CDVG members will meet to discuss free online data visualization course offered by Knight Center.

Alberto Cairo and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is offering a free online introduction to data journalism and infographics course in October. I am signing up and I hope that some of you will join me. If you want to discuss the course materials with your fellow CDVG members also taking the course then sign up for the meeting at our meetup site.

Meeting Topic Suggestion: Platform implications for data visualization

CDVG member Adam Kallish recently proposed:

discussions on rich internet applications and discussions when browser based, or fat client/RIA applications for multi-modal platforms (laptop/tablet/phone/hybrid) are best applicable for a particular solution

as a topic for a future meeting.

Please express your interest in this topic by commenting below.

Recap: CDVG Meeting of Aug. 29, 2012

UPDATE: Links to presentations from our meeting on 8/29.


Thank you to everyone that turned out last evening for our CDVG meeting. Special thanks to

  • Dean Malmgren for spending an hour discussing many of projects he and his partners (Mike Stringer & Aaron Wolf) at Datascope Analytics have delivered. I think these guys like nothing better than a wrangling a massive and messy network of data and discovering insights. You can read more about the Proctor & Gamble project on the Datascope Analytics site.
  • Matej Mavricek of Power Switch for sharing the challenge he has in visualizing the US Electric Grid. I think this is an interesting problem with insights yet to be discovered. The resulting visualizations might be an interesting combination of network diagrams and maps. He is willing to meet with anyone interested in this topic. He can be reached at and by phone at (312) 344-1404.
  • Everyone that asked questions and approached me after the meeting. I enjoyed speaking with each of you and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to spend more time.
  • Technexus and Taylor Kinsella for hosting.
 A few things I mentioned during the meeting…
  • Our weekly learning and hack nights starting October 1 at 1871. Read more about this here.
  • Brian Ringley, CDVG member and a Solution Architect with Slalom Consulting, is representing all Microsoft visualization technologies: Excel, Powerpivot, and Powerview. We are scheduling a future presentation with him but he is open to receiving questions now from any members that have interests in these tools.
  • Open City. This group is a great example of what can be done with open access to government data and open source tools. You can support what they do by taking a look at their apps. You can also participate in the weekly Open Government Hack Nights they host.
  • Chicago Tableau User Group meetup on October 2. This group is organized by  Rina Bongsu-Petersen. I hear that these have been great meetups in the past. I’ll be going and I hope to see you there.
  • Books that I forgot to give away. They are Designing Data Visualizations by Noah Llinsky & Julie Steele,  R Cookbook by Paul Teetor, and  Getting Started with D3 by Mike Dewar. So I know I said that I would give these to the first three people that sent me an email with a suggestion for meetings but…I’m going to change the rules a bit. Sorry. Instead, members that share a relevant visualization, article, or blog post will have their name entered in to a drawing for a book. We will draw the names at our next meeting to be scheduled for September or October. Share twice and your name is entered twice, share three times and your name is entered three times, and so on. Options for sharing include tweeting to @chicagodatavis, posting to the Chicago Data Visualization Group on LinkedIn, or posting to the CDVG website. I’ll have to grant you publishing access to the latter which I will do willingly for those wanting to contribute. Happy sharing!
  • I’m always interested in those members that want to get involved in the group. Contact me if you are interested in hosting/sponsoring a meeting, finding venues, making this boring looking website cool, etc.

Thanks again for coming last night.

Coming in October: CDVG hosting weekly datavis hacking/learning!

I’m happy to announce that the CDVG will host weekly learning sessions at 1871 focused on tools and technologies. That’s right. Every Monday we will get our hands dirty with data, code, and utilities. Some nights we may have an instructor and other nights we’ll just all learn together. All levels of knowledge will be welcome. CDVG member Tom Schenk, Jr and I are still working through the organization of topics. I’ll provide more details on the content of these weekly sessions soon.

Really looking forward to this.

The challenges of visualizing the US Electric Grid

Matej Mavricek will be presenting Visualization Data on the US Electric Grid at our next CDVG meeting on Aug. 29. Matej is a Senior Analyst with Power Switch. This is an energy think tank in Chicago focusing on effective research of the US Energy sector. He has a particular interest in creating some visualizations of the Electric Power Grid. He will discuss his objectives for a visualization and present the data that Power Switch has gathered. Anyone interested in creating visualizations of this data will be able to post them on the CDVG website and solicit feedback from other CDVG members. Matej will also offer feedback on the visualizations created and Power Switch may choose to use the visualizations in their materials. This is a great opportunity to get practice and exposure!

Profile: Datascope Analytics

Datascope Analytics is a data analytics and visualization agency in Chicago. Established in 2009 by Mike Stringer and Dean Malmgren—two PhD students in the lab of Luis Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. Mike and Dean were investigating large communication networks and scientific databases for information to support the lab’s research. Their realization that they actually enjoyed the data analysis, coupled with the growing demand for these skills, eventually led them to start Datascope Analytics.

I sat down with Dean Malmgren and discussed Datascope Analytics and the Chicago data visualization community in preparation for his presentation at the CDVG meeting on August 15. The notes from our conversation are posted here. He told me he is still a teacher at heart. This is evident by his passion for discussing data visualization and his work at Datascope Analytics. After reading this post, and hearing him speak at our meeting, I hope you are encouraged to reach out and speak with him. It may turn into an opportunity for you as Datascope Analytics is growing and has some exciting projects starting soon.

Your presentation for the August 15 meeting of the CDVG is titled “Data-driven: at the intersection of design and analytics”.  Can you give me a little preview of what you will be speaking about and why you have chosen this topic?

I will walk through a project or two from start to finish to give a sense of how we approach problems and to emphasize the importance of designing compelling visuals to achieve our results.

Describe Datascope Analytics

We are a data-driven consulting and design firm. Instead of specializing solely in design, consulting or analytics, we operate in the space where these three functions intersect. With this broader perspective we are able to provide solutions customized for the data and challenges unique to our clients. We believe that this comprehensive approach has differentiated us in the analytics market.

What are some of your signature clients?  Can you discuss the projects you did for them?

Proctor & Gamble contracted us because they needed their employees to adopt a new work process throughout a multinational and multi-functional organization. We conducted a social network analysis and created an influence network model. With this we identified the thought leaders and change agents who are simultaneously well-respected by their peers and optimally positioned in the influence network to foster a movement. The result was a team of ambassadors who will spearhead change in the organization.

P&G Influence Network created by Datascope Analytics
P&G Influence Network created by Datascope Analytics

We’ve also worked with companies like Research Corporation for Science Advancement, a global information services provider, and a global e-discovery services provider.

Can you describe your design process?

We have developed a four stage process that has been successful for us. It has four major phases.

    1. Clarifying our clients need. This is a collaborative exercise with the client to brainstorm ideas. We then select a few options that are the best fit for the problem and create prototypes. Our ability to create prototypes is one of our strengths.
    2. Identifying the data that can be combined or created to provide insight for our clients. This may be data from within the client’s organization or from external sources. If the data is incomplete, we fill in the gaps with custom tools and surveys. All of this data is combined to provide a reusable asset for the client.
    3. Designing the analysis. We know that our clients, and their data, are unique. Consequently, we don’t use the same analytical tools for every project. We are a custom shop because we believe we deliver greater insight in to a client’s data than we can with a vended software package.
    4. Communicating the results with a LivingReport™. This is our unique solution that is more effective than just text or a table of numbers. It is a visual representation of the data that shows the patterns that can reveal valuable insight about the client’s business.

What technology does Datascope Analytics use to create their visualizations?

We use open source development tools to develop custom solutions for our clients instead of using vendor software. We feel the vendor packages have considerable functionality but are ultimately more limited that our custom solutions. For analysis, Datascope Analytics uses Python, R and Hadoop. Raphael.js and D3.js are used for visualization. We have also created our Lens™ library: a set of analysis tools that let clients see into their data with more clarity. It is built in Python and is the glue that sticks everything together coherently.

What is it like to run a data visualization startup?

My days are divided into three activities: white boarding solutions, coding, and interacting with clients. These aren’t eight hour days, however, so I get to spend a considerable amount of time on each of these. And that’s okay because I enjoy them all.

How would you describe the Chicago data visualization community?

I would like to see the Chicago data visualization community mirror the diversity of businesses that exist in our market. Unlike the financial focus of New York or the tech focus in San Francisco, Chicago has a very rich set of industries that could all benefit from data visualization excellence and cross-fertilization of ideas. This meetup one of several great ways to start the process of sharing ideas and bringing together the diverse community interested in data visualization.

What help in starting Datascope Analytics did you get from the Chicago community?

Northwestern University Farley Center was instrumental in getting us off the ground. They provided accounting services, space, and mentoring. We were also fortunate enough to receive deeply discounted legal assistance from the Loyola Law Clinic.

We have also benefitted from collaborations with other start-up companies in the Chicago area like Syndio Social.

Who are some of your favorite data visualization designers? What are some of your favorite data visualizations?

Moritz Stefaner and Stephanie Posavec are two of my favorites. I like how each of them thinks outside the box to come up with interesting ways of using different graphic elements to visualize data. Naming a favorite is difficult, but I particularly like Stephanie Posavec’s “11 x” series which, despite the simplicity behind the underlying visualization, is a fun way to explore the emergent patterns in the long multiplication.

What advice do you have for those interested in getting started in data visualization?

Get started playing with data any way you know how. Start with a pencil and paper, make a static image, and — if it is useful to do so — create something interactive. The only way to learn what works and what doesn’t is to try and iterate, not read and regurgitate