Free data journalism courses in Learno

Here is a very useful quality resource for anyone interested in data journalism, data visualization and journalism on the web. LEARNO.NET is a website with free video courses for media professionals, journalism students and “anyone with a public-interest mission and a journalistic mindset”. LEARNO.NET is an initiative of the European Journalism Centre (EJC), a non-profit foundation dedicated to strengthen journalism by providing tools and resources, including training.

EJC also runs, a hub for news, resources and networking in data journalism.

Many of the available courses are related to data visualization and infographics, with a focus on how to effectively work with data and produce compelling data stories. They range from simple introductions to advanced skills. Instructors are among the very best in their specialties, including Alberto Cairo, Maarten Lambrechts, Simon Rogers and more.

The list of available courses is short but very compelling. Three are very recent:
Cleaning Data in Excel, by Maarten Lambrechts
Data visualization, journalism and the web: mistakes we made so you don’t have to, by Jonathon Berlin
Going viral using using social media analytics, by Stijn Debrouwere

And these are the rest:
Doing journalism with data: first steps, skills and tools, by Paul Bradshaw, Alberto Cairo, Steve Doig, Simon Rogers and Nicolas Kayser-Bril
Charting tools for the newsroom, by Maarten Lambrechts (upcoming)
Verification: the basics, by Craig Silverman and Claire Wardle
Managing data journalism projects, by Jacopo Ottaviani
Google search for journalists, by Nicholas Whitaker
– Bulletproof data journalism, by Stijn Debrouwere

It’s great initiative and we are hoping to see more courses in the near future.



ArcGIS maps in Illustrator and Photoshop

Design and communication professionals should be really excited about a recent development in mapping: ArcGIS maps for the Adobe Creative Cloud.

GIS (Geographic Information System) software links location information in the form of databases with latitude and longitude coordinates to different types of information: demographic data to census tracts or divisions, election results to states, land use to natural or urban areas, etc. The user decides what layers (which may come from government or private sources) are going to be combined in order to visualize, analyze, and interpret the data to show relationships, patterns, and trends. As I mentioned in a previous post, GIS packages such as ESRI’s ArcGIS are rarely used by designers or news infographics departments as they are expensive, difficult to learn specialized tools normally used by GIS analysts and cartographers. With very, very few exceptions, those designers and graphics editors limit themselves to fairly basic mapping techniques that don’t take advantage of the power of GIS to uncover patterns through spatial analysis of large datasets.

The partnership between ESRI and Adobe offers ArcGIS functions within Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop via an extension or plugin. Designers can access thousands of data-driven map layers inside the Adobe programs as vectors or raster files, and play with colors, layers and styles to customize the maps using the familiar tools of Illustrator and Photoshop.

Creating maps with the extension is fairly straightforward. Without leaving Illustrator and Photoshop you define the area extent, size and scale of the base map, then search for data map layers (street maps, political boundaries, terrain, satellite images, election data, demographic information, economic indicators, environmental, etc), and finally you add/download the map to your Adobe workspace. It’s then already arranged in layers and ready to edit and polish by manipulating colors, appearance and fonts with the usual Illustrator and Photoshop tools.

You can get the beta version here. It has been available for a while, and the first full version is slated for release in the second Quarter of 2017, with no specific date yet (it’s been delayed before). Some of the functions are clunky and/or slow, but it is definitely great news and I can imagine how in few years this may become an essential tool for infographics designers to create and publish advanced data maps. You do require a subscription to ArcGIS Online (pricing info here) to be able to sign in but there is a trial version available.

Here is an introduction showing the capabilities of the plugin and how it works, and a longer, more recent video with added detail:

All images by ESRI





Annual report for UNICEF USA

We recently finished a nice project designing the infographics and charts for the 2016 Annual Report of UNICEF USA. We worked under the creative direction of UNICEF’s Anna Christian to create a series of simple, bold data and information visual summaries.

UNICEF USA helps save and protect the world’s most vulnerable children. Rated one of the best charities to donate to, 90% of every dollar spent goes directly to help children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a United Nations programme that provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.

All the online winners of the Malofiej Infographics Awards

We just found a fantastic site by J. A. Álvarez (@infoiguacel) that compiles all the online winners of the 25th edition of the Malofiej Infographics Awards. You can filter by type of award, country, and readership. What a source of inspiration! Big thanks to @infoiguacel for putting this together.

The winners of the Malofiej Awards were announced a couple of weeks ago. The Malofiej Summit is held every year in Pamplona (Spain) and is still, in my opinion, the best event in the world if you want to know what is happening in the field of information graphics and data visualization. Since they are for the most part journalistic work, the graphics have a strong focused on being clear, explanatory and insightful to clarify news events. They are the “Pulitzer of Infographics”. It includes the competition of print and online infographics (over 1300 entries from 134 organizations in 31 countries participated), a 2-day conference that attracts professionals from all over the world and a three-day workshop called “Show Don’t Tell”. The workshop for professionals is taught by Fernando Baptista of National Geographic, Xaquín Gonzalez from The Guardian and John Grimwade from the University of Ohio. It doesn’t get any better than that! I was fortunate to be an instructor for the workshop for 10 years.

This year there was also a workshop for students, taught by Michael Stoll, Professor of the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences.

There is a special bonus from Malofiej. Every year they publish a fantastic book with all the award winners. There is no better source of inspiration for print and online infographics and to see the state of the art, trends and work from different countries.

This year the top prizes (Best of Show) went to Corriere della Sera (Italy) and The New York Times (USA), for the print and online categories respectively, with the graphics ‘Journey of Foreign Fighters’ (shown below) and ‘Olympic Races Social Series’.

Over the years, we at 5W have been lucky to win a few Malofiej Awards (from our previous jobs at the NY Times, National Geographic, Fortune or directly with 5W’s work. Here is my Terracotta Warriors graphic for National Geographic (in collaboration with Pure Rendering GmbH) that won the Best of Show a few years back:

By the way, everybody asks this: what does Malofiej mean? Alejandro Malofiej was an Argentinian cartographer considered to be a pioneer in infographics, who died in 1987. The event was named after him as a tribute. The 25th anniversary is an important milestone. Here is a video tribute to Javier Errea, the President of the Spanish Chapter of SND, who has been the head of Malofiej for the last 17 years. A well deserved recognition!


Our book LOOK INSIDE featured in Fast Company’s Co.Design


CO.DESIGN is great website about the intersection of business and design created by the team of FastCompany  magazine. They just published a nice review of our book Look Inside, by Meg Miller, including some nice samples. You can read it here.


Our new book about cutaways, LOOK INSIDE: Cutaway Illustrations and Visual Storytelling is a showcase of the best, most beautiful and fascinating cutaway illustrations ever created, from historical times to now. Cutaways, exploded views, and cross sections, are explored across a wide range of applications and disciplines. Architectural renderings, anatomical illustrations, machine diagrams, and even fantasy illustrations are just a few of the various subjects presents in this compilation.

LOOK INSIDE is published worldwide by Gestalten and can be ordered in Amazon, at the Gestalten online store or wherever books are sold.

The New Tableau 10


Our Infographics and Data Visualization workshops always include spending a few hours using the free Tableau Public software to create interactive data visualizations with charts and maps on the web. Tableau is a great first step for those interested in data visualization online since it’s fairly easy to learn. The newest version (Tableau 10) was released three months ago and has really nice improvements including a long overdue addition of device responsiveness to visualize data across multiple devices.

We use Tableau during the workshop because it doesn’t require the coding skills necessary to use sophisticated tools such as D3.js, the tool behind many of those amazing interactives of The New York Times and others (although today you can code a nice data visualization in R, for example, with just a few lines of code). Tableau is a great exploratory tool that lets you quickly evaluate different options to visualize you data. We actually use it for print graphics as well after saving files as PDFs.

Tableau is a powerful tool but also a great way of starting to think about key concepts in interactivity: about how to use filters, buttons, navigation tool tips or exploratory dashboards to let readers dive deep in your content. It’s used by thousands of corporations as a Business Intelligence/Analytics tool to visualize their data. The free version is a useful tool for individuals and organizations interested in making data public (remember that with Tableau Public you can’t save files locally, they are all saved to Tableau server and available for anyone to see and to download, including the datasets used. You may prefer the Tableau Desktop version but it’s not cheap).

Some of the new features in Tableau 10 include:

  • Device responsiveness. You can now generate visualizations optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile phones. Although far from perfect, it’s a big step forward in Tableau.
  • Ability to connect to data stored in Google Sheets. You can set to your visualization to refresh automatically every day, if the underlying data in your Google Sheets file changes.
  • A “highlighter” feature gives users added possibilities to sort, find and highlight specific data for ad hoc views and comparisons.
  • Cross-database joins: you can join different data sources within the program.
  • Custom Territories: Create custom areas in maps using the data built into the geocoding database.
  • And finally, a cleaner interface with new iconography, fonts and colors, sporting a cleaner, less cluttered look that I find much nicer.

In addition, the just released Tableau 10.1 includes:

  • JSON support. JSON is common file format for web based data, widely used for API-returned data. This means you can download web-based JSON files and start to visualize them right away.
  • Automatic clustering is very interesting. Tableau helps identifying interesting patterns from the data by automatically generating clusters based of the groupings/categories specified by the user.

Clustering feature. GIF from Tableau Public website

Tableau’s website include great learning resources. If you are looking for a good book to learn it, here is the one I found most useful.

Crime in Milwaukee 3



The power of cartograms and creating them easily


We love the power of cartograms to show thematic data maps because they overcome some of the problems of classic choropleth maps. And they can be beautiful. So it’s exciting to see a promising new tool to create nice cartogram hexmaps automatically. It’s called Tilegrams (for “tiled cartograms”) and it has been developed by Pitch Interactive in collaboration with Google News Labs. But let’s back up a little bit, since many people are not familiar with cartograms in the first place!

A cartogram is a map that actually functions as a chart by distorting the size of geographic areas (such as countries or states) in proportion to numerical values they represent. Here are two nice examples by John Tomanio, Director of Graphics at National Geographic. In the first map, each dot represents a specific number of people—2 million— living in a country. In the second map, each dot represents $20 billion in GDP for that country, as a proxy for consumption. The dramatic, yet entirely accurate data representation allows two different stories to emerge nicely as we see the relative weight of each country for that particular dataset. That’s the power of cartograms (the black circles here represent the same variables a few decades back, for a nice representation of growth over time).


You may say “ok, these look a little weird, why not represent these data in a choropleth map, or in other words using different shades of color in a “normal” map?”. Like the example below. Choroplet maps are ubiquitous and, while they are not incorrect, they are seen by many as misleading. They overrepresent the importance or large areas, and diminish the importance of small ones, just by virtue of their size in the page. If I plot GDP for different countries, for example, a large country with a medium value (say Brazil) “lights up” much more prominently than a country with a higher value such as Singapore, simply because Singapore is tiny and hard to see in the map. See a nice video from Vox here explaining the problem with choropleth maps.


One solution is to give all entities equal area and then use the choropleth technique (different shades of color represent different values). That’s more fair. But we can only show a few classes or “buckets” of data ranges, rather than precise values in each area.


So it may be interesting to resize each area according to the number we want to represent. Some cartograms can be fairly abstract. Instead of using the approximate shapes of countries or states, they use squares, circles or other geometric shapes to represent quantities in highly stylized maps. See this map we did for Fortune, with the number of millionaire households by state in the U.S. (color here represents a second variable, the median household income).


I love this type of cartogram. Here is another one by John Tomanio, a few years ago, for Fortune.


Cartograms can be really striking and powerful. Lately we have seen a comeback, and they were often used by different news organizations in the UK in the recent election cycles. A cartogram of the U.S. can be a nice way to represent that a small state in the East Coast may have many more electoral votes in the general election than a sparsely populated but large Midwest state. Here is the tilegram showing how much each state actually matters (how many electoral votes it holds) in the U.S. Much more telling than showing actual size in the context of election stories! Don’t be misled by how much blue or red you see in typical election maps.


Complex cartograms have been done manually forever, for example in Adobe Illustrator, as in the case of the National Geographic maps. It’s a painstaking process, but human judgement is critical to make sure the composites of little shapes will still resemble the actual map of the area, which is entirely the point if we want to avoid confusion. You have to put them together as a jigsaw puzzle.

We have seen tools that create cartograms working in conjunction with other GIS software tools, but if you ask me, they produce grotesquely deformed maps that are a hard to decipher mess (with that strange fisheye lens effect. You have probably seen them around). I think these are useless:


Tilegrams is a really nice concept, still evolving. It plots U.S. maps using hexagon shapes, which are more versatile than squares to assemble them together in adjoining shapes with different configurations. You can use some preloaded maps (electoral votes, population, etc) or load your own data. Tilegrams allows you to show different levels of resolution. For example, the first map below shows U.S. population with 4 million people represented in each tile. The one below shows 300,000 people per tile. As you would expect, the higher resolution allows us to resemble the shape of the U.S. better (but remember states are meant to be oversized or undersized to represent the values, so the unusual proportions are to be expected.


If the map starts looking a bit too weird you can drag hexagons to move them around. The tool tells the user about the statistical accuracy of each region’s surface area, as it tries to be both accurate and resemble the actual map in a difficult trade-off. You can export the map as a TopoJSON or as a SVG file, a wonderful option since it’s fully editable in Illustrator!

Pitch Interactive explains the tool here, and it continues to develop it. The company is now working on a U.S. county map. It sounds like a daunting task (there are over 3,000 counties in the U.S.). And hopefully one day we can show any country and their divisions in this simple way. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!