My *Expert* Opinion

The team at Infogram recently published an article titled Top Data Visualization Trends in 2017, which they sourced from a diverse range people in the industry (including me). I was pretty amused to be called an expert in their promotional tweets, but then realized that I do spend a LOT of time thinking about this stuff, so I'll take it. 

I had a lot more to say than actually ended up in the article, and since I spent the time to write it I figured I might as well post it here. Let me know what you think! 

1) You have a truly diverse data background. Do you see any data visualization trends that appeared in 2016 that you expect to follow into 2017? To follow that up, do you see any new trends on the horizon this year??

Indeed! I feel like 2016 was the year of the map, mainly due to the fact that we were following the election activities for most of the year. I remember distinctly watching TV on election night and thinking that if I see another color scale United States map my head would explode, and I don't think I was the only one. News organizations continue to create maps because people love to click on them (I think because they are so familiar), but there are so many limitations to that type of visualization-- many just end up looking like population maps, others smooth things over too broadly, etc. One map that I saw recently that was very effective was this explanation of gerrymandering. It's different because the article doesn't anchor with a map, it anchors with a more clear explanation (the grid) and then provides additional context through the map instead. I hope to see more of that in 2017. 

Another trend, recently written up in Wired that I find interesting is the "artisanal hand-drawn infographics" which I am definitely drawn to, but have reservations about. I am much more interested in the process of drawing (the verb) rather than the outcome of a drawing (the noun), and think that sometimes people might think that they don't have the creativity or artistic talent to create something useful in a hand drawn format, but in fact more people would benefit from sketching ideas on paper first before going into the digital tool of their choice. I expand a lot on that in my Tapestry talk (about halfway down the page) and also have a free Skillshare class for people on drawing data to show them how. 

2) Are ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative’ just buzzwords? Or will the play a big role in 2017.

Storytelling and narrative are totally real, but I just think they have lost some meaning thanks to overuse. A word I've started to use a bit more is "packaging". I think that people are starting to realize that the data and subsequent visualizations can't just speak for themselves, and you need to figure out how to wrap it up and what else to include for it to truly inspire action. For example, the gerrymandering article I shared about has a package of video + images and text. I don't think that's new for data journalism but probably a budding concept for the business audience. 

3) How do you feel people will be consuming visuals differently this year?

I'm thinking a lot about "snackable" content- something that can be consumed in an instagram feed that might hook someone to learning more, and is also easy to share (think animated gifs). 

Another trend I've seen a few times now is on websites that ask users to draw what they think -- I think this is pretty clever because you get to collect data in the process of presenting it, and we as the creators are always looking for more data. 

4) What do you think we can expect from data visualization software in 2017?

I hope that more standard presentation and design software like Powerpoint, Google slides, Adobe Illustrator, etc. will up their visualization game a bit. I expect more traditional BI and visualization tools like Tableau to focus even more on storytelling features and capabilities, and think that eventually we will see a convergence between the two sides.