What are the most influential visualisations of all time?

By Andy Cotgreave 2012/10/26

With our Customer Conference around the corner, it's time to get excited about the sessions. One of the sessions I am delivering is "The 5 most influential visualisations of all time." In anticipation of the session, I thought I'd ask what you think should be on the list.

I am very excited to be delivering this session - it's something I've been thinking about for over 12 months. My list is finalised; it is in a sealed envelope in a secret vault at Tableau HQ. If you want to be the first to see them, the session is on Wednesday, 9.45am (details here).

My top 5 is bound to be different to yours, so get thinking - let us know in the comments section what you think are the most influential visualisations of all time. And also tell us why. Once you're at the conference, come along and we can compare lists.

(the sealed envelope photo on the front of this blog post is from Zappowbang on flickr)


Submitted by Joe M. on

some great classics can be found at:

Two that have the greatest influence on me:
- Coxcomb Plot: Was the first infographic that I thought looked really cool, and wanted to find a way to recreate and use with my own data. Along the way I learned why it is was such a poor visual representation of data, and now every time I see it I am reminded that there was a time I did not know, and I try to remember that I might be wrong.

- Anscombe’s Quartet: Every time I aggregate data I try to think of this chart, the single aggregated value does not tell the whole story or could be hiding something interesting. This is one of the main reasons I use Tableau every day, it aligns with Shneiderman mantra "Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand", enabling me to see all the data and the the story in the data.

Submitted by Matt F. on

From my astrophysics background i would add

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthrise as it has been said it beginning of the environmental movement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_blue_dot in which the earth is less than a pixel in the image and as Carl Sagan said "From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Submitted by AKChandarana (not verified) on

Can't think of anything to add beyond those contained in Joe's link at the moment, but posting here to make sure I get new comments delivered to me! Hopefully, I'll think of something else to contribute to the discussion.

Submitted by Jon Boeckenstedt (not verified) on

I saw this on a visit to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and it's stuck with me ever since as a terrific and forward-thinking use of visualization: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/akerman/maps_slavery.html

Submitted by Peter GILKS (not verified) on

John Snows map, so good they named a pub after him

Submitted by Sam F. (not verified) on

As a Historian at heart, I find this famours graphic by Charles Minard in 1869 particularly interesting.
(Full disclosure: this graph came to my attention recently through an Edward Tufte mailing)

Submitted by Sam F. (not verified) on

Forgot to include the links (didn't go through before):


Submitted by Michael C. on


What you said about Anscombe's Quartet. I always include this in a presentation about the value/necessity of visual analytics. It is always interesting to hear the stories folks imagine from each of the four graphs.