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Visualisation for Everyone

“Every day, every hour, maybe even every minute, we’re looking [at] and absorbing information via the web. We’re steeped in it. Maybe even lost in it. So perhaps what we need are well-designed, colourful and – hopefully useful charts to help us navigate” – David McCandless Author of Information is Beautiful, 2009.

London’s datastore is home to a huge vault of information about the capital. With more than 200 datasets to choose from, it’s easy to imagine an individual floundering among numbers.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be an expert in either data visualisation techniques or software design to begin to unearth some of the stories hidden beneath the columns and rows. There now exists an ever-growing range of open-source (free!) tools on the web to assist you in making sense of the numbers. Want to know how the relationship between two variables has changed over time? Grab yourself a Google account, paste your data into their spreadsheets and with a few clicks you can produce something like this . . .

If you’re struggling to make sense of where the GLA gets its funding from and how it’s allocated, why not try using another of Google’s ready made templates to create your own tree diagram like the one below. Now you can get a very quick idea of how much funding is allocated to Transport for London compared with the London Development Agency and where the majority of that money is sourced from. Clicking on an organisation reveals the funding received in thousands of pounds

Google aren’t the only software giants to offer a helping hand in visualising your data. The IBM supported Many Eyes site offers a user-friendly interface suitable for all levels of experience. Easy to build charts can be linked to from your website or report. Those of you feeling a little more adventurous can even embed the visualisations into a web-page like the ones in this blog. Interactive charts like the one below (showing the changing population of London’s boroughs since 1801), can be created in minutes using historic census data downloaded from the datastore.

So . . . with more data about London available than ever before, have a look around the datastore, pick a topic that interests you, and try building your own visualisation. If you do find a hidden gem amongst the numbers, be sure to let us know. We will even feature your work in the inspirational uses section of the site.

Richard Walker

Further examples of visualisations:

David McCandless runs the information is beautiful site, with a huge array of different ideas for presenting data.

The Department for Communities & Local Government run the improving visualisation site with helpful hints and tips aimed at improving the quality of visual representations of data.

The Guardian Datablog is updated daily with visualisations of topical datasets such as the distribution of cases of swine flu.

The GLA has recently launched the London Parliamentary Constituency Profiles 2010 using Instant Atlas software to map data across the constituencies.