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Make Pretty and Helpful: Visualizing User Data

January 5, 2011

in design,inspiration

For the last month I have spent 30 to 40 minutes each morning with the New York Times. Not the online version but a real paper, inky fingers and all. It’s been wonderful! Afterward, I felt more articulate, more awake. Historically I have always taken those first foggy moments to read email and online news while my coffee brings me to life. But later when I’d try to recall what I had read or where, it was a struggle. The daily dose of digital reading seemed to blur into an indecipherable pile of mush. Maybe I should stick with StumbleUpon pre-coffee?

How we consume large quantities of information has always mattered and with so much to take in, it makes sense that data visualization has sustained its popularity. A well-crafted infographic can take less than a second to convey its message, while a spreadsheet can take hours. What about the reigning champ of the web, what about content?

In December, LinkedIn decided to dip it’s toe into data scraping their user base and came up with a depressing post about the 10 most overused ‘buzzwords’ of 2010. Le sigh. Clever pack leaders like OkCupid’s, OkTrends, dish out fascinating; often uncomfortable but beautifully illustrated charts and graphs of user data (Big Lies People Tell… was awkwardly enlightening). So you’d think LinkedIn could have been a little more creative or helpful. A chart of trending words to avoid in 2011? A graph of less used ‘classics’ to replace our cliché vocabulary?

Simply put: don’t make me feel crappy without a clear way to fix it.

If I am to feel bad at least show me some social or economic data viz worth understanding; the brilliant work of Dr. Hans Rosling comes to mind.

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