Review of Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data Through the Eyes of Experts

Posted on 08/01/2013 by

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Edit:
You can buy the book off of amazon here: Beautiful Visualization on Amazon.com

I just finished reading the excellent book Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data through the Eyes of Experts, and I have to say, I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in either data visualization or basic data analytics.

There are twenty chapters, with many of the authors having been featured in other books and websites. I have seen a few of the O’Reilly Beautiful Series, and I particularly liked the book about Data Analytics, Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions. Similarly, Beautiful Visualization goes into great detail as to how each individual author confronted a problem and arrived at a creative solution.

Essentially, each essay discusses how the author approached raw, complex data to create a story. This approach is often one of using software, such as Processing, in novel ways. Authors cover themes as diverse as hierarchical trees, time-variant datasets, and geographically-based data—such as with the well-known Flight Patterns visualization by Aaron Koblin.
Flight Patterns
This was, in fact, one of my favorite chapers. Although most of the information in the book can be found elsewhere online, I liked having the book in my hand as reference. It was tangible, easily accessible, and really good looking. It really did help inspire some of my recent work with a school district (unfortunately I cannot show any of the images publicly). Similarly, I am working on a couple of websites, and the chapter by Jer Thorp, data-artist-in-residence at the New York Times, went into some detail about how he visualized the New York Times API. I particularly thought his edges were quite cool, although I still have a soft spot for Holten’s Hierarchical Edge Bundles (See my post here or the original paper here).
bundled hiearrarchy2

My primary job is a high school math teacher, and I love my job. However, I also work part-time in data analytics consulting, especially with school districts, and I found quite a bit of value in demonstrating the process of creating novel and interactive visualizations. Each chapter featured one artist with a specific piece of work, detailing the process from inspiration to the final deliverable.

However, I will say that this is clearly not a beginner’s how-to book. Similarly, it does not simply present a bunch of pretty screenshots without any context. It is interesting, even without a highly technical background. It is directed, focused, and tells a good story about how the authors created their visual narrative. Even though I personally was seeking more work by individuals with intensive statistics experience at the moment, as most of my work has more of a data analytics bent than a visualization one, I ended up reading the book cover to cover. I had a great time reading it, and would recommend it to anyone interested in data visualization or analytics.

Edit:
You can buy the book off of amazon here: Beautiful Visualization on Amazon.com

Works Cited:
Steele, Julie, and Noah Iliinsky, eds. Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data through the Eyes of Experts. O’Reilly Media, 2010. Print.

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