Visualization in 2015: New Year’s Resolutions to Further Your Data Development

What do you foresee happening in the visualization field this year?

Promising changes are underway.

You can move the field forward and further your own professional development at the same time.

Repeat these mantras with me. This year, I resolve to:

…commit to easier-to-read layouts.

The end of clustered bar charts is near. I’m on a personal mission to banish these cluttered, impossible-to-grasp-patterns-at-a-glance graphs from your deliverables.

This year, resolve to swap your clustered bar chart for a small multiples bar chart, slope graph, or dot plot. (And stay tuned for a future post that spells out these alternatives in detail.)
From clustered bar chart to small multiples bar chart.


…try a new format, just for fun, then hide it away for a few weeks and forget about its shiny new novelty before sharing it with viewers.

Tree maps, social network maps, Sankey diagrams, and more! Shiny! New! Fun amazing toys! How pretty!

Give each of these chart types an honest try during your lunch break. But please don’t use them just because they’re cool. Use them when they’re the clearest chart for your viewers.


…stop looking for the perfect visualization book that will answer all of my questions and transform me into a visualization guru overnight.

The field is young. A good number of visualization professionals have written books, and dozens of partnerships for new books are in the works.

In the meantime, turn your attention to blogs and tweets. 

Highly recommended blogs for non-programmers who want to get more from common software tools like Excel:

  • my blog
  • Stephanie Evergreen’s blog
  • Cole Nussbaumer’s blog
  • Jon Schwabish’s blog

Highly recommended Twitter accounts:

  • @NYTgraphics
  • @PostGraphics
  • @WSJgraphics


…take data analysis and data management skills to the next level.

First comes planning… then comes identifying, modifying, or creating data collection tools and instruments… then data collection… then data cleaning…. then analysis… and, finally, data visualization–all while weighing stakeholder information needs, and building a data culture, and anticipating the best communications mode(s) for sharing the completed visualizations.

Do yourself a favor by building your foundational data management and analysis skills this year. Check out my pivot table webinars and spreadsheet tips, or take a course from one of my trusted fellow Excel gurus.


…question every software program’s default settings.

As novices, the first few times we use a software program, we’re tempted to trust the program. We might think, “I don’t really understand how this 3D/bevel/shaded chart is effectively communicating my message, but the software company must be full of experts, so I’ll just go with it.” It’s no secret that you’ll need to adjust almost every one of Excel’s default settings to produce something clear and comprehensible. Keep questioning Tableau, R, SPSS, and others, too.


…disaggregate the data and display individual cities/companies/hospitals in a small multiples layout.

Repeat with me: “It doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer to produce a small multiples layout. This is the information my viewers want and need–the details about their specific program, not the means and medians from all the groups lumped together–so my extra effort will pay off tenfold.”

Small Multiples Examples


…embrace ranges, guesses, and uncertainty in my dataset.

Only have access to the minimum and maximum values in a dataset? Try a span chart.

Want to graph the standard deviation? Add light shading above and below your values.

Are you predicting what might happen down the road? Display the estimated range of values with light shading.


…create a chart, diagram, illustration, photograph, or cartoon to display patterns in qualitative data.

Experiment with strategies for displaying data from documents, interview transcripts, and focus group conversations, and you’ll be the next visualization rockstar. This is one of the most underdeveloped areas in the entire field of visualization.

I recently shared six ideas for displaying qualitative data. Later this year, I’ll publish a follow-up post with additional options.

What do you think of the Washington Post’s simple color-coding for eyewitness statements? I’m a fan.


…compliment that person who designed an amazing visualization.

Like what you see? Tell the designer. Write them an email, comment on their blog post, send them a tweet, borrow Hedwig the owl. Your kind messages inspire new blog posts, conference presentations, and more, which keeps the field healthy and thriving.

Don’t like what you see? Shhh. Best to keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s bad karma and nobody wants to be friends with Debbie Downer.


…cease the search for a foolproof software tool.

One day soon, we’ll stop arguing about which software program is best, and we’ll agree that our brains are the best visualization tools of all time.

One day, in a galaxy far, far away, the software salespeople will also stop pretending that their tool is best. Until then, resolve to speak up when you hear their crazy claims.


…use something besides the computer to display data.

Some of my most valuable breakthroughs with organizations have come from drawing graphs on whiteboards during meetings.

Perhaps you’ve seen Hans Rosling’s 52-second explanation of population trends using stones.

Maybe you were one of the hundred or so lucky folks who squeezed into Chris Lysy and Stephanie Evergreen’s DIY Dataviz session in Denver last October.

And you’re probably familiar with my affinity for sketching graphs on paper.

What types of non-computer visualizations are you using to communicate patterns? I’m building a gallery of visualizations made from everyday objects on Pinterest. Please comment below with additional examples you’ve found.


…explore visualization GIFs and videos, and try to create one myself.

Of course you’ve watched Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes video.

But have you seen the remake GIFs from Dark Horse Analytics? My personal favorite is their Clear Off The Table remake:

Table Remake by Darkhorse Analytics


How about these changes-over-time GIFs from the LA Times?!? Swoon. 

Animated GIF from the LA Times

Animated GIF from the LA Times


I’m also a big fan of this semi-animated, semi-interactive model of breast cancer causation. Well done, University of California researchers and designers.

Here’s to hoping that we’ll see many more GIFs and videos in 2015.


Now it’s time to share your feedback: What are your predictions for visualization in 2015? Which resolutions will you follow in the upcoming year? Please comment below.