The Simplest of Tricks to Further Enable Qlikview Interactive Infographics. (*Still requires common sense)
Infographics; the thorniest subject in the world of data viz: are they art, are they telling the truth, do they have a use, do they engage the viewer, do they serve an agenda over the truth, or are they just for trendy media types etc. Reading many of the related blogs and articles out there it would seem that people fall into 2 camps; those who love Infographics (David McCandless) and those who hate them (Stephen Few) but for me the right place to be is to have a foot in both camps. That is to realize that Infographics all too often stray into the pseudo-practice of ‘Data Art’ and achieve nothing despite shouting loudly, but conversely when used correctly a little bit of ‘graphic’ can ensure users really engage with the information presented. So with that in mind I’ve been thinking recently how to use some of the better elements of Infographics in the Qlikview world as well as using Qlikview as a tool to create and enhance Infographics.
Before I get into too much detail I’ll clarify what I hold the difference between ‘Data Visualization’ (what Qlikview usually does) and ‘Infographic’ to be. A relatively simple explanation sums it up nicely; a Data Visualisation (Scatter, Bar, Pie Chart etc) can be used against many disparate datasets whilst on the whole an Infographic is tailored to a particular set of data and can’t be reused. Personally I feel a natural draw to Infographics, I’ve designed websites, logos and objects in the past so the design led nature of them appeals but the level headed lover of data in me pushes back; so many Infographics are nigh on meaningless and would be better off not even created, but I think there’s a happy medium where both sides can benefit so let’s try and find it.
The first thing I think when I see most Infographics no matter how good they may be is; ‘great…but it’s static, you may as well have drawn it by hand’. If only there were a software product we all know and love that was really good at intuitively and simply interacting with data? This is my ultimate aim; to create simple, intuitive, interactive Infographics that engage the viewer on a relatively narrow subject like a traditional static Infographic but then create further impact by allowing the ‘viewer’ to dive into the data in the traditional Qlikview way whilst always remaining true to solid data visualization design rules.
Firstly there have already been some steps along this road, the recent ‘My Life in Data’ app by Michael Antony at Qliktech used some layered objects to good effect, you can read my comments on it here: https://qvdesign.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/beautiful-design-chart-innovations-from-qliktech-and-the-elephant-in-the-dashboard/ (.qvw also available for download)
So what’s this simple trick that makes Infographics possible in Qlikview? It’s the transparent .png image (along with a good dose of common sense of when and how to use it). As I’m sure you all know images can be imported into Qlikview via the Text Object, in most cases this might be a logo or map background, all well and good but it’s not much use here, what is of use is the feature that can be applied to .png image files in that they can be made to have a transparent background. It frees us a little from the constraints imposed by Qlikview – it is after all not designed to be a rival to Adobe Illustrator – and allows us to create more flexible representations of the data we’re looking at. I know that sounds like the most pointless tip ever but it really does open things up and not just for Infographics, below are a couple of examples of where I’ve used transparent .png files in the past:
The next one is admittedly crazy:
Simply put; by using a transparent .png you’re no longer beholden to match background color to what you’re layering over.
By way of an example of how we can do things with Infographics better in Qlikview I recently came across the graphic below from the Gaurdian’s excellent Data Blog about how people from a scientific background are under-represented in the UK House of Commons: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/may/11/kicking-down-doors-scientific-advice-governments
Now whilst I whole heartedly agree that it’s a bad thing that scientists are under represented I think there are misrepresentations that are even more important such as gender, age or ethnicity…or even just the way the population actually voted, so I’ve taken elements of the Gaurdian’s original and created my own Infographic in Qlikview using 2 transparent .png images.
It won’t tale too long for you to work out how this has been achieved; it’s simply a single stacked horizontal bar chart overlaid with a transparent .png image where the shape of the House of Commons has been removed. It’s all a matter of lining everything up and setting the layer order correctly. The .qvw is available for download below so I won’t go into the details as you can see for your self but I will explain how I create my .png files so you can easily create your own.
Creating the Transparent .png:
There are numerous ways this can be achieved but I’ll outline the one I’ve used here as it’s free and available via your browser. For my general image / drawing needs I tend to use Sumo Paint a browser based Photoshop style application that’s easy to use and delivers good results – www.SumoPaint.com/app if you know how to use Photoshop you’ll be right at home. (Great for on site consultants who need a bit of quick image editing but can’t install anything on a client’s machine – it’s got me out of trouble more than once)
All the .png’s I create start with the required Transparent background; when selecting File > New Image ensure than you select the Background to be ‘Transparent’ instead of White. In the case of my Houses of Parliament image I’ve taken the Guardian original, removed the text via copy + pasting blocks of color from the original over the areas that aren’t required- ie to remove the colored graduations and have then flattened the image. That leaves us with an all grey Houses of Parliament graphic, we can then use the Magic Wand tool to highlight the various sections of grey before Cutting them from the image to reveal the transparent background behind. Once complete we have our overlay ready to go over the top of our single bar chart to complete the Infographic.
Of course there are a myriad of alternative methods that could be used to achieve an endless list of Infographics it’s really down to your imagination, below is a similar example I’m working on ready for the US Election:
Now there will be a number of you out there shouting: ‘but how’s that useful in a business dashboard!?’ and the answer may simply be; it isn’t. That said that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be creating Infographics in Qlikview, not every Qlikview dataset has to revolve around stodgy reports and sales figures, so set yourself free and visualize an interesting data set in an interesting way just for the love of data!
There will also be a good number of you out there thinking: ‘I can’t be bothered with that it takes ages to fiddle with the .png, line everything up, polish the layout etc etc all for one visualisation’ and in a way I agree but you’d be missing a fundamental point. Creating Infographics in Qlikview does take ages…when compared to creating a standard out of the box Qlikview dashboard, but just think how long it would take to create my Houses of Parliament Infographic in say Silverlight, HTML-5 or Flash (all of which would be the natural choice); it took me 1.5hrs with Sumo Paint, Excel and Qlikview start to finish.
This is something I’m going to continue working on so I’ll keep posting examples of what I come up with; the next step being to build one with true data interaction so watch this space.
Finally a plea to Qliktech for some Qlikview.next functionality; please create something similar to Tableau Public whereby I could create a Qlikview based Infographic, publish it to a cloud based Qliktech owned Qlikview Server for free and then embed it in a website or at the very least link to it. I think this would really expand the awareness of Qlikview and what it’s capable of by getting it’s functionality out there on websites and blogs. The Qlikview way of doing data interaction should be the natural, standard, expected way of doing data interaction and to get there it needs to break free from the BI / MI world and get into the main stream and the accessible thought provoking Infographic is the perfect way to do this. Of course there would have to be limits to the dataset size etc to avoid cannibalizing Qliktech’s license revenue but I don’t see any problems with it and seemingly nor do Tableau.
The .qvw for the MPs Vs Everybody Else app can be downloaded here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BxloTMUod74tRkxfSnFfM2ZIejQ
As always; all the best,