06 May 2012

Simon Rogers has mapped data which ranked 754 beaches around Great Britain for the Guardian Data Store. The visualisation uses a satellite map of the UK, onto which Simon has marked every beach in its correct geographical location. The dots are colour coded to clearly denote the ranking the beach received from the 2012 Good Beach Guide, green representing ‘Recommended’, purple meaning ‘Guideline’, yellow meaning ‘Basic’ and red indicating that the beach failed to reach the Beach Guide’s standards. Users can click on individual dots to get the names of each beach and its ranking.

In this way an enormous mass of information is presented in a small space. It is also presented in a clear and comprehendible way. Users can spend as long as they like ‘reading’ the map and obtain as much or as little information as they wish to from it.

Underneath the map, Simon has written out all 754 beaches, with their ranking alongside it. As he has done so, we can easily compare the use of text to tell a data story with a visualisation. The text takes up significantly more room. It is much harder to find the individual beaches you are interested in and takes more energy and effort to scroll up and down in order to find a particular beach. The sheer mass of information presented in the text makes the story seem like a drag, rather than a fun exploration of the British coastline, as is felt by the visualisation.

However, underneath the map Simon has highlighted key features and findings of the data. He writes: “The report rated 516 out of 754 (68%) UK bathing beaches as having excellent water quality – up 8% on last year. That compares well to 2010, when it rated 421 of 769 beaches as excellent.”

It is not clear from the visualisation alone how many beaches received each rating and it would have been time consuming and difficult for the user to individually count this. Thus text is useful to provide a summary and to highlight key findings alongside a visualisation.

This is therefore a fine example of the way in which visualisations and text complement each other, and demonstrates that, with many data stories, combining visualisation and text creates the richest, most comprehendible and informative narrative.