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Moving Pictures

Eric Rodenbeck thinks pie charts and bar graphs are too damn slow for big data, reports Quentin Hardy in The New York Times (1/7/14). "It doesn’t work if it’s not moving," says Eric, who heads Stamen Design. "It doesn’t work if you can’t touch it." In other words, Eric is animated about animation: "Just as films are made by shooting 24 still images a second, then running them together to show movement, charts of fast-changing data reports can provide a clearer idea of the information gathered." "You have to generate a system that shows the flow," he says.

For example, Eric and his team created a graphic "for the Nasdaq index that shows stock trading in increments as brief as a microsecond." The user can then "interact with the graphic, making it grow or shrink to see different patterns," and isolate "changes that happen in a single minute, or even a single second, versus changes over a whole day." This is helpful to different users, as a pension manager might want an overall view, while a regulator might want a closer look at "a spike in trading on the stock a few minutes before the earnings were officially released."

Douglas van der Molen, a designer with ClearStory Data, has developed software that first "harmonizes the different ways data are recorded and figures out a common representation for all those categories." It "then picks a useful framework, like an unmarked map of the United States, where the data can be imposed … colors may become more intense … or a particular state may pull away from the country" as data is added. However, Christian Chabot of Tableau Software thinks bar charts and trendlines remain the best way to present data. His only advice: "No more than 18 colors at once."