Design

12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Jordan Kushins, Gawker Media

12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

We're living smack dab in the middle of a golden age of data viz-or peak data viz, depending on your point of view. Beautiful Science, a new exhibition at the British Library, offers a glimpse at how complex info was presented before technology made infographics so inescapably ubiquitous.

The show covers facts and figures from Crimean war deaths to ocean currents, with diagrams dating back to the early 17th century on display. What's most impressive is how many different styles have been used to illuminate what was, at some point, pure intel; it's crazy to imagine how quickly your eyes would gloss over if everything here was somehow reverse-engineered into a straightforward spreadsheet.

Instead, you've got maps and trees and detailed illustrations that would, under any circumstance, be considered art. And these really are art: not necessarily easy to parse at first glance, but incredible nonetheless, and engaging enough that you want to keep looking.

Here are a few of the works from Beautiful Science. I'm partial to the first one; which is your fave?


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Robert Fludd's drawing of "The Great Chain of Being" from 1617 is the oldest diagram at the exhibition, creating a hierarchy order of life on earth with respect to the rest of the universe. Sophia, goddess of wisdom is the nude gal in the middle.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Fractal geometry was used to follow the evolutionary relationships between tens of thousands of tetrapods: mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Epidemic Planet is based upon the Global Epidemic and Mobility model, which researchers used to accurately forecast the 2009 pandemic influenza outbreak.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

This is what it looks like when you chart 2011's real-world weather patterns with over 700,000 sentiment-analysed social media messages about the weather.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Ernst Haeckel's attempt to organize all life on earth in the commonly used form of trees.


Martin Krzywinski's Circles of Life was commissioned for the exhibition. The diagrams show the genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees, dogs, opossums, platypuses, and chickens.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Epidemiologist and statistician William Farr believed that cholera was spread by "bad air" evaporating from the Thames (the source was later discovered to be water-borne bacteria); in 1852 he plotted cycles of temperature and cholera deaths for 1840 to 1850.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

NASA's Perpetual Ocean visualizes the flow of ocean surface currents from June 2005 to December 2007.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

On the Mode of Communication of Cholera by John Snow, London, 1855.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

A visual depiction of ocean currents as observed by explorers and mariners in 1865.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

Florence Nightingale's "rose diagram" depicts the cause of fatalities of British soldiers during the Crimean War: blue represents sickness, wounds are red, and "other" is black.


12 Stunning Data Visualizations That Put Boring Spreadsheets to Shame

HMS Beagle captain Robert FitzRoy's illustration shows how storms and cyclones develop on the border between warm tropical and cold polar air masses.

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