Data Visualisation: Metro Systems – A Global Comparison

The brief for this project was to take a multitude of statistics of metro systems from around the globe and arrange them in visual and interactive system with the goal of seemless comparison between the various data sets.

Aims and Considerations


To create a visual data system that can be interpreted with intuitive ease while the visual representations of data remain true to the original statistic.



To limit my choice of colour, description, and display all data within two dimensions.

First looking at the data, we needed a way to read the numbers in a way where we could explore different meanings – rather than just the cold statistic.


We imported the data into spreadsheets where we could then set the rows to change. This simple first move freed us from looking at the numbers in one relationship and spun them in a different light to see new comparisons and thus new meanings between the data.


Additionally, importing the data into a spreadsheet we were able to scale specific sets of data which proved too large visually represent in comparison to others.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte proves the compass to come back to again and again when designing for data visualisation.


Full of old examples, the thinking in this books leads with certainty and objectivity on good data communication.


It’s a necessary book to navigate this sensitive area of graphic communication. The writing is deep and at moments beautiful.

“Every bit of ink on a graphic requires a reason. And nearly always that reason should be that the ink presents new information”

— Edward Tufte

Michael Sledner, B. H. Siebers, Edward J. Goth and P. James E. Peebles, New Reduction of the Lick Catalog of Galaxies
E.J Marey, La Méthode Graphique, Paris to Lyon Graphical Train Schedule, 1895

After the long (and arduous) process of finding what works best to display all the information, we went through a million and one iterations to discover what would present the data in the most beneficial way – we found an interactive screen-based design would work the best for this project.

Once we got it to screen we could clear up a lot of the data and place them as simple buttons for the information to be revealed upon the audiences curiosity.


We also got rid of any unnecessary elements such as the arrows at the end of the axis and had all the names for each data point moved off to a menu margin on the left.


What’s also notable is the inversion of colours. Because this was now for screen I wanted the white to shine outward and the black to recess and not strain the eyes – especially as this was something to study to read and not simply glance to read.

An intuitive animation that helped communicate the data was the time sliders all moving from the past and forward toward the present year.

With all this interaction capability we felt it needed an intro screen to equalise each visualisation more than if you were to open it straight onto ‘System Insight’. It feels more equal this way (despite the hierarchy) and incorporates ‘History’ into the whole.

In conclusion, working on dat visualisation stretched our understanding of complex visual communication, and forced us to think so extensively I invariably became aware of new methods and design philosophies.


After the first couple of dips and dives into a spinning frustration of numbers and statistics, we soon found it thoroughly interesting and look forward to more porjects like this in the future.