How to visualize data into a compelling story
James Round , a well-known London-based graphic designer and illustrator, will share his secrets in conveying complex ideas in a visually appealing way. Find out how James tells stories through data with real-life examples of his infographic!
Tell us about yourself and how you got into the field of design.
I am a graphic designer and illustrator from London. For the past ten years I have worked in various creative agencies and last year I switched to freelance. One of the factors that influenced this decision was the ability to focus on the work that is most important and interesting to me.
Besides graphic design and illustrations, I always loved infographics and data visualization. On my own initiative, I created several free data visualization projects. They were included in the list of Information is Beautiful Awards, and soon after that I began to receive requests from customers. Since then I have managed to work with BBC, WIRED and Norwegian Airlines.
Skyscrapers - BBC
UK Tech: The Network Effect - Wired
You have done some personal data related projects. What inspired you when choosing ideas?
One of my favorite things in design is the ability to take something complicated and talk about it clearly, attractively and beautifully. Therefore, when it comes to my personal projects, the starting point is the topics and tasks that interest me, which I want to better understand and present in an accessible and fascinating way.
For example, my visualization of extinction data began and developed with the simple question “why do animals die out?”. I am interested in science, I especially like the topics of space and ecology, and the visualization of the data gives me an occasion and the opportunity to study them in more detail.
How do you build the process of developing data visualization projects?
First I figure out how many variables there are for visualization, which of them are most important, which story should be shown using the data? Then, for a few minutes, I sketch out the drafts until I find a few options. From there, I immediately go to Adobe Illustrator and begin to do two or three electronic sketches.
The client is always pleased to see different ways of presenting their content, and it is useful for me to study the data, to notice interesting things that I could miss. As soon as I decide on a concept, I enter all the data and process it for the final work. My favorite part of the process begins after the structure has been defined - that is, the most difficult part is finished, and there are only a couple of strokes left to make it look amazing!
What tips do you have for visualizing large amounts of data?
The most important thing is to make sure that the data set is in order. A dirty table will cause endless problems in the future. Before proceeding directly to visualization, make sure that you and your client fully agree with the proposed structure. If in the future the opinion about the structure changes, consider that you need all the work you need to start all over again. Finally, the order in the working environment is mandatory for such types of projects: call your layers with speaking names, highlight different elements in separate ones, never delete what you may need later, and use a grid, as your life depends on it!
As for deciding which type of visualization to use, as soon as I feel like I understand the data and start sketching out the layouts, I go for inspiration on Pinterest or the Data Viz project . Often you will come across ideas similar to your drafts, or, if you're lucky, you will come across a new structure that will help you get the most out of your data.
The International Space Station: The First 50 Expeditions.
What problems do you encounter when working with data?
I recently worked in a magazine that was extremely complex, but taught me some useful lessons. The data was too cumbersome and our goal was to simplify their perception. The data did not constantly fit into the structure we chose; there simply were too many of them. Each time I had to go back and start over with a changed dataset. And each time I found that I could not put all the data in DPS (approx. I could not find what DPS was) .
We almost abandoned the project and I suddenly thought of another way of presenting the content, which, fortunately, worked and looked great. I was so happy when it was all over. This became an excellent part of the portfolio and caused a good response on the Internet, which was evidence of the successful completion of the project.
Rise in international tourism in Game of Thrones filming locations since 2011.
What resources would you recommend to people who want to improve their skills?
In terms of resources, the Data Viz Project is great for getting to know the various ways in which data is presented, and The Information is Beautiful Awards has a wonderful section that summarizes the best work in this direction.
To find data for work and experiment, try the following:
- The UK Government website contains a lot of significant data (and I believe other countries offer similar resources)
- United Nations has lots of interesting data at FAOSTAT
- Our world in data
But my favorite place to search for data (of course, for my personal projects) is Wikipedia. I always find another source for double data validation, but the wiki is never wrong. For my previous visualizations, I used it to map the moons of Jupiter , introduce each ISS crew member and create a graph of all past US presidents . For those who want to work with data - look at Wikipedia, you never know what you can find!