weather patterns visualized on a 3-D computer model of Earth
An animated globe that displays real-time weather data. [Read more]. Courtesy Cameron Beccario

We are awash with data, and it keeps piling up: Some analysts estimate the amount of digital information in the world now doubles every two years. The growing tidal wave will require automation—a shift some have called the Industrial Revolution of data—to collect and analyze it all. But mountains of automated data won’t amount to much if we can’t understand it. Enter the emerging field of visualization.

Data visualization allows viewers to see the patterns in reams of numbers. It’s the craft of simplifying the complex. Done poorly, it confuses, misleads, or even lies. Done well, it elucidates—serving as a window into hidden relationships and trends. The most innovative visualizations come from areas rich with easily gathered information, and perhaps no spheres are more quantified than our selves, our cities, and our planet.

To honor that work, we chose 15 visualizations in these areas, selected from a field of 46 contenders. We hope these signal the direction of the new data age—that the revolution will be visualized.

(Peruse the full list of our judges’ favorites, below, or get an overview using the gallery, above.)

Our Judges

Popular Science assembled a panel of data-visualization experts—practicing designers at the forefront of the field—and asked them to rate candidate visualizations, chosen for their novel graphic forms, smart execution, or comprehensive underlying data.

Wes Grubbs directs Pitch Interactive, a visualization studio in Oakland, Calif. Pitch Interactive mapped international water conflicts for the June issue of Popular Science.

Giorgia Lupi is design director and co-founder of the Accurat design agency, based in Milan and New York City. Her studio contributed the visualization “A Shift in Nuclear Powers” in September.

Jan Willem Tulp runs the visualization studio TULP Interactive based in The Hague, the Netherlands. He created “Hungry Planet” for the magazine’s November 2013 issue.

Our Favorite Visualizations




This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title, “Dawn of the Data Age.”

weather patterns visualized on a 3-D computer model of Earth


An animated globe that displays real-time weather data. [Read more]
coiled charts showing improvement in Chinese city air pollution of the years

Sky Color

Annual cycles pop out in air pollution charts of major Chinese cities. [Read more]
one year's worth of texting, calls, email, and other communication in one chart

Feltron Annual Report 2013

For nearly a decade, Nicholas Felton has been observing himself and using the information he collects to create a mock corporate annual report. [Read more]
lines connecting conversations on Twitter across a world map

Twitter Reply Geography

Five months of Twitter conversations reveal the planet’s communal, digital chatter. [Read more]
Instagram photos plotted over 24 hours during hurricane Sandy's landfall

Crisis Mapping

One day of Instagram photos uploaded during hurricane Sandy turned into a chronological map of a crisis. [Read more]
Stephen Wolfram's daily routine according to data from the mid-1980s through 2012

Personal Analytics

Stephen Wolfram has records of his habits going back to the mid-1980s. In 2012, he analyzed that data to produce this picture of his typical day. [Read more]
woman's heartbeat data live on the web

One Human Heartbeat

Every day, a person uploads her heartbeat data for the world to see. [Read more]
a year's worth of a diabetic's glucose and activity levels

The Healthiest Year Of My Life

A diabetic recorded his blood sugar and activity levels over the course of a year. [Read more]
Population mapped as peaks and valleys creates a unique world map. [<a href="">Read more</a>]

Population Lines

Population mapped as peaks and valleys creates a unique world map. [Read more]
Earth's most remote locations enlarged on a world map

A Lonely Planet

Shrinking densely populated areas and enlarging remote ones makes for a different portrait of our planet. [Read more]
data visualization of streets illuminated by sunset in New York City


“Manhattenhenge” isn’t the only sunset spectacle to experience in NYC. [Read more]
woman's Nike+ running course shaped like Slimer on a map

Run Drawings

Claire Wyckoff uses the Nike+ run-tracking tool as a data-illustration canvas. [Read more]
interactive train travel time map of the Netherlands


This interactive map of train travel times makes a small country look even smaller. [Read more]
world population and growth in a 3-D bar chart

World Population

A 3-D twist to a traditional bar chart shows world population and growth, side-by-side. [Read more]
heat map of city activity in Berlin

Stadtbild Berlin

Food, music, shopping, and night life spots pop in this map of Berlin. [Read more]