How To Turn Your Data Into Beautiful 3-D Maps

DataAppeal wants anyone to be able to create beautiful visuals for their projects, not just mash things up with Google Maps.

Even when it’s useful, data is often ugly. And without design experience, it’s difficult to make it visually appealing. Enter DataAppeal. For the past year, the data visualization company has showcased a web platform that makes it easy for anyone to upload location-based data files and turn them into beautiful, visually unique 3-D animated maps on a digital globe.


“I was interested in the idea that 3-D data maps always get superimposed on the Google Earth platform so you can walk through data, but in the back of my head, I always had that satellite view. We were always looking for ways to superimpose much more artful and sexier types of basemaps to attract people,” explains Nadia Amoroso, the co-founder of DataAppeal. “The whole idea is to introduce the artistic aspect of 3-D data modeling and still keep the analytics, the numbers side.”

This month, DataAppeal integrated the design firm Stamen’s watercolor and toner maps into the tool, both of which add an extra layer of artistic style.

In 2010, Stamen received a Knight News Grant for Citytracking, a visualization platform that made it easy for journalists to, say, create a crime map on the fly.

Towards the end of that grant, the company released its watercolor and toner maps under a Creative Commons License. The DataAppeal integration is an evolution of the Citytracking project, says George Oates, director of interactive design at Stamen. “It’s putting complex tools in the hands of people who don’t need to know how to use them,” she says. “They can work with the data they have.”

So what kinds of maps are people creating? We can see some examples in the slide show above, including CO2 level data captured by a handheld sensor, electricity consumption by ZIP code in New York City, tree damage in NYC from Hurricane Sandy, and population in neighborhoods of Toronto.

Amoroso says the tool is geared towards journalists, the energy and natural resource sector, health care groups, and students, among others. “They play around with the data, and they don’t understand they’re actually learning from it,” she says.


A basic version of the Data Appeal tool is available for free here.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.