Data Visualization

I was stumbling across the Intertube and found this little gem from Ben Fry, author of Data Visualization.


As you type a zip code, it filters possible matches in real-time. It is a very interesting way to visualize how the roughly 43,000 US zip codes are organized. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. I wonder how many an interactive data visualization is worth?

I would say quite a bit. Check out the information asthetics blog. Data has never looked so good. This topic also reminded me of a Ted Talk from a couple of years back by Hans Rosling: Debunking Third-World Myths With the Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen. Watch below.

Now if we could only bring this type of data visualization into the classroom. This goes beyond simple Excel spreadsheet graphs. Not that there is anything wrong with a bar graph. However, these new ways to look at information help us understand the represented data in ways that are not possible otherwise.

It is also terribly important to include this literacy in today’s K-20 education. David Warlick puts it best when he says we need to redefine reading, writing, and arithmetic into the three E’s. Expose, Employ, and Express. Which help prepare students for a future political, economic, and personal experience that is largely driven by information. Part of dealing with the wealth of information available today is representing it in ways that makes sense to the learner. This is why expressing information through good design is now just as important as the data itself.

Here are a couple of cool tools I know of:

  • Visual Thesaurus – Visualize relationship between words. Not free, but allows you to try it out a few times.
  • Baby Name Wizard Voyager – See the relationship between names and their popularity in the past.
  • Newsmap – Visually represents trend from the Google News aggregator.
  • TouchGraph Amazon Browser – Type in the name of a book, movie, or music and it will create a visualization of the relationships between related material. They also have browsers for Google and Facebook.
  • Crappy Graphs – One of my favorites. While not based on true data, it does provide a way to make a point or clearly state something. For example:

Know of any others? Make sure to leave it in the comments.

Design as project

Most people have heard of Cafe Press, a website for selling custom t-shirts and other garb. After reading A Whole New Mind this last summer I have been thinking quite a bit about education through design. I wonder if anyone is using Cafe Press as part of project based learning, where students design t-shirts and/or other items and sell them. This would create a tie into the so-called real world that would get kids interested in learning. How cool would it be if they designed and sold real merchandise? I think we too often demonize anything to do with money in schools. Odd being that we are training them to operate in a capitalist society.

Anyways, this idea was clicked up a notch when I saw the website Ponoko in this months Wired. Ponoko gives the everyone access to professional designers. You come up with the idea for an object, submit it to their website, and they turn your idea into a real product you can sell. This goes well beyond the t-shirt building you can do on Cafe Press. Imagine students coming up with a brand new product that has never been made. So many opportunities to learn something. Now I just need to come up with an idea myself.