At one time, visualising data meant graphs. Lots and lots of graphs. Largely static. Often incomprehensible. Certainly not entertaining.

Since I’ve recently set up the HTML5 Sports Challenge on Ubelly, I’ve been looking around for inspiration on how data can be brought to life in more interesting, more engaging ways. Fortunately there’s loads out there.

Here are 10 of my favourites:

  1. We Feel Fine
    Jonathan Harris has done some brilliant stuff with data. He always seems to come up with visualisations and experiments that add an extra dimension to the information he presents. We Feel Fine is one of his earlier projects but still looks good. If you haven’t already seen it, the app collects sentences from blog entries that use the phrase “I feel” and presents each as one of a multitude of dots that are colour-coded by the feeling they represent. Once you click on one, it becomes quite addictive to keep clicking on more and more.
  2. PolarClock
    Visualising time is a very common theme – whether it’s how things change over time, or plotting events. PolarClock shows that even when it’s something as generic as a clock, there are always different and surprising ways to deal with data. You can also download it as a screen-saver.
  3. Visual Thesaurus
    A lot of the time, data visualisation looks to show the relationship between different elements. Thinkmap’s Visual Thesaurus does this for words allowing you to take a journey from word to related word.
  4. On the Brink
    This owes more to animation than pure data visualisation (although the line is pretty blurred). It’s an animation for a documentary called On the Brink that blends live film with visualisation. Check it out on Vimeo.
  5. Baroque.me
    Data doesn’t have to be simply stats and numbers of course. Alexander Chen has created a visualisation of Bach Cello Suites No. 1, Prelude. You can see it at Baroque.me (and he’s got a blog post explaining how he went about it too).
  6. WorldShapin
    WorldShapin allows you to compare the relative living standards and carbon footprints of various countries and present the results in a highly visual way. (It uses the UN’s Human Development Index as its core data set.) It’s a great example of using visualisation to present well-worn subjects in fresh and interesting ways.
  7. Newsmap
    San Francisco-based Marcos Weskamp has created Newsmap. It takes a feed from Google News, colour coding individual stories into different categories and sizing them by relative prominence. It then enables you to filter by category and compare the news landscape in different countries. Makes a change from the usual newspaper-style interface that the rest of the world seems stuck on.
  8. Amaztype
    Amaztype is a cute little tool that allows you to select a search term to put into Amazon. It then fetches images for all the books that match and creates a collage of your search term using their covers. You can then click on any individual cover for more information. (You can see my search for HTML5 here.)
  9. Max Planck Research Institutes
    Combining a Java-based app and a multi-touch screen, this visualisation allows users to explore the various connections between the different Max Planck Institutes – I’d love to have a play with this one.
  10. Hans Rosling
    Hans Rosling has become well known for the inspiring talk he gave a TED back in 2006 (and which has been watched by over 4 million people since). He presents statistics around the relative poverty and life expectancy of different nations over time starting back in the 1800s. There’s a newer video from a BBC programme on YouTube which takes the eye-candy aspect a bit further and is an absolute must-see.

Hopefully these 10 examples have inspired you to look at data in different ways for your next presentation. If you fancy having a go and getting involved in the HTML5 Sports Challenge, I’d love to see what you come up with – I’ve also managed to rustle up three Windows phones to give away as prizes for the best entries. And if you know any brilliant data visualisations to add to this list, it’d be great to hear from you.