In data visualization, animation is overrated. OK, it’s an interesting option if you can see a clear pattern emerging when displaying data over time/space (and, thanks to animation, we were introduced to this communicator extraordinaire named Hans Rosling).

It’s fun to make an animated GIF like the one above, but you must see animation as a component of interaction. The tool you are using must let you pause and explore, like Rosling does with Trendalyzer and Gapminder Desktop.

Instead of a movie, why don’t you take a look at the individual video frames instead?

As you can see, the spatial pattern is still there, and you can easily compare individual maps.

By the way, you’ll probably miss spatial patterns if you use a regular chart. You should always check for this patterns when you have a dataset with a spatial dimension. But don’t assume that the story ends there. Remove this dimension and you’ll find other (and often more interesting/useful) patterns. Compare the small multiples above with the reorderable matrix below:

The spatial pattern is powerful (a “wild-fire”) and memorable, but if I had to choose, I would choose the reorderable matrix. Lots of interesting and more precise details there that you can’t see in the map, and you still have a glimpse of the regional pattern via color coding.

I actually like this sequence… It starts with a bang and then you can calmly explore the spatial patterns and the other details.

What do you think?

PS: You probably know the much better-looking map Nathan posted a while ago with this data set. That’s where the original idea for this post comes from.

PS2: Next week we’ll see the result of combining counties (the gray dots in the maps) with store location. Stay tuned!