The Lighter Side of Visualization

The other day, I posted some thoughts on why I think data visualization has recently become more popular. Among the reasons I mentioned was the fact that visualizations have become more familiar and accessible. Along the way, lots of creative people have begun to create visualizations for things that aren't typically displayed in charts, maps, or other graphical representations.

Things like song lyrics. Or video games. Or the minutiae of their lives. Seriously.

Let's start with song lyrics... over the last few weeks, lots of people have begun to upload charts that represent the lyrics from popular music. I caught wind of it via some blogs posts a while back and have cracked up at some of the charts people are creating. As always, a picture is worth a thousand words (or a hit song).

Extreme Lack of Sunshine

Venn Diagram - Police The chart above (from Flickr user Nusm) is a graphic representation of Bill Withers' song, "Ain't No Sunshine". The one to the right (from user jrgkgb1) is from "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" by the Police.

There is a Flickr Photo Pool called "Song Chart" where some very creative people have been adding more and more examples. Some of them are obscure songs that I don't recognize, while others are from popular music and instantly recognizable.

The pool appears to have been started by Flickr user "boyshapedbox", who is himself responsible for dozens of great examples. The first one I came across, was a Venn diagram of "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics. Instantly familiar.

Hold Your Head UpOne awesome response to the "Sweet Dreams" diagram came from commenter "elizaday418":

"well. who am i to disagree?"

If you're familiar with the song, that's hilarious. If you're not... trust me, it's still hilarious.

As you might guess, the goal with most of these is not necessarily to create "academically correct" data representations. The goal is simply to entertain, which I think is an important part of raising an awareness and understanding of modern data visualization.

Most readers and consumers of information are familiar with basic chart types -- lines, bars, and pies. What people are not always aware of are which types of charts and diagrams are best for what they want to communicate. Newer, less traditional charts are also starting to be increasingly used - such as the treemaps used in utility programs and this timeline-based area chart used last week in the New York Times to show box office receipts over time. As the art and science of visualization advances, expressing humor in visual form is a great way to maintain interest among readers.

Charting Attraction Graphic designer Joel Friesen created a slideshow of charts and diagrams as a way to express why a woman should date him. Pie charts are used to express the number of people who think he's nice versus the number that think otherwise. A line chart is used to represent the levels of his wit, sexiness, and charm over the years. Potential dates will be glad to see that the "number of puppies kicked" chart remains a flat line at zero. Unfortunately for Joel, the woman he created the charts for left ultimately left him. And stole his rice cooker. Thankfully, he had an awesome set of charts he could turn into a humorous "letter to shareholders  for Joel, Inc." (included at the above URL).

Projects such as “online dating” have opened up entire fields that were, up till now, totally ignored. I have increased personal appearances in dating activities such as “the pub”. Meeting one on one with potential clients has increased the likelihood of acquiring dates.

Similarly, Craig Robinson has created a series of pie charts to serve as an "audit of my life so far." Some of them are hilarious, such as "% of life living with a beard" or "% of neighbors I've been friends with", while others are more somber, such as "% of life that my father was alive". The top of the presentation features small photos of Craig, taken throughout his life at 4-5 year intervals.

Yak Milk Tea - A Must-Avoid Nicholas Felton has created a "personal annual report" for the last three years (see 2005, 2006, and 2007). These incorporate more than just pie charts, though and, in addition to being humorous visualizations of data, they're also wonderful pieces of art. Given the detailed tracking in the content, they also leave me wondering how Nicholas manages to log some of this information throughout the year. His reports have included number of flights taken (including their relationship to distance to the moon), average temperatures throughout the year, house plants killed, museums visited, date of discovery for first gray hair, quantities of taxi and subway trips, and restaurant visits by food type. Awesome.

One other talented designer to point out is Jessica Hagy, who creates small charts and diagrams at her "indexed" blog -- each entry is simply an index card with a humorous visualization. How she manages to put one or two of these up each day and keep them so fresh and entertaining is beyond me. A collection of her work is now available in book form. For example:


Some other miscellaneous examples:


Ok readers (both of you)... which ones have I missed? Make me laugh.