13. Data visualisation

In the wake of the emergence of data journalism, another practice has become firmly rooted in the media landscape: data visualisation. Or how to display complex and technical data in such a way that they can be understood at a glance.

Formatting and colouring data

Establishing which data you want to include in a visualisation is one thing, determining the correct visualisation for that data is another. In this field, there is of course no definitive answer and if you are lucky enough to work with a developer and/or designer, you can always find ad hoc solutions to create your visualisation.

Having said that, newsrooms do not always have the financial resources to put so many specialists to work on a visualisation and you will need to know a few ground rules to make sure you do not mislead your readership.

Choose your visualisation carefully

Let us discuss the format first of all. A distribution, an evolution over time and the result of a vote are not presented in the same manner. The simplest way to determine how to present the data that you have is to use this tool developed by the Financial Times.

There are no rules really carved in stone when it comes to the colours that you are going to use for your visualisation, but a little common sense never goes amiss. Let us use the example of the result of an election. If you are creating a visualisation of the political balance in an assembly, it is often a good idea to show left-wing politicians in pink or red, right-wing politicians in blue and environmentalists in green. Try to mix these colours and you will see that the visualisation will become incomprehensible.

A few tools that are easy to use

There are several free online tools available that you can use to try out some simple visualisations. Datawrapper, which is very streamlined and easy to use, is used in many newsrooms for visualisations of both unemployment figures and annual budget breakdowns.

Infogram is more complex to use, but it will allow you to go beyond simple visualisation production. You will be able to create content with text, embedded videos, etc.