Peter Warren, the creator of OpenHeatMap and writer at O'Reilly Radar, just wrote a nice post on how to create a data visualization. I really appreciate that he is able to write linearly about what always feels to me like a somewhat random process. I find myself looking at a spreadsheet, for example, and going zen... What's interesting here? What does this tell me? What wasn't I expecting?
Warren's steps to data viz creation are:
- Play with your data -- explore what information is available and get a feeling for what stories it can tell.
- Pick a question -- what will I be doing? Chose the exact title you want to give your visualization.
- Sketch out your presentation -- figuring out how to show the information in a visual form. (Granted, this feels to me like "and here the magic happens".)
- Crunch the data -- make sure your queries are effective, and that you can turn the raw information into a form that can be displayed meaningfully.
- Build an interface -- enable interactivity between the data and users. Let other people to have as much fun exploring the data as you had.
- Find the surprises -- Take the time to sit and play with the results. Little details are the stories that catch people's imagination and cause them to spread the word about your visualization.