Thoughts Sparked by World Cup Visualizations

Following a previous post covering Visualizations for the FIFA World Cup 2010, I’ve been asked to share some thoughts for an article by Jeremy Wagstaff for the Jakarta Post and the BBC Wold Service. As I’d love to hear your feedback, I decided to post the interview here and invite you to join the conversation.


Do you happen to know where all this World Cup data is coming from?

Unfortunately I was unable to find the source behind the majority of these applications. Missing credits for the data source can be a big issue in regard for credibility and reliability. The New York Times acts as a good example by having a clear indicator to their source of data beside each visualization on They use MatchAnalysis, a video and statistical analysis provider.

Has anything changed since the last World Cup? It seems there’s a lot more visualization being done this time. Is that so, and if it is, is it because there’s more or better data, it’s cheaper, or because our devices or palettes have changed? Any other reasons?

I must admit that my involvement in the field of data visualization was not as intense during the last World Cup. Therefore I can’t really compare the amount of dedicated visualizations. That said, I see an increase in efforts to make underlying data visible and understandable for a lot of events happening. This is by far not limited to sport events—think of analyzing political speeches, financial trends or environmental developments. Furthermore the documentation of these efforts seems to become more complete as awareness and interest by the general public rise. This means, creations get spread more quickly and reach a far broader audience than a few years ago. From a creator’s perspective I think that both the tools and data available have increased in quantity and quality. We can build interactive visualizations with tested tools, based on established frameworks and with standardized data formats instead of writing everything from scratch.

I wanted to suggest that this World Cup seems to have been something of a tipping point for data visualization. Any truth to that?

We have to differentiate here: Do we talk about the business value of data visualization or the understanding of the general public? As for the latter, I am not sure if calling it a tipping point is adequate—as mass adoption has yet to be confirmed. But I believe that it is a step in the right direction. The discussion about the business value needs to be considered separately for individual business cases and may be content of an article in its own right.

Generally speaking, there seems to be a great appetite for this kind of thing. Is that the case, and if so, what’s driving it?

The rising popularity can be explained by two factors. First, there’s a genuine interest for the substance at hand: the data. What insights can I draw from it? Are there hidden patterns? And so on. Secondly, I credit the overall user experience. Visitors get drawn in with engaging storytelling, readable and understandable visual display of the data and an easy to use user interface. In addition to these basic elements there are techniques we can introduce to amplify the immersion like sensory integration, game mechanics and social design. Furthermore ease of distribution helps spreading the word about these types of data visualizations.

What’s the business model for all the time spent on this kind of visualization for media stuff?

We can hardly name one single business model for these visualizations as they are created by companies in many different economical sectors. One basic measurement would be the return on investment: What do I get if I put x amount of hours / personnel / money into it? Some factors can be taken into consideration if we focus on the media sector: Integrate the user into the storytelling process, underline the written words with meaningful visualization, create an engaging coverage that is more likely to be shared and discussed. All of these parts sum up to create a competitive advantage that can result in a larger and more engaged readership.

Any other thoughts–about what’s happening, the business model, the future, etc?

To successfully create a business case, a visualization must solve a real user need. This is evident for business analytics and scientific visualization. When it comes to more casual visualization projects this problem-solving nature isn’t always given. Visualization is thus positioned closer to entertainment—which isn’t a bad place to be either, but has different mechanics. We have a more playful repertoire of drivers available. At the same time we also face the challenge of communicating the information with clarity and integrity.

I believe the current state of visualization is promising and challenging at the same time—which makes this field so exciting and worthwhile.

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  • Andy

    Hi Benjamin. Thanks for sharing this interview and opening up further discussion. I've taken the structure of the interview and used it to present some of my own thoughts here
    Feel free to share these with Jeremy.

  • Wiederkehr

    Great to read your take on the questions, Andy. You shared some solid thoughts that I've missed.