Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Latest in Statistical Graphics

In a recent gushing review, The Economist made Data Points: Visualization that Means Something by Nathan Yau (Wiley, 2013) sound like the elusive "Tufte for the 21st-Century" discussed in an earlier post (Statistical Graphics: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, June 21, 2013). Alas, it's not. Much of it is just inferior re-hash of old 20th-century Tufte. Nevertheless I like it and I'm glad I bought it. Among other things, there are some really cute examples, like this one showing the available colors of Crayola crayons over time.

Published by Stephen Von Worley. Designed by Velociraptor. See links below.

(Yes, I know it's not original to Yau, and I know it's comparatively easy to use clever color in a Crayola graphic, but still...) Crayola also brings back good memories: I was a user/fan in the 64-color days of 1958-1972, not only for the awesome 64 colors but also for the totally-cool tiered box with built-in sharpener!

Perhaps most interesting is Yau's final chapter, where he offers opinions on graphics software environments. (After all, he spends his life doing this stuff, so it's interesting to learn his preferences.) At a high "canned" level, he likes Tableau, the "Tableau Public" version of which is free. Well, nothing is really free, and Tableau Public follows an interesting paradigm: the price of using the web-based software is that users must upload their data so that others can use it.

But readers of this blog will be more interested in lower-level scientific software that allows for significant graph customization.  In that regard, and not surprisingly, Yau is an R fan. (See my earlier post, Research Computing / Data / Writing Environments, May 31, 2013.) He basically does all his graphics in R, but quite interestingly, he doesn't like to tune his graphs completely in R. Instead, he finalizes them using illustration software like the open-source Inkscape. Hmmm...

Yau's book also introduced me to his blog, FlowingData, which is interesting and entertaining. Also see Data Pointed, a fine blog by scientist and artist Sephen Von Worley, the author of the Crayola graphic above. And if you're really a Crayola maven, see his post, Somewhere Over the Crayon-Bow.

Finally, and ironically, the most interesting thing about Yau's book is not explicitly discussed in it, yet it lurks massively throughout: Big Data and its interaction with graphics. More on that soon.