Sometimes it takes a lot of coffee and thinking and sketching to figure out the best way to visualize data. Yesterday on my bus ride between Phnom Penh and Sihanouk, Cambodia, I was struck with the opposite problem: I can think up many, many ways to express my country-bouncing over the last three months. This is the fun part with data viz. I have the data points, I have the idea of what I want to tell you about, now I just need to figure out how displaying the data in slightly different ways can tell a completely different story. Let’s start with the boring, texty description of what I want to visualize, and I’ll walk through each of the ways (Options 1-4) I can visualize it for different effects.
OPTION 1: WRITING IT OUT
When asked where I’ve been in the past 3 months (my colleague recently emailed, “where in the world is Steph these days?!”), I have a slightly complicated answer of the countries and the odd order I chose to travel. I spent a week in NYC with my friend and then started in Thailand for 12 nights, traveled to Singapore for 2 nights, Malaysia for 20 nights, back to Thailand for 7 nights, Vietnam for 30 nights, and then to Cambodia for 12 nights (technically not yet 12 days, since I’m publishing this on the 27th of April, but I know I’ll at least be in Cambodia until mid May).
Okay, that’s the meat of the data points. Boring? Yes. I hate reading anything that could be easier to understand in a visual format. You get the facts, and this is the short answer I give people who ask (probably as part of the top 10 questions we all start with).
OPTION 2: CALENDAR VIEW
This is my favorite way to visualize data that has to do with dates. It’s also the best visual I’ll share that adds the interpretation needed to understand why my travel is less straight-forward than just country-to-country. In the calendar, you can see where I doubled back into Thailand. You also get a better sense of where I spent most of my time (Vietnam so far). In Option 1, mentioning Singapore takes up so much more text space than the little blip on the calendar the time there is allotted. I’m also quite partial to anyhting that looks like a Google Calendar, because if you know me well you know my life is run on Google Calendar.
OPTION 3: GRAPH
This option is okay, but it only answers the questions of “what countries have you been to?” and “how long were you there for?” You don’t get the extra information about the pattern of where I went and in what order, which feels important to me. I think my opinions of places have changed as I have more experience in Asia; I can’t imagine having Vietnam as my first taste in Asia and staying for as long as I did. Seeing this graph doesn’t show the countries I visited before Vietnam and how maybe you could conclude that I started traveling more slowly since it was deeper into my travels and I was tired of moving around so quickly. Either way, this graph is the same data as the text in Option 1.
OPTION 4: MAP
I’m not a big fan of maps, other than to give an idea to those not familiar with geography of how far I’ve actually traveled in the last three months. I’ll be the first to admit I was not knowledgeable in the slightest about Asia’s geography before I started planning to come out here. I couldn’t point out Malaysia on the map and I had no concept of distance between places. Maybe this map will help fill in the visual with spatial information in addition to the other options above, however I think the interpreation of this is pretty much garbage other than to help process where on a map I was. I would even argue the nights spent in each country doesn’t really belong on this map and it just jumbles up the interpretation.
For those with good US geography skills, some context to the distances: From South to North (Singapore to Hanoi), I’ve traveled about the length of Miami, Florida to Lansing, Michigan. From West to East (Ko Phi Phi to Nha Trang), I’ve traveled about the length of Chicago, Illinois to New York City.
That’s just the simple stuff so far, thinking about adding context to the data visualizations (like why in the world did I go back to Thailand), or adding extra data points (cities in each country, average cost of a day in each country) makes the data visualization more complex. I’m worked up and dreaming up of the next few things to create and share, more to come.
Interested to hear what you think! Does one type of data viz connect with you more than others? Curious how I made these? Want to hire me to create something for you? All of these questions can be answered if you send me an email.