Episode 13: How to Enhance Your Portfolio with Maps - Featured Data Viz by Hyemi Song

Hyemi Song. Image via her LinkedIn.

Hyemi Song. Image via her LinkedIn.


Welcome to episode 13 of Data Viz Today. How can you enhance your portfolio with maps? Host Alli Torban dives into specific ways to get started making your own maps! Featured data viz by Hyemi Song models how to use a beautifully styled map to show emerging spatial patterns.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Google PodcastsStitcher, SoundCloud & Spotify.

"CityWays" by Hyemi Song. Image via her website.

  • Welcome! I'm Alli Torban.

  • 00:28 - If you’re a data viz practitioner, please consider taking the Data Visualization Community survey.

  • 00:55 - Edward Tufte will be in D.C. giving his 1-day workshop on June 12, 13, or 15.

  • 01:05 - Enroll in my free mini-course called “Make Your First Custom Map in Under 30 Minutes”.

  • 01:40 - Today, we’re diving into the question “How can you enhance your portfolio with maps?”

  • 02:25 - Featured viz called “CityWays” by Hyemi Song

  • 03:00 - Hyemi Song is an award-winning data visualization designer based in New York City.

  • 03:30 - The data was collected using people’s location data from activity tracking apps over the course of a year in Boston and San Francisco.

  • 03:38 - She used Python to clean the data.

  • 03:45 - She made prototypes in Tableau and QGIS.

  • 04:00 - She discovered that a lighter colored basemap didn’t show the density of the routes very well, so she went with a darker colored basemap. She used yellow and red to represent the routes in each city because they represented the warm feeling of the viz (like weather, activity).

  • 04:25 - She used Javascript, D3.js, Mapbox, Leaflet, HTML, CSS.

  • 05:20 - In Nathan Yau’s book Data Points, his chapter on Visualizing Spatial Data talks about how spatial data is easy to relate to because at any given moment, you have a sense of where you are. And the natural hierarchy of a map lets you explore at different granularities.

  • 06:10 - There was a really cool article published by Steven Bernard of the Financial Times called “Data Visualisation: how the FT newsroom designs maps” and he said that when he joined the team 22 years ago, they created maps by tracing over atlases, scanning it, and then retracing in something like Adobe Illustrator. Today, they use QGIS and R, which allows them to join data to maps instantly, so they can spend more time on the visual representation. He also noted that maps usually work best when there’s some sort of emerging spatial pattern. But it’s not necessary. You can use annotations or animations to draw the reader’s attention or tell an interesting story. Maps aren’t always the best way to represent spatial data - sometimes a bar chart will do, but definitely don’t let yourself be limited by not knowing how to map some points.

  • 07:35 - Options to get started: Try Datawrapper if you want some software guidance, Nathan Yau has a lot of tutorials on how to make maps in R, and Mapbox’s tutorials are top notch.

  • 07:56 - My inspired viz: I downloaded data from NYC Open Data site with all trees in NYC and their health.

  • 08:40 - I brought the data into Mapbox and styled the points’ color to correspond to the health of the tree.

  • 09:15 - I documented all my steps to create this map with videos and step-by-step guidelines in this free mini-course.

My inspired viz - mapping the health of NYC trees! 


  • 09:20 - Final takeaway: being able to visualize spatial data is a must because it allows people to instantly orient themselves and relate to the data, and nowadays with the barrier of entry being so low, there’s really no reason not to dive in and add a map to your portfolio today!

  • 09:40 - Hyemi’s advice for designers just starting out: teach yourself (both technically and conceptually) through diving into a personal project.

  • 09:55 - You don’t need anyone’s permission to make maps or data viz. Just pick a data set, ask yourself some questions and visualize it!

  • 10:10 - Check out Hyemi’s website at and follow her on Twitter!

  • 10:30 - Get mapping right away with my free-mini course “Make Your First Custom Map in Under 30 Minutes”.

Allison Torbanmap, song