Dashboards and Data Viz | Design

Time and space are both dimensions that shape our universe. In data analysis, time has proven to be a fundamental perspective; we measure turnover rates over the course of year; employee engagement rates over the course of a quarter; and customer acquisition rates over the course of weeks. While we as data visualizers have mastered time, the same can’t necessarily be said for space. It’s not too often that we use geographic locations and spatial data around us to measure our successes and failures. But we should!

Visualizing data spatially can allow us to make insights as to what is going on beyond our bubble. In context of our own past data, we may be doing splendidly (or poorly, but let’s hope not!), while in context with our entire city, state, or even country, the opposite may be true. However, we will never know until we expand our perspective beyond time and start using space as a ruler as well.

Data Maps and Geospatial Visualization

 Aside from being great visuals that immediately engage audiences, map data visualizations provide critical context for your metrics. Combining geospatial information with data over time creates a greater scope of understanding. Some benefits of using maps in your data visualization include:

  • A greater ability to more easily understand the distribution of your organization’s presence across the city, state, or country
  • The ability to compare the activity across several locations at a glance
  • More intuitive decision making for company leaders
  • Contextualizing your data in the real world

There is lots of room for creativity when making map dashboards, because there are numerous ways to convey information with this kind of visualization. Let’s take a look at some of the basic map types that are commonly used to explore geographical data:

  • Choropleth, which uses color scales to assign categorical or numerical data to particular regions;
  • Cartograms, which distort the areas of a map to make sure that the data is equally represented on a page or screen;
  • Proportional Symbol, which utilizes circles or another simple shape centered on each region to relay quantitative data;
  • Pinpoint Maps, which can be used to show the exact location of things;
  • Connection Maps, which also use points like Pinpoint Maps, but these points are connected to show correlations;
  • Isopleth Maps, which, as its name implies, show the Range of Quantity; and
  • Prism Maps, which distort the height of locations to convey quantitative data.

It’s important to understand the kinds of maps that are at your disposal while choosing how to geographically represent your data. Using any one of these methods can not only make your data presentations more engaging, but also, it can help you, your employees, and even your customers understand the social and environmental factors that impact your business. Geospatial data lets you explore trends in data across a larger region, helping you to plan and forecast more accurately to develop stronger spatial relationships.

Five Provocative Data Visualizations with Maps

With the rise of data journalism, there’s a new exciting surplus of map data visualizations that demand attention. These are the kinds of data visualizations that spark conversations, provoke questions while answering others, and incite insight. We’ve collected some of our favorite data maps below.

1. The Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.

 NYTimes Upshot: Hardest Places to Live in the US Data Visualization
This map analyzes every county in the U.S. and considers factors such as education, unemployment rate, disability rate, median household income, life expectancy, and obesity to determine, in numbers, the hardest places to live in the United States. A great example of a choropleth, the deep orange color represents the counties that are doing the worst, while the deep blue color represents those that are doing the best. Explore the map further to see how your county compares. (The New York Times)

2. Mapping the Incredible Spread of Million Dollar Homes Across San Francisco

 Saaaanfrancisco Sanfrancisco
California cities seem to make up the majority of the Most Expensive Cities in the U.S., but San Francisco’s wealth is unparalleled. This map tracks the spread of million dollar homes throughout the Bay Area, showing neighborhoods in which homes in the seven figures account for exactly 100% of residences. Talk about insightful data for businesses in the Bay Area, and more specifically, those that cater to the elite. (City Lab)

3. The Racial Dot Map

Race Dot Map Upshot NY Times
Made of precisely 308,745,538 million dots, this dot map is a snapshot of America’s demographics. It provides an accessible visualization of racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the United States. Each dot is color coded to represent the individual “dot’s” ethnicity: blue = Caucasian, green = African American, red = Asian, orange = Hispanic, and brown = Other/Native American/Multi-Racial. This map provides an incredible level of zoom and detail, allowing the user to interact with areas on both a granular and a top-view level. (University of Virginia, Demographics Research Group)

4. Top Brewery Road Trip, Routed Algorithmically

  Brewery Data Visualization Brewery Data Viz Detail

Did you know that out of the top 100 breweries in the world, 72 are located in the U.S? This map takes you to 70 of those (two were omitted from the trip: one because it’s located in Anchorage, AK and the other because the brewery originated in Denmark and the author of the graph thought it might be cheating to include it). Not only does the author take you to the top rated breweries in the contiguous U.S., but also, he does you one better and leads you along routes with the most breweries in between. The result? A road trip that guarantees to take you to at least 1,414 of America’s beer-loving entrepreneurs. (FlowingData)

5. X-Rays of the Ocean

X Rays of Ocean Data Visualization

Ever wonder what influence humans have had on the world’s oceans? Wonder no more! This world map data visualization shows the estimated human impact on the planet’s oceans. The greener the area, the more impact us bipods have had on factors such as fishing and climate change. According to the visual, more than 40% of our oceans have been negatively impacted by our species. Ouch. (FlowingData)

Read next: 19 Inspiring Data Viz Designs

Challenges With Geospatial Data Visualization

Geographical data maps can be a lot of fun, as they have the potential to share information that is relevant to us but that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to fully understand. However, mapping a 3D world onto a 2D visual plane does pose some complications. For starters, when sharing global information, it can be difficult to accurately visualize the world in such a way that is both practical and that helps shape the perspectives of audience members. Some types of map projections that attempt to solve this issue:

  • Cylindrical Map Projections: This is the most commonly used projection in data visualization maps. It uses straight coordinate lines with horizontal parallels that cross at the meridians at right angles. All meridians are equally spaced and the projections rectangular. However, it is called cylindrical because when the map is rolled up into a tube, it creates a cylinder.
  • Conic Map Projections: Conic maps are severely distorted but are great for hemispheric of regional data visualization maps. These maps are defined by the cone constant and include meridians that are equidistant from one another and straight lines that meet at points along the projection regardless of if there is a pole or not. These maps are designed to be wrapped into a cone so it can be placed atop of a globe.
  • Azimuthal Map Projections: The Azimuthal map contains three given points: A, B, and C. The lines from point B to point C show the angle someone would have to travel in order to get to point A. These maps contain straight meridian lines that originate from a single point, parallels that are circular around that central point, and equidistant parallel spacing. These maps are best used for finding direction from any point on Earth.

Map Your Data With iDashboard’s GeoPlot Map Charts

iDashboards offers various mapping capabilities for your business to take advantage of. Use our preloaded country and county maps and then use our GeoPlot functionality to plot points on the interactive maps via longitude and latitude settings. Set color, shape, and size of points to make distinctions between data sets, and even set some to blink to really demonstrate the import of a particular plot point. To make life easier on yourself, integrate iDashboards with Google Maps API to input a location and bring it to life on your geospatial dashboard.

iDashboards is always looking for newer and better ways for you to share and visualize your data. Data maps have extraordinary utility to bring the metrics that matter to you and your organization into the world.

To learn more about using maps with iDashboards, check out this webinar from our colleague Jim that shows some examples of the GeoPlot chart, and how to build your own.

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Tom Meacham

Tom Meacham is a Sr. Solutions Engineer here at iDashboards, focusing on consulting and solution development. Tom loves adventure, tacos, and the oxford comma.


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