In order to present complex information in a quick and efficient way we see a growing use of infographics. Not only in sciences but also in journalism we see that more and more often infographics are used. A recent announcement of an on-line course by Alberto Cairo, the author of the book “The Functional Art”, has already set its counter to over 1700 subscriptions within a few days. The rapid growth of the number of submissions on websites like visual.ly and easel.ly show that more and more people find their way into this field too.
Dashboards with infographics, or more
Maps and mapping are an important group within the infographics. But when we look at the many manuals that appear on websites on how to create infographics there is actually not a real list of tools available for this type of presentation. I look at the infographics from my field of geo-information where we are often confronted with questions on how to present large amounts of complex data, for example with customers that want to have a quick and clear insight in the current state of their assets.
What many companies would like to have is Business Intelligence-like dashboards, but with the ability to ask questions in a GIS way, and then to present the results in a infographics manner. Is that too much to ask? It should not be, and in the last years I have seen many very nice examples on presenting location data in a way that comes close.
ESRI, the giant in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), offers us many ways to present location linked data. With some basic knowledge and the great geo data collection that comes with the software you can quickly produce some basic maps. You can even do the statistics behind the maps within the software. But let me stress that I did on purpose use the word “basic” twice in previous line! GIS and dealing with geo data is a complex discipline. Besides the software is rather expensive for when you want to use it every now and then. Apart from ESRI there are other alternatives that offer ways to store, analyze, and present your geo data. Examples of other software are Mapinfo, Bentley Map, and GeoMedia.
An open source alternative is QGIS, an aggregation of Quantum and GIS. QGIS is a very good tool when it comes to the creation of maps every now and then. Contrary to ESRI ArcGIS it is more difficult to install, although much has improved recently. A page you should definitely see when it comes to learning how to do the basic GIS operations is “how to perform basic GIS operations in QGIS in the most straightforward way“. It has a some neat tricks. When it comes to the data there are also many open source inventories.
And after you have worked (or struggled) with the tools for a while you will probably find out that we are still far from the dashboard that I mentioned above.
One thing that I want to mention is that map making is a profession too. Mapping is more than just plotting your data on a map that you have found on the Internet, or in a template that comes with your office suite. But do not get me wrong, first rule is that you pick the base layer that suits the job. Over the years I have been to many great conferences that primarily focused on how to present geo data, to know that you can make big mistakes there too. Unfortunately that is what I see happening in more and more infographics. Although the learning curve is steep, GIS can be of great use here.
Let me conclude to tell you: there is a long way to go, but there is definitely a great link between GIS and infographics. More on both, and especially on how to map your data, is to come.
Continued in part 2