Data surrounds us. It’s everywhere, in the most micro sense (small gadgets that track calories we’ve burned, or how much water our plants need) to the most macro (analytics companies that can monitor, for instance, the health of entire populations). But there are precious few companies actively working on helping us make sense of all that data. One of them is Tableau, a software company that turns heaps of data into visualizations for the common man: teachers, doctors, journalists, you name it. To make those tools clearer and cleaner, they recently partnered with Stamen Design, to release three new map templates, which anyone can play around with by downloading Tableau’s free software.
Stamen is something of a brand-name in this area, having created a wealth of data visualizations that have been endlessly lauded and studied by those in the field. And that’s for a simple reason: While there are myriad tools for creating static infographics, designing an interactive map requires far more development expertise, and the tools are hairier to use. Maps in particular get knotty: as Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen’s founder, points out, we’re likely most accustomed to Google Maps. It’s a great looking design, but it’s just used for wayfinding. Maps can can be useful for other kinds of storytelling, but adding a layer of data to a map creates a logistical problem: if graphics or content goes on top of a map, then the map is obscured.
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