiscale Synteny Browser
Miriah Meyer, Tamara Munzner, Hanspeter Pfister

InfoVis Honorable Mention
Configuring Hierarchical Layouts to Address Research Questions
Aidan Slingsby, Jason Dykes, Jo Wood

InfoVis Honorable Mention
SellTrend: Inter-Attribute Visual Analysis of Temporal Transaction
Data, Zhicheng Liu, John Stasko, Timothy Sullivan

Spatiotemporal Analysis of Sensor Logs using Growth Ring Maps
Peter Bak, Florian Mansmann, Halldor Janetzko, Daniel A. Keim

A Nested Model for Visualization Design and Validation
Tamara Munzner

“Search, Show Context, Expand on Demand”: Supporting Large Graph Exploration with Degree-of-Interest
Frank van Ham, Adam Perer

A Comparison of User-Generated and Automatic Graph Layouts,
Tim Dwyer, Bongshin Lee, Danyel Fisher, Kori Inkpen Quinn, Petra Isenberg, George Robertson, Chris North

Visualizing Social Photos on a Hasse Diagram for Eliciting
Relations and Indexing New Photos, Michel Crampes, Jeremy de Oliveira-Kumar, Sylvie Ranwez, Jean Villerd

Bubble Sets: Revealing Set Relations with Isocontours over Existing Visualizations
Christopher Collins, Gerald Penn, Sheelagh Carpendale

Temporal Summaries: Supporting Temporal Categorical Searching, Aggregation and Comparison
Taowei David Wang, Catherine Plaisant, Ben Shneiderman, Neil Spring, David Roseman, Greg Marchand, Vikramjit Mukherjee, Mark Smith

Lark: Coordinating Co-located Collaboration with Information Visualization – YouTube Video Paper link
Matthew Tobiasz, Petra Isenberg, Sheelagh Carpendale

Harnessing the Web Information Ecosystem with Wiki-based Visualization Dashboards
Matt McKeon

SpicyNodes: Radial Layout Authoring for the General Public
Michael Douma, Grzegorz Ligierko, Ovidiu Ancuta, Pavel Gritsai, Sean Liu

code swarm: A Design Study in Organic Software Visualization
Michael Ogawa, Kwan-Liu Ma

Protovis: A Graphical Toolkit for Visualization
Michael Bostock, Jeffrey Heer

Participatory Visualization with Wordle
Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, Jonathan Feinberg

Capstone: Visual aids: Use of Paintings and Photography for Lighting in the Theater
Speaker: Brian MacDevitt, Broadway Lighting Designer

Things to look out for at VAST ’09

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VAST is the Visual Analytics track at the Annual VisWeek conference. This year the VisWeek conference will be held in Atlantic city, NJ from October  11th-16th. In the next few posts, I shall post my views on things to look out for in each of the tracks at the VisWeek conference: VAST, Vis and Infovis. Here are some exciting talks/panels/sessions that I’m looking forward to this year (Links and other material shall be updated as soon as the papers are available):

Interactive Visual Clustering of Large Collections of Trajectories,
Gennady Andrienko, Natalia Andrienko, Salvatore Rinzivillo, Mirco Nanni, Dino Pedreschi, Fosca Giannotti

A Framework for Uncertainty-Aware Visual Analytics
Carlos D. Correa, Yu-Hsuan Chan, Kwan-Liu Ma

Parallel Tag Clouds to Explore and Analyze Faceted Text Corpora (YouTube Video)
Christopher Collins, Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg

Describing Story Evolution from Dynamic Information Streams
Stuart Rose, Scott Butner, Wendy Cowley, Michelle Gregory, Julia Walker

Evaluating Visual Analytics Systems for Investigative Analysis: Deriving Design Principles from a Case Study
Youn-ah Kang, Carsten Görg, John Stasko

Visual Analysis of Graphs with Multiple Connected Components
Tatiana von Landesberger, Melanie Görner, Tobias Schreck

VAST Best Paper Award: Iterative Integration of Visual Insights during Patent Search and Analysis
Steffen Koch, Harald Bosch, Mark Giereth, Thomas Ertl

FinVis: Applied Visual Analytics for Personal Financial Planning
Stephen Rudolph, Anya Savikhin, David S. Ebert

Visual Opinion Analysis of Customer Feedback Data
Daniela Oelke, Ming Hao, Christian Rohrdantz, Daniel A. Keim, Umeshwar Dayal, Lars-Erik Haug, Halldór Janetzko

VAST Capstone Panel
How Interactive Visualization Can Assist Investigative Analysis: Views and Perspectives from Domain Experts
Organizer: John Stasko
Panelists: Sarah Cohen, Lawrence Hunter, Joe Parry

Are you planning to come by to the VisWeek conference? Is so, which sessions are you interested in?

Written by alark

October 6, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Visualizing Environmental Factors

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In this post, I focus on the use of visualization in conveying information regarding the environment, pollution, population effects on the planet and similar issues. The visualizations are particularly powerful and make us realize how much of an impact we have on the world.

  • Breathing Earth is a wonderful visualization that shows a visual representation of the amount of CO2 that is being produced every second. Additionally, based on the statistics there is a neat visual representation of number of births and deaths per second. This image is just a snapshot of the ever evolving visualization. Check out the really eye-opening visualization at



  • A research paper by Wood et al. discusses a web-based solution to visualize environmental data. The snapshot below shows a histogram View of Ozone from 3 sites in London - Jason Wood, Ken Brodlie and Helen Wright, Visualization over the World Wide Web and its application to environmental data, Proceedings of IEEE Visualization 1996 Conference, edited by R.Yagel and G.M. Nielson, pp 81–86, ACM Press. ISBN 0-89791-864-9. pic8
  • National Public Radio (NPR) had a very informative piece on Visualizing The U.S. Electric Grid - Here are some screenshots from the story. I wonder if they could have picked better visualizations to show the ‘sources of power’.npr_coal

It is a bit hard to visualize the differences in power generating capabilities of various states since the saturation is mapped to a value. Considering there are only a few different values, using different colors may have been a good idea. Any other thoughts on what they could have used to represent this data more effectively?

Here’s another visual representation of the wind energy sources. npr_wind

What seemed most interesting to me is how much the US is dependent on coal power as compared to wind. I hope with the new administration’s initiatives for green energy, we will see a change in the near future.

  • Visualizing rainfall in Australia –  You can interact with the website to pick different visualizations. They seem to be pre-generated though. Here is a screenshot of one of the visualizations australia_rainfall
  • is a website dedicated to drawing attention the problem of climate change through the use of visualizations and infographics. Shown here is the now (in)famous ‘embers’ graph that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did NOT include in their report on climate change, since some scientists thought that the visualization “was too unnerving.” Here is the actual figure and its discussion on NYTimes dotEarth blog -


  • Climate Central – a non-profit organization has some excellent resources that are meant for media and for raising public awareness about the topic of climate change. You can some excellent video as In their own words

Climate Central is an accessible one-stop source for timely, relevant, high-quality climate information through a variety of channels, targeting the media and leaders in business, government, and religion.

  • WaterLIFE is a wonderfully informative website that provides information about water. It contains videos, photographs and visualizations that draw your attention to the various factors affecting water. Its a really amazing site and the snapshot below does not do it justice. Anyway, check it out at Here’s a snapshot from their website water_website

Have you seen any other visualization/website that has been used to communicate, inform, educate people about the issues surrounding environmental factors? If so, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

Vis, InfoVis, Vast 2009 accepted papers posted

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The VisWeek 2009 website has been update with a list of all the accepted papers for this year.

The list can be found at

Vis Papers:

InfoVis Papers:

VAST Papers:

I am particularly happy to see that Vis and InfoVis will overlap slightly this year. It will showcase the best work from both the fields and allow for researchers to interact and form new collaborations. There seem to be some really interesting papers, workshops and tutorials. Other new features this year are the Discovery Exhibition and the Forum on Geometric Aspects of Machine Learning and Visual Analytics. Looking forward to an interesting conference in Atlantic City, NJ.

Written by alark

August 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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