14 thoughts on “History of Geography Blog Assignment #5 – 2017 – Visualization of Data

  1. Visualization of data is what draws me into geography and spatial science. Meaning presentation of multivariate data which adroitly surmises research in a way that is intuitively understood to the audience – graphical excellence. It is no easy task but when executed correctly the effect is simply mind-blowing. Edward Tufte has been fascinated by this skill and achievement of “graphical excellence”; a term which he coined. So what is graphical excellence and how does someone go about achieving it?
    Tufte lays out the requites for graphical excellence in his early work titled The visual display of quantitative information (1983). He essentially bullets the points to minimize verbiage and eloquently streamline his point. For a display to achieve graphical excellence it must distinguish multivariate and well-designed presentations of data containing the three pillars of design, substance, and statistics. Complex ideas must be neatly presented to the observer with clarity, efficacy, and precision. The penultimate goal is to unload all of the ideas and figures that need to be represented, reflecting the data, with strict regard for conservation of time to interpret and ink to manifest. Basically, K.I.S.S. (Keep it Stupid Simple) but still possess great design and care. If the cartographer or designer does their job with graphical excellence new perceptions, interpretations, and empirical discoveries will ultimately take shape in the mind of the audience.
    Brilliant and well said by Tufte, because when I look at the works by Charles Joseph Minard, his innovative graphical expressing deaths of French soldiers to Russians during Napoléon’s failed siege on Moscow, I see how perilous and futile Napoléon’s quest for Moscow was. I see the distance that was traveled and the lives that were given in vain. Tufte uses several of Minard’s works as prime examples of “graphical excellence.” The works of Minard can be found in Tableauz Graphiques et Cartes Figuartive de M. Minard (1845-1869). A particularly interesting multivariate map from Minard shows export vectors and quantity of French Wines being shipped out across the world in 1864. The stylistic and graphical approach is in the same theme that he later uses to represent French soldier’s deaths on the siege on Moscow
    Another image that I find interesting is the small clipping of 8 rivers in the bottom left. I had to search around a bit for what river systems are represented and discovered these are the eight longest rivers in the world. The natural sinuosity of a river makes it hard to standardize the data in a way that shows length comparison. The solution, use a graphical transmogrifier and straighten out the meanders. Line out all the rivers one on top of the other ascending in length. Landmarks can be left in the graphic to give a sense of orientation and the thickness of each graphic represents river breadth and discharge. Drainage patterns are still expressed, providing a clear sense of geographic setting and erosional environments. Each river is moving through its own space from its headwaters down to each respective delta. Ingenious if you ask me. A similar approach can be taken to remove distance and projection problems like in Maxwell J. Roberts 2008 London rail system map. The distances and sinuosity of each rail line aren’t important here. The point it to clearly and uniquely identifying each rail line by name, and thematically symbolize the interchange stations and junctions in an efficient and user friend space is what is important. A product that is simple and the projection is easily scalable. The map can be placed on a small card just as easily as a kiosk or billboard, or even displayed easily somewhere on the trains themselves is what is of utmost importance. Expediency in conveying all the necessary multivariate information to the reader obtains graphical excellence in this example. Less is more and more is less.

    Tuft, E. R. 1983. The visual display of quantitative information. U.S.: Graphics Press.

  2. https://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/
    Before we discuss the significance of data visualization in geography, it is important to talk about Edward Tufte. Edward Tufte is an American artist and statistician; in addition, he is Professor Emeritus of Statistics, Computer Science, and Political Science at Yale University. He is known by his writings on information design and as a major in the field of data visualization. He designed, wrote and self-published four classic books on data visualization. Media described Edward Tufte in different names; The New York Times described him as the “Leonardo da Vinci of data,” and Business Week called him as the “Galileo of graphics.” Now, he is writing a ‘’book/film The Thinking Eye and constructing a 234-acre tree farm and sculpture park in northwest Connecticut’’. This work which shows his artworks will remain open space in perpetuity. Edward Tufte founded several work: ET Modern gallery/studio, Graphics Press, and Hogpen Hill Farms LLC.
    Mulrow, E.J. (2012). “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”. Technometrics. 44 (4): 400. doi:10.1198/tech.2002.s78
    Tufte’s writing is great in such fields as visual literacy and information design that deal with ”the visual communication of information”. He made the word chartjunk to reference to non-informative, useless, or information-obscuring elements of quantitative information shows. ‘’Tufte’s other key concepts include what he calls the lie factor’ ‘, the data-ink ratio, and the data density of a graphic’’. Although ‘’The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’’ is not a perfect guide to all kinds of data graphics, it provides a group of basics to be used as a guide in founding effective data-driven _ graphical displays. However, Mulrow warns in his book ‘’The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’’ (2012) that ‘’the principles should not be applied rigidly or in a peevish spirit; they are not logically or mathematically certain, and it is better to violate any principle than to place graceless or inelegant marks on paper. Instead, one should simply seek to portray the complexities of the data in a clear, honest, and intelligent manner.’’
    Few, S. (2009). Introduction to Geographical Data Visualization, Perceptual Edge, Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter.
    The important of data visualization in geography has come with the numbers that have to tell often include location such as where things are located, or where they have occurred. When quantitative information is displayed on a map, visual displays are combined of both abstract and physical data. Quantitative information is extract or abstract, so it doesn’t have physical form. Whenever quantitative data is represented visually, whether on a map or otherwise, we have to come up with visual objects which show abstract concepts in a clear manner that should be understandable as well. For example, quantitative data of sales can be represented by a line to show the sales are going up, or “expenses have deviated from the budget in both directions during the course of the year,” represented by bars extending up or down from a baseline of zero.’’
    One of the examples given here in this assignment is a graph shows ‘’Napoleon’s March’’. It is described as the best statistical graphic ever drawn, the graph is designed by Charles Joseph Minard to show the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign (1812). In the beginning you can see the Polish-Russian border, and the thick band displays the size of the army at each location. The track of Napoleon’s regress from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is drawn by the dark lower band and is tied to time and temperature scales.
    1- https://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/
    2- https://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters
    3- Few, S. (2009). Introduction to Geographical Data Visualization, Perceptual Edge, Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter.
    4- Mulrow, E.J. (2012). “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”. Technometrics. 44 (4): 400. doi:10.1198/tech.2002.s78

  3. The presentation of information in graphic form is popular today and rightfully so. Data visualization is a powerful communication tool and perhaps the most practical form of art. The selected images reflect the great diversity of visual forms into which data can take shape. The image at the top right is from the “Gay rights by type” interactive maintained by The Guardian regarding gay rights in the United States. Each column-like piece of the circle represents an individual state. The states are grouped by region. The colors represent categories of rights. The saturation of each color reflects the extent to which those rights are protected or not… and the resulting rainbow where gay rights are well-protected is no coincidence! Each state can be selected, each region can be looked at in more detail, and each category of rights is explained in depth. This interactive info-graphic was created in 2012 and is updated to reflect any changes. The “Gay rights by type” interactive does not look like a map but it obviously spatial. The effort to group states into regions for comparison hints at the inescapable subjectivity of data collection and presentation.

    Data visualization is not new. The complex interactive I just described has elements of both a pie chart and a bar chart, which – along with the statistical line graph – were designed by Scot William Playfair over two-hundred years ago. A younger French contemporary of Playfair’s is far more famous. Charles Joseph Minard made complex cartograms and other info-graphics. His 1869 “Napoleon’s March” is directly below the gay rights info-graphic. “Napoleon’s March” is a visual representation of the 1812-1813 march on and retreat from Moscow. The horizontal line graph is the army – in tan, as they headed to Moscow, and in black as they retreated. Time is on the x-asis, and he included the temperatures as the dwindling army retreated. The graph is also a map – with distances and directions included in the shape of the line, and symbolized cities and difficult river crossings. The width of the line represents the size of the army. The fact that it is hand-made is stunning. In 2013 Norbert Landsteiner made Minard’s masterpiece interactive – allowing users to drag a knob through the details of the retreat. (Check it out at http://www.masswerk.at/minard/) Among Minard’s living admirers is Edward Tufte, whose work has made him a respected authority, if not the respected authority, on the subject of data display. His four books on information design are Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983, 2001), Envisioning Information (1990), Visual Explanations (1997) and Beautiful Evidence (2005).

    Data visualization allows for the communication of multiple dimensions of data, which is particularly helpful in a fast-paced, impatient, stimulus-seeking society. Colorful visualizations, interactive or not, are a key tool in creating a more informed citizenry. The potential benefits are easy to see, pun intended. The subway map is an example of how helpful a visual representation can be in facilitating understanding and use o f physical systems. The visualization of rivers brings the rivers together to compare length, but the added element of an actual image (or relatively accurate rendition) of each makes the comparison richer and potentially more memorable. The educational and practical potential for data visualization is vast. Geographers are among the many practicing and honing the skills of data visualization. Like paragraphs of text, info-graphics should be viewed with a critical and questioning eye. While they appear mathematical in nature, and in fact are incredibly so, there is always some degree of subjectivity in the pursuit of the creator(s).


  4. Data visualizations, or statistical graphics, are used to communicate complex quantitative ideas. The design of statistical visualizations became a topic of the geographic theoretical framework after the quantitative geography movement of the mid 1900’s. Statistician Edward Tufte, in 1980, builds a vocabulary by which to evaluate scientific graphics in the influential book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The images above depict some of the graphic typologies described by Tufte. Those typologies are: data maps (or thematic maps in cartography), time-series, space-time narrative designs, and relational graphics. Each typology has its own history of development and each contain examples of communicating information efficiently and elegantly.
    Cartographic and statistical skills needed for data mapping were found on an ancient Chinese map of the 11th century, which showed graphical representations of city locations, populations, and resources for trade on a scalar square grid. Another seminal statistical sample is Dr. John Snow’s map of cholera deaths, plotted with points on a map of central London. Visualizing the data geographically gave a stronger analysis of what was causing the cholera to spread than what the data alone could produce.
    Unlike the thematic map, time series plots use grid systems (as depicted in top right image above) as dimensional information and not dimensions of latitude and longitude. Time serves as one of the dimensional axis and produces an easily understandable graphic, one that can compare data to data. An example of a time-series graph that compares data to data well are the graphs of E. J. Marey, a French engineer. In the 1880s, Marey plotted train arrivals and departures relative to stop duration to determine the time and place passing trains intersect.
    Tufte states that graphics that combine geographical space and time-series information is one of the most powerful ways to enhance the qualitative and quantitative reading. Multivariate displays of information, when done well, condense complex information into a single image. An excellent example of what Tufte calls “narrative graphics of space and time” is Charles Joseph Minard’s map (1861) of the fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia (left center image above). The map combines geographic location, size of the army, direction of travel, temperature, and time in a “rich, coherent story” and “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn”.
    The final data visualization typology discussed by Tufte is that of relational graphics. Relational graphics do not coordinate to exact geographical locations but are abstract representations based on analogy. Tufte offers several examples from physical science but considered here is the use of the relational graphic typology in the London Underground Map (bottom right image above). The map is ordered over an easily readable grid of vertical, horizontal, and perfect 45 degree angled routes. Distances and locations are not actual and only relative to the map, abstracting real geographic locations into a new order.
    With the potentials held by computer graphics, it is important for geographers and cartographers alike to understand the theoretical framework in which a visualization is created and shared. Tufte recommends that a good visualization will direct the recipient toward content and understanding information rather than toward questioning methodology. (Tufte 1983)
    Tufte, Edward R. 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

  5. Edward Tufte is a statistician, author, artist, and former professor who has written a number of books (and given a number of lectures) on information visualization—the topic for which he is most well-known and considered authoritative. Based on my crash-course research for this assignment, his design philosophy has a few simple but far-reaching tenets. Data is the vital organ of information architecture. Data, rather than preconceived notions or set standards, should inform design. Appropriate form shouldn’t be dictated by what graph or projection is commonly used or considered most aesthetically appealing, but rather what form is most effective as a vehicle for the data.

    And this is the primary goal in designing data visualizations: to provide information, to facilitate critical thinking on the part of viewers. Elements not contributing to this goal are superfluous. As Tufte remarked, “Clutter and overload are not an attribute of information; they are failures of design. If your information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information. Instead, fix the design” (Tufte, 2013). That isn’t to say that Tufte is a minimalist; indeed, in regards to data, he advised “To clarify, add detail” (Tufte, 2008). But all the stuff in data visualization should work towards coherently presenting data, towards layering additional informational dimensions into the 2D displays at our disposal (To Tufte, flatlands).

    In many ways, then, the creators of information visualizations—illustrators, cartographers, scientists—are not primarily artists or visionaries (or even scientists), but rather translators pulling from the entirety of their design vocabulary in order to solely (and wholly) communicate the story of the data to their audience. Put another way but in a similar vein, “If your display isn’t worth a thousand words, to hell with it” (Tufte, 2013).

    The images above are illustrative of these principles in action—the prioritization and maximization of data, the critical use of space, the minimization of extraneous stuff. The top left image, for instance, shows how gay rights vary across US states with each sliver representing a state, grouped by region, and each concentric area representing a different right (marriage, adoption, hate crime protection) and degree of adoption (present, not present, partially, not clear). The infographic, then, shows 7 information points, along a 4-point continuum, for all 50 states—many-dimensioned data—yet it is still easy to decipher and compare. The metro map in the bottom right is a similar case—lots of lines, lots of stops, but structured to be decoded.

    In both of these cases, and in the 1812 French invasion of Russia infographic (center left), one of the extraneous features to the information design is geographic accuracy. States aren’t arranged in circles, trains don’t run in simple, geometric lines, and you couldn’t use the 1812 map to navigate from Paris to Moscow. The data is spatial, tied to actual on-the-ground locations, but the “mapping” employed ventures away from globes and projections, and to optimize the display of the information, this makes sense. After all, it is the integrity of the data that matters, not that it’s shaped like Texas.

    Tufte, Edward. (2008) iPhone Resolution. [video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YslQ2625TR4

    Tufte, Edward. (2013) Tech@State: Data Visualization – Keynote. [video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9Y4SxgfGCg

  6. Data visualization is, in my opinion, the best way to represent information that is to be assimilated, stored, and later on retrieved by individuals in a quick and effective manner. Unlike Cognitive Maps which are based in stored memories, Data visualization utilizes a specific data set that is to be transformed from statistic or verbal contents to visual content. In a way, an individual could utilized data visualization to create future cognitive maps.

    Data visualizations are not numerical, physical or topographic representations. They serve one propose only: communicate information. They are graphs, diagrams, cartographic tools, symbolic graphics.They present quantitive information in ways that can be interpreted fast and accurately.

    Data visualizations is defined as the presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format. It enables decision makers to see analytics presented visually, so they can grasp difficult concepts or identify new patterns (https://www.sas.com/en_us/insights/big-data/data-visualization.html).
    It involves the creation and study of the visual representation of data, meaning “information that has been abstracted in some schematic form, including attributes or variables for the units of information”. (1)

    Data visualization can be presented in the form of bar charts, histograms, scatter plot, network, streamgraph, treemap, etc. The style to use is determined most of the time by the type of data set collected.

    Edward Tufte, a statistician, professor of political and computer sciences at Harvard, is considered to be at the front of the movement to utilize this systems in portraying information. However, others like Charles Jospeh Minard used this technique in the 19th century. Minard utilized graphics to create a cartographic tool that represented Napoleon’s losses during his failed military campaign against Russia.

    Tufte encourages the use of data-rich illustrations that presented all available data. When such illustrations are examined closely, every data point has a value, but when they are looked at more generally, only trends and patterns can be observed. Tufte suggests these macro/micro readings be presented in the space of an eye-span, in the high resolution format of the printed page, and at the unhurried pace of the viewer’s leisure.(2)

    The most utilized and recognized example of Data Visualization is found in the city of London and it is used by millions of people every day: The London Underground. This subterranean transportation system developed a cartographic representation of all its routes including stops, connections, and destinations. The map itself does not represent at all what the surface really is like. However, Londoners have grown accustomed to it graphic representation that the underground map of the city is better known that the actual city itself. Lines do not run in North-South or East -West fashion but are recognized as so because they serve they intended purpose. The “Tube”, as is referred to by the locals, is used by 4.8 million people per day and it is easy to traverse because the simplicity and effectiveness of the Data Visualization presented in a simple cartographic manner.

    1. Michael Friendly (2008). “Milestones in the history of thematic cartography, statistical graphics, and data visualization”.
    2. Wikipedia

  7. In geography, spatial data visualization is the key to conveying research and results in the most approachable way possible. More often than not in geography, this comes through in the science of cartography. In Borden D. Dent’s “Cartography: Thematic Mapping Essentials”, Dent states that “the goal of cartographic design is to convey thought in graphic form as simply as possible. The contents may be simple, based on routinely derived measures, or complex, based on lengthy and sophisticated data compilations.” While speaking directly about mapping, there are many forms of geographic data visualization in which Dent’s words prove true. As we have looked at throughout the semester, spatial data can move beyond mere reference or thematic maps and some of the most powerful representations of data lack overt spatial connections. This reminds me of the research I did on distance decay in spatial interactions from Peter J. Taylor. The first two figures of the essay both portrayed migration data within countries: one figure was a general outline of the Great Britain with graduated circles across the landscape that represented the amount of the population moving to London and the other was a space-less figure with completely separated lines representing where a person moved from one place to another within Sweden. While the Great Britain map gave a great sense of the general movements of the population within the area, the Sweden map (with much less spatial-grounded detail) was able to convey a real sense of independent motivation and thought concerning the individual citizens’ movements. These maps, though thematically similar, convey entirely different feelings to the viewer because of the way the designers chose to visualize their own data. In the collage, we see a set of graphics that convey geographic data. While they do retain a graphic goal of being aesthetically pleasing like exists in cartography, the main goal of these visualizations is to assist the viewer gain the information they need in the simplest way possible. In the case of the transit lines graphic, that means stripping unnecessary geographic detail from the image as the relative locations and layout of the lines themselves conveys everything the viewer needs to know already. In Edward Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”, at one point he remarks that “occasionally artfulness of design makes a graphic worthy of the Museum of Modern Art, but essentially statistical graphics are instruments to help people reason about quantitative information” (91). When it comes to statistical graphics as art, my mind can’t help but think about Charles Joseph Minard whose representation of Napolean’s Russian Campaign of 1812 from the mid-19th century is a pioneering work in the field of graphic design and thematic mapping that was able to establish a visually powerful portrayal of quantity as well as direction to his data. The upper left image of Gay rights by type throughout the different regions of the U.S. visualizes data in a colorful, mosaic-esque way that immediately lets the viewer understand the large amount of data being presented and also draw geographic conclusions in a way that isn’t overtly represented by the visualization.
    Dent, Borden D. “Cartography: Thematic Mapping Essentials”
    Tufte, Edward. “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”
    Taylor, Peter J. “Distance Decay in Spatial Interactions”

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