When to Animate Data Visualization

Animation for the sake of catching the viewer eye without adding information can quickly become an annoyance. However, when used correctly, animation can greatly improve the visualization by increasing the information density.

A great use of animation is adding the time dimension to an already busy chart. Before animation became available for data visualization, a typical method was to produce a series of charts, each showing data for a single time period.

In this article, we’ll see examples of animated XY, Bubble, and Map charts. Using Explore Analytics we can create animated charts that are interactive. They allow you to play the animation forward or back, step through, search through, and pick any page of the animation. You can also set the frame rate to control the speed of the animation.

In the following chart, we show crime statistics for the 50 US States. The chart has 50 bubbles, each representing a state, with its property crime rate on the X axis, its homicide rate on the Y axis, and population represented by the size of the bubble. We pack data for 51 years by using animation.

This chart is powered by Explore Analytics.

Two additional examples:

Historical US Unemployment: See how US unemployment by county changed over 22 years from 1990 to 2011. This chart is a little slow to load because there’s a lot of data packed into it. Green represents less than 6% unemployment and red represents higher than 6%. See the dramatic change from 2007 to 2009. Also, try zooming in on your state and run the animation.

Historical Yield Curve: see how the US treasury yield curve (a graph of bond rates for different maturity periods) changed over time from January 1990 until February 2013. Watch for times when the curve flattens or even reverses, signaling the onset of a recession.

In conclusion, animation can greatly increase information density and effectively illustrate trends in the data.


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