From Superheroes to Leisure Centres – #notinventedhere!

Keep calm and reuse stuff
Yet ANOTHER variation on the Keep Calm trope.

Early in February, as I was lazily flicking through David McCandless’s ‘Knowledge is Beautiful’, a tweet appeared in my twitterfeed:

It looked pretty interesting, so we had a look at it in the Lab. We have previously looked at the D3 javascript library as a way of visualising our data – but we have so far decided to focus on Leaflet for maps, and Highcharts for interactive charts.

I had even looked at examples of chord diagrams before – but decided that they weren’t particularly good at communicating information (Wrong!).

So we had a look at the Superhero visualisation – which shows superheroes on one side, and superpowers on the other. The interactive visualisation allows you to select either a power, which shows which heroes have that power, or the superhero, and which powers they have.

What was interesting about it was that it communicated a lot of information, in quite a small space. One thing that jumped out at us (not all of us, I have to confess – comics aren’t my thing), was that Spiderman had ‘Substance Secretion’ as one of his powers. Well -hell hath no fury like a nerd who has spotted an error. According to the team, Spiderman does not ‘secrete’ his webs. Rather, he developed canisters that spray some sort of polymer.  In order to check the accuracy of the information, then, we decided to go to the closest thing we have to an expert – Mark the librarian. Mark runs the cult film club at Stretford Library (he also does the Friday morning rhyme-time, but that is largely irrelevant). Mark suggested that actually, in the film, spiderman did develop the ability to shoot organic webs from his wrists. Something to do with being bitten by a queen.

Mark (and the team) spent a bit of time on the visualisation, looking at different heroes and traits. Mark was particularly outraged that Spiderman did not have intelligence – Spiderman apparently being a genius on a par with Batman or Daredevil. There were also discussions around Wolverine’s apparent stealth ability, Superman’s intelligence (disgraceful…), and Captain America’s physical perfection.

The point of all this is that there is a LOT of information here, presented in a way that is engaging, easy to access, and easy to understand. It sparked discussion, and that is what we are trying to do. So I decided that we would nick it.

We let Mark leave, and had a chat in the lab about how we might  make something that might be useful for people in Trafford. What datasets could work in the same way? We had a look at education data – attainment in Key Stage 2 (age 11) by different demographic factors. We grabbed the code from Mike Bostock’s Uber dataviz, and modified it, recreating it with this data. It didn’t take long to reproduce, at all (an hour..?), but when we looked at the visualisation – it was more confusing than anything else. We changed it slightly, so that the thickness of the line indicated what proportion of a particular demographic group (boys, white british, etc), achieved each level in the tests. It seemed to take a very long time, as users, to decode the information, so we abandoned it (didn’t even take a screengrab, annoyingly).

We then had a bit more of a chat about what might work – and decided that a diagram of physical assets along with the services that they provide would be useful, and it would look good. We decided then, to look at sports facilities across Trafford – Leisure centres, municipal golf courses and athletics stadia. We pulled the data off Trafford Community Leisure Trust’s website, and put it into the matrix.

Leisure activities in Trafford
Leisure Activities – Chord Diagram

You can see the interactive version of the results here:

It is really very easy to see what activities are available in Trafford, and where you can do them. It’s also useful to see what activities each centre accommodates. As an example, if Indoor Bowls is your thing, Altrincham Leisure Centres where it’s at for you.

We are really pleased with how it turned out, and we’ve now had requests from a couple of other teams to do similar visualisations with their data – from health service providers, to a strategy mapping viz..

Feel free to pull the code apart, and repurpose it for your own projects. Contact us if you need a hand.

I am verrry grateful to Mark Barrett and Hebeworks for the original inspiration. And Mike Bostock for creating D3..!


One thought on “From Superheroes to Leisure Centres – #notinventedhere!”

  1. Absolutlely LOVE the chord diagrams and would like to take advantage of your kind offer to take a look at your coding. Any tips and advice greatly apreciated.

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