Earlier this month, we were challenged to take an openly accessible set of data and use JavaScript to visualize that data in interesting ways. All of this information was put into a webpage that we had to build with the help of a bootstrap theme. As a person with little in terms of computer skills or experience using JavaScript, this challenge was intimidating on paper, but actually ended up being a lot of fun.

For this challenge, my group, composed of Dan, Brian, and myself, chose to visualize data related to the current list of World Heritage sites as found on https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/. To do this, we cleaned a loooooong set of data using Open Refine, an awesome tool that I had never used until now. We then used Google Charts and TimelineJS to visualize how the World Heritage List has changed over time. These visualizations were put into a website that we constructed using a free bootstrap theme and Github.

While more powerful JavaScript packages are available, Google Charts and TimelineJS were relatively simple tools to code and use, yet still supplied our website with clear and easily interpretable data visualizations that told the story of how the World Heritage List has been constructed over time. As a novice, I was able to read the directions on how to use these tools and then succeeded (with the help of Brian and Dan) in creating my first chart using JavaScript. I enjoyed the process of learning how to use these tools, and it was quite a thrill to see that first chart successfully pop up on our webpage.

My first successful data visualization, showing the number of different types of world heritage sites added in five years groupings.

One of the more surprising things (to me at least) I have learned so far through my CHI fellowship is just how accessible a lot of visualization and development tools can be. Not only are many of them free and editable, but much of the necessary code is already created, allowing users to easily copy and transform these packages to create their own visualizations or interactive components. In looking at past CHI projects, I was always intimidated by the amount of coding skill and knowledge they must have taken. I now know that with a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, one can create sophisticated visualizations and websites that are able to communicate stories to a global audience.