Data Driven Digest for February 13

Each Friday we share some favorite reporting on, and examples of, data driven visualizations and embedded analytics that came onto our radar in the past week.

mall food

Shopping News: Heading to the mall? Stop by Bloomberg Business for a half-dozen data visualizations that comprise The Average American Mall Explained In 6 Charts. Dorothy Gambrell and Patrick Clark use a hybrid treemap/square chart to show the numbers and types of stores in an average mall, bar charts to visualize demographic variations, a combined map and bar charts (excerpted above; click through for the entire thing) to illustrate food court variations, and – appropriately enough – a pie chart to visualize half-baked regional restaurant names. (Moe’s Southwest Grill is big – in the Southeast.) The visualizations are good, but interactivity would improve them – for example, I’d like to click on thin, unlabeled slices of some pie charts to learn what they represent. Still, Bloomberg’s piece is a great example of how to combine multiple visualizations to tell a multifaceted story.



Bug’s life: We learned from the Wall Street Journal last week that researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College are studying “urban microbiology” on the New York City subway system. What is urban microbiology? A team of scientists swabbed surfaces throughout the subway for 18 months, collecting and cataloging the DNA they found. A WSJ team of Martin Burch, Chris Canipe, Madeline Farbman, Rachel Feierman and Robert Lee Hotz converted the data into an interactive site, a snippet of which we show above. If your stomach can handle it, with a few clicks you can view the data by subway station or bacteria type (ranging from sepsis to Swiss cheese).  Although researchers found 67 species of bacteria associated with disease and infections on the subway, “scientists said the levels of bacteria they detected pose no public-health problem,” according to the article. We’re relieved to add that this is not the data analyzed by the New York City Transit Authority in our case study.



Think before you graph: It’s tempting to fill the Data Driven Digest with flashy, cool-looking visualizations, but we need to pause occasionally and remember what a visualization is supposed to accomplish. (Our Mark Gamble reminds us constantly of the “form versus function” debate.) Jen Christiansen, art director of information graphics at Scientific American, explored that question this week with How to Choose the Form of an Infographic: It’s All about Context, a thoughtful post on the SA Visual blog. Christiansen wrote that she will “often opt to stick with a slightly less dynamic design solution when it better serves the information being presented,” and shared four visualizations built from the same data, shown above. The four choices were sketched by Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez for an unnamed article in the magazine’s 2015 issue. We can’t wait to see which version Christiansen chose; we’ll come back to these sketches to understand why she selected it.


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