Information Visualization: Mapping

First, Why Visualize Information?

We tend to start with information and then try to visualize the information.

For example, you may be given a story to tell that deals with data, numbers, statistics, etc. Many storytellers would start by looking at the data and searching for a way to visualize the data.

But, even more important than that, media content creators should be starting with:

What does the user want to know?

What problem does the user want solved or illustrated?

How can a visualization illustrate an issue for the user that will help them?

Visuals must be worthwhile, add value to the story, and be worth the user’s time to view.

Visuals must work well. Others, users get annoyed and leave (and may never come back). And, visuals must work in mobile devices, too.

Just “telling a good story” is insufficient to merit a user’s investment of time and cash.

And, more and more, users–not advertising–are the primary source of revenue for media outlets.


In sum, growing your audience is key for media survival. The user should be primary when considering visuals.

A pretty visual without utility is insufficient.

The graph below is from “What 100m calls to 311 reveal about New York” by Wired on Nov. 1, 2010.

Let’s all take a minute to look at this visualization.

  1. What does this visualization tell you?
  2. What problem or concern may this solve for a user?
  3. What are some concerns about this visualization?
  4. Is it intuitive to understand?
  5. Is there anything missing from this visualization?

When You Create Visuals, Ask Yourself

  1. What is the user-problem your visual will solve?
  2. What would the user be willing to pay for, in time or money, to view your visual?

You will need to brainstorm and think through these questions for our next assignment.

Types of Information Visualizations

Rather than list all of the types of visualizations available for information, let’s visit Datawrapper and play around with them.

Blog Post 5: Storytelling with Mapping – Google My Maps

About one month ago, we learned how to create our own maps using Google My Maps. Now, we will practice these skills.

In our next assignment and during class time, we will:

    1. Brainstorm and research an issue that you would like to write about that somehow includes a map that you created using Google My Maps.
      • Focus on what problem that your map solves for the user. Or, focus on what important information that your map provides the user.
      • The blog post tone can be journalistic (objective) or conversational (opinionated) in nature.
      • See examples below for what you can cover. Of course, your blog post needs to have a Google My Maps that you created!
      • Other examples: You can use public opinion data about the best restaurants in Denver and then map those 5 restaurants. Or, you can find and map where the next 5 biggest rodeos will be held in Wyoming.
    2. Consult with me about your proposed blog post and map.
    3. Review how to create our own maps using Google My Maps
    4. Create our map
    5. Write the blog post
    6. Embed the map in the blog post

Download the full assignment instructions and grading rubric: Blog Post 5 – Information Visualization

Here is an example of a basic map that I created. I didn’t write-up a blog post with this, but you will be expected to.

About The Author

I'm a faculty member in Communication & Journalism at the University of Wyoming. At UW, I have taught online journalism, advanced new media, introduction to mass media, politics and media, and alternative media. At Ohio State, where I got my PhD, I taught research methods, news reporting and writing, visual communication, and persuasion. My reserach focuses on political communication, emerging media platforms, and entertainment media. In my spare time, I love to play with my daughters, hang out with my family, cook, hike, jog, read, and blog.