Science blog

Exploring science at the British Library

07 February 2014

Visualising Research – let the competition begin

At a workshop held on 24 January at the British Library people from a variety of backgrounds came to hear more about the Visualising Research competition and to be inspired. My previous post explains the background to the competition.

Our interest in data and visualising it is all coming together in Beautiful Science, an exhibition opening on 20 February in the Folio Gallery of the British Library. But this competition gives everyone a chance to visualise research for the public.

At the workshop we had presentations from the sponsors and organisers, which are available from the competition website. It was useful to hear how the Gateway to Research data (the vital data required for a competition entry to be considered) is both supplied by and used by the Research Councils and informs their decision making by providing a picture of the research funding landscape in the UK.

Richard Jones from Cottage Labs gave us the technical lowdown on the Gateway to Research data and how to get it. Anyone deciding to enter will need a fair degree of technical know-how to get at this data and manipulate it in order to reveal the story they want to tell the public. So we encourage all the designers and artists to find themselves a techie partner for this competition!

Tobias Sturt and Adam Frost from the Guardian Digital Agency gave a great joint presentation on how to develop a visualisation. The key messages from them were:

  • Data - everything rests on the data.
  • Story - think about the audience, what do they care about, what will resonate with them?
  • Charting - what is the best way to represent the data? You may need an analyst to explore different ways of representing the data (and not all bar charts are boring!).
  • Design - although everything is about design, once you have the basis of your visualisation, you need to consider how you will use colour, what layout works best, and how to make it beautiful.

And they reminded us again that collaboration is key to successful data visualisation. 

Some inspirational examples were shown:

The True Size of Africa - it’s bigger than you thought!


Bloomberg billionaires - a bit addictive this one.

Nathan Yau's blog and Flowing Data web site was recommended.

And for some examples of dynamic visualisations, the following are worth checking out:

Kepler’s Tally of Planets

If the earth were 100 pixels wide

Then for a view of how data can be used to give reality to the sometimes extraordinary inconsistencies of our world –  particularly in the way that money is distributed - we were enlightened by Andrew Steele physicist, TEDx presenter and instigator of  Rather than summarising his talk – have a look at him presenting his findings here.

The competition is open now. The closing date is 21 March. You could win £2,000. There are great judges who will see your work. And there will be kudos for the winners. 

Lee-Ann Coleman



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