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Data Visualization: Modern Approaches


Data presentation can be beautiful, elegant and descriptive. There is a variety of conventional ways to visualize data – tables, histograms, pie charts and bar graphs are being used every day, in every project and on every possible occasion. However, to convey a message to your readers effectively, sometimes you need more than just a simple pie chart of your results. In fact, there are much better, profound, creative and absolutely fascinating ways to visualize data. Many of them might become ubiquitous in the next few years.

So what can we expect? Which innovative ideas are already being used? And what are the most creative approaches to present data in ways we’ve never thought before?

Let’s take a look at the most interesting modern approaches to data visualization as well as related articles, resources and tools.

1. Mindmaps Link

Trendmap 20071

Web Trends 20072

Informationarchitects.jp3 presents the 200 most successful websites on the web, ordered by category, proximity, success, popularity and perspective in a mindmap. Apparently, web-sites are connected as they’ve never been before. Quite comprehnsive.

2. Displaying News Link

Newsmap4 is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator. The size of data blocks is defined by their popularity at the moment.


Voyage6 is an RSS-feader which displays the latest news in the “gravity area”. News can be zoomed in and out. The navigation is possible with a timeline.


Digg BigSpy8 arranges popular stories at the top when people digg them. Bigger stories have more diggs.

Digg Big Spy9

Digg Stack10: Digg stories arrange themselves as stack as users digg them. The more diggs a story gets, the larger is the stack.


3. Displaying Data Link

Amaztype12, a typographic book search, collects the information from Amazon and presents it in the form of keyword you’ve provided. To get more information about a given book, simply click on it.


Similar idea is being used by Flickrtime14. The tool uses Flickr API to present the uploaded images in real-time. The images form the clock which shows the current time.


Time Magazine16 uses visual hills (spikes) to emphasize the density of American population in its map.

Where we live17

CrazyEgg18 lets you explore the behavior of your visitors with a heat map. More popular sections, which are clicked more often, are highlighted as “warm” – in red color.


Hans Rosling TED Talk20 is a legendary talk of the Swedish professor Hans Rosling, in which he explains a new way of presenting statistical data. His Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop. Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid — toward better national health and wealth. Animated bell curves representing national income distribution squish and flatten. In Rosling’s hands, global trends — life expectancy, child mortality, poverty rates – become clear, intuitive and even playful.

Hans Rosling21

Three Views shows three views of the earth, in which each country is represented by a circle that shows the amount of money spent on the military (size of circle) and what fraction of the country’s earnings that uses (colour). Compact and beautiful presentation of data.

Three Views

We Feel Fine22 shows human feelings, calculated from a large number of weblogs.

We Feel Fine23

Visualizing the Power Struggle in Wikipedia24 displays the most popular articles and the most frequent search queries in the heatmap.


Websites as graphs27. An HTML DOM Visualizer Applet, which displays sites as graphs depending on the amount of links, tables, div tags, images, forms and other tags.

Websites as graphs28

Interactive History Timeline29 presents the history of Great Britain, divided into interactive data blocks. The density of events is displayed on the map.


Winning Lotto Numbers31 is supposed to present the frequency of appearance of every number from one year to the next one. This graph is definitely not one of the most clear ones.


Elastic Lists33 demonstrates the “elastic list” principle for browsing multi-facetted data structures. You can click any number of list entries to query the database for a combination of the selected attributes. The approach visualizes relative proportions (weights) ofmetadata by size and visuzalizes characteristicness of a metadata weight by brightness. Author’s blog34 regularly informs about new experiments in the area of data visualization. Nice to observe, useful to bookmark.

Elastic Lists35

The JFK Assassination Timeline36An Ajax-based approach vor visual presentation of historical events. John F. Kennedy assassination as timeline with numerous presentation options. The related article37 with further examples38.

4. Displaying connections Link

Munterbund39 showcases the results of research graphical visualization of text similarities in essays in a book. “The challenge is to find forms of graphical and/or typographical representation of the essays that are both appealing and informative. We have attempted create a system which automatically generates graphics according to predefined rules.”

Text similarities40
Text similarities41
Text similarities42

Burst Labs43 suggests similar or connected items to your search queries (favourite artists, tv shows, movies, genres etc.) in a bubble. Not really new, but still inspiring.

Burst Labs44

Universe DayLife45 displays events, connections and news as circles which gravitate around the topic they are related to.


Musiclens gives music recommendations and presents your current mood and musical taste as a diagram.


Figd’t Visualizer47 allows you to play around with your network. You interface with the Visualizer through Flickr and LastFM tags, using any tag to create a Magnet. Once a Tag Magnet is created, members of the network will gravitate towards it if they have photos or music with that same Tag. Available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. Alpha-version.


What have I been listening to?49: Lee Byron describes his approach of creating a histogram about his music listening history.


Shape Of Song51: What does music look like? The Shape of Song is an attempt to answer this seemingly paradoxical question. The custom software in this work draws musical patterns in the form of translucent arches, allowing viewers to see – literally – the shape of any composition available on the Web.

Shape Of Song52

Musicmap53: connections are represented as connected lines; they create a web.


Musicovery55 displays music taste connections and lets you listen to the song and browse through similar songs.


Lanuage Poster57 proves that even simple lines can be descriptive enough. The History of Programming Languages as an original timeline.

History of Programming Languages58

5. Displaying web-sites Link

Spacetime59 offers Google, Yahoo, Flickr, eBay and images in 3D. The tool displays all of your search results in an easy to view elegant 3D arrangement. Company promises that the days of mining through pages and pages of tiny thumbnails in an effort to find the item you are looking for are over.


UBrowser61 is an open source test mule that renders interactive web pages onto geometry using OpenGL® and an embedded instance of Gecko, the Mozilla rendering engine.


6. Articles & Resources Link

  • Visualcomplexity.com63

    The project presents the most beautiful methods of data visualization as well as further references and book suggestions. The gallery has over 450 entries.

  • In his article Infosthetics: the beauty of data visualization65 Andrew Vande Moere, well-known through his blog Infosthetics66, discusses the aesthetics of data visualization and modern apparoaches in this area. Creative design ideas combine form and content and generate fascinating graphs – is it a new area in the art of next generation?

    The article presents 13 new techniques of data visualization, with examples and further references.

  • 16 Awesome Data Visualization Tools70
    “From navigating the Web in entirely new ways to seeing where in the world twitters are coming from, data visualization tools are changing the way we view content. We found the following 16 apps both visually stunning and delightfully useful.” An extensive overview by
  • Dataesthetics71
    Eric Blue provides some references to unusual Data Visualization methods.
  • infosthetics – information aesthetics


    Andrew Vande Moere about data visualization, latest development and design ideas.

  • Visualizing Delicious Roundup
    An overview of tools you can use to visualize your bookmarks.
  • Periodic Table74
    A periodic table of visualization methods.

    Periodic Table75

7. Tools and Services Link

  • You can create your own timelines with Xtimeline76 and Circavie77.
  • IBM Many Eyes78

    This Java-based service visualizes data online and helps to create pie charts, diagrams, tree maps, bar charts and histograms. Registration is required. Some examples80 are simply amazing.

  • prefuse | the prefuse visualization toolkit81
    Presents the beta-version of a Java-based toolkit for programming of application with integrated data visualization methods
  • Swivel82
    This service creates pie charts, diagrams and histograms “on the fly”. It also provides a Swivel API83 you can use to improve already existing visualization methods.
  • You can find even more tools for designing your own diagrams and charts online in our article Charts and Diagrams Tools84.

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Awesome! Whoa, didn’t think math could be so pretty :o

    Wonder if any of these are open source and easily applied to other projects….

  2. 3

    Very cool indeed. I’d love to replicate some of them. ‘Experimental’ might be a better word than ‘modern,’ until they catch on and show their utility above a more standard (‘traditional’) approach.

    I don’t know if any are open source but some of the visuals are made with the help of Processing, which you should check out if you’re interested in doing something similar without a ton of programming.

  3. 4

    Wow! That’s a great list! I’d never seen a lot of those before! Thanks for putting it together – can’t wait to look into them some more!

  4. 5

    one more time a nice list…

    Keep going!

  5. 6

    Holy crap! That flickr clock is wicked and the Ubrowser is tripped out. Nice find on these.

  6. 7

    Until this article I was really unaware of how big “data visualization” was…to be honest…I’d never really heard the term. Great work!!

  7. 8

    Amazing! Where to learn some methods of data visualisation?

  8. 9

    i think you have put a wrong screenshot for musiclens ?

  9. 10


  10. 11

    Another great piece on Smashing :)

  11. 12

    This is a pretty good list! I wasn’t aware of many of these sites. I also posted a collection of unique data/infoviz links last year:

    Dataesthetics: The Power and Beauty of Data Visualization

  12. 13

    Balakumar Muthu

    August 2, 2007 3:17 pm


  13. 14

    Brilliant list. I had no idea there were such ideas floating around. This isn’t just a smart way of displaying data but I think it is rather inspirational for other mediums.

  14. 15

    Nice list guys! Great work!
    This is a pretty cool project to I found a couple weeks back, Human Brain Cloud, not quite as extensive as some of the above examples, but cool none the less.

  15. 16

    back in 90x –
    Java applet representing most usable words in book by it’s size. Before tag clouds were invented (discovered).
    Check it out.

  16. 17

    i never knew data visualisation was such a big thing. We are manipulating so much of data daily [more the data, more happy we are :) ] and i never thought about its options…..

    wonderful resource. so much to learn and understand. you have been doing a very nice job. its blocked here[they say you are a ‘download’ site :P ], sometimes i have to use a proxy site. but its worth.

    thanx a lot :)

  17. 18

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    August 2, 2007 5:30 pm

    2Angga: thank you, fixed!

  18. 19

    Absolutely great!

  19. 20

    A really nice list of graphic data models and interactivity.

  20. 21

    It exists a french search engine which corresponds to your article subject:

    KartOO is a metasearch engine with visual display interfaces. When you click on OK, KartOO launches the query to a set of search engines, gathers the results, compiles them and represents them in a series of interactive maps through a proprietary algorithm

  21. 22

    Very good article, thanks all

  22. 23

    Superb. Your best list yet.

  23. 24

    Uuuuu, great article..

  24. 25

    Whenever SmashingMagazine so much as coughs it makes it to the Digg homepage, Delicious popular and generates hoards of comments and linkbacks.

    Very nice!

  25. 26

    Stunning collection – thanks for all the work you put into it…

  26. 27

    Wow! All sorts of ways to render data impossible to read! Fantastic!
    “As you can see by this picture, Chicago’s got a bigger circle than Boston. How much bigger? I’m not really sure. Pretty big. That means Chicago’s like 50 billion times betterer than Boston when it comes to widgets in the scuzzypond. Are widgets good or bad? I don’t know, but they’re represented in funny circles with hard-to-read overlapping text, so it MUST mean something important!”

    The only thing these graphs show is what data looks like when it is completely disorganized. Quit acting like this is a revolution in data representation.

  27. 28

    Wonderful post, I love inventions in the field of data visualization. I think I will have to write a post referring to your post — it’s a great read!

  28. 29

    Excellent article!! I worked on a Hurricane Katrina data-visualization project last year for my agency in New Orleans. It’s an oral history with compelling, raw video that offers an unedited look at people’s memories of the storm and the fallout. As each video plays, a simple visual device displays recurring themes by keyword; commonalitites between experiences are presented via lists of names headed by recurring topics. Thought your readers might be interested.

  29. 30

    Thank you, these are great visualization&(great view point). We”l live and see.

  30. 31

    You guys just don’t stop! Nice research, you guys dig like them google folks.


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