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Posts: 247
Reply with quote  #1 
Lately I've seen a lot of 'animated' graphs that use the animation to do fancy stuff like make the pieces of the graph "fade in", or move across the screen into their respective locations, etc.  These animations are 'cool', but add little value to the usefulness of the graphs.   Try clicking on some of the fusioncharts, for example...


Lately I've been experimenting with our company's "gif animation" driver, and trying to come up with examples where an animation actually adds value - for example, helps the user "see" how the data changes over time.

The hardest part for me is finding data sources where I can get data over a long enough time-period (and across enough dimensions, for bubble plots) to make a decent animation.  Anybody got any ideas, and can point me to a web url where I can download the the data in a reasonable format (spreadsheet or text file preferred - not an html table please!)

Here are a few gif animations I've done so far - the top/left one on crime rates seems to be the most useful (and some of them aren't really very useful at all - I'm still in the experimenting stage! ;)


Thanks for any ideas, and especially for any data sources!


Posts: 247
Reply with quote  #2 
By the way - I put useless graph animations into the category of
dancing bologna :)   

I didn't come up with that term, and here is a page that talks about
the many forms of dancing bologna (not directly related to graphs,
but I think these are all useful things to consider when creating graphs,
and putting them on the web...)



Posts: 10
Reply with quote  #3 
I think animation is a great idea. If you think about all we manage to do with just two dimensions, adding a third (time) should open all kinds of possibilities.

I had trouble viewing your animations (Firfox in Windows XP). When I opened the link the animations started running in the thumbnails. As soon as any graph ran through its sequence, it was dead and couldn't be revived, either by launching the full screen view or refreshing. I had to close the window each time, reopen, then quickly click on the thumbnail to see the animation.

I found the smog/fertility ratio chart the most effective. The gravity of it, pulling all the countries down like a mud slide is devastating. One of the reasons it works is that the data points don't move very far, so it's easy to trace their migration.

In others, like the baseball attendance, things move so far and so fast and without visual "leading" that it was hard to follow the migration pattern.

Would it be possible to have ghost or shadow markers of (time) adjacent values? Each chronological snapshot of a data point would be a short time series chart: last, current, next. As each snapshot came into view the old "ghosts" would fade away and next would come into focus. Sounds complicated to produce, but it would help lead the eye.

Ideally you'd want lots of intermediate values carefully showing the path from here to there. You would probably have to interpolate the missing data points which might be misleading.


Posts: 32
Reply with quote  #4 

I just posted some animated population pyramids using excel and a macro to change year and create an animated effect.Take a look at the screencasts.


Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #5 
I like the quote you cite on your blog by Tversky and Morrison (2002) stating that animation can be useful if the user is provided with interactivity which allows the user to interact with the animation and examine the parts that need to be examined in detail (if necessary repetitively).

However your animations don't actually seem to provide this. They just allow you to run through a whole series of slides from beginning to end. My understanding is that they were referring to an ability to replay small chunks or zoom in on details.

In other words by interactive they did not mean simply animated. Have you missed the point of their statement or have I missed the interactive controls?

You are right that you can pick out trends and patterns more easily when watched over time. This is a reasonably good demonstation of that principle.

I'm not sure what the value of comparing Male and Female is since the populations do not seem to particularly different. If the purpose is to compare Male and Femlae then it would be easier to make this comparision by having them on the same scale. I'm not sure what the reflected scale buys you?? Aside from creating a funnel which is not a good reason!

Posts: 32
Reply with quote  #6 
If you download my dashboard you can play with the data, like using the scrollbar to select a year or use the "fast forward" button to see a kind of animation effect.

Using the same database, I recorded those screencasts because the charts look a little bizarre (comparing to the traditional population pyramid), but we can really see the global trend and also some less obvious changes. And I wanted to show how animation can reveal underlining trends and patterns. I think you can see that in the screencasts.

I didn't miss their point and you didn't miss the interactive controls (well, there is the control bar below the image, where you can stop, return to a previous point, etc.). But my intention was not to provide an interactive tool, just to show the power of animation. The level of interaction the authors discuss is difficult to implement in Excel. And if you want to share your knowledge and help the average user to implement similar solutions it is even harder. But that project is on my list for 2008.

Regarding the Male / Female comparisons, please refer to the discussion on population pyramids in these forums.


Posts: 247
Reply with quote  #7 

Your population animations, using the percent of population in the age
ranges rather than the traditional population are interesting, and help
show a side of the demographics that I hadn't given much though to
(I have looked at the total population by age group, but not the %
in each age group).

But one question/suggestion - whereas the in plots in the population
tree discussion it was clear that each data point in the line (or bar)
represented a 5-year range (0-4, 5-9, etc), it's not so clear in the
animation plot. 

The vertical axis numbers (0, 10, 20, etc) made me at first think
that the datapoints represented by the line were probably 10-year
age groups, but on closer examination of the lines I'm now guessing
that the data points were for 5-year age groups(?)  But it still leaves
me with some uncertainty.  So, is there any way you could make it
a bit more clear in the graphs, so the user knows beyond-the-shadow-
of-a-doubt exactly how the data is being grouped/summarized? :)


Posts: 32
Reply with quote  #8 
Yes, I am using the 5-year range. But setting the major unit to 5 would unnecessarily clutter the Y axis scale. Probably it should be said, not displayed.

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