Visualizing Flows

Sankey diagrams can display data in very interesting ways.


Normally when I hear the term process flow, I die a little inside. It just strikes me as management jargon—a big pet peeve of mine.

Still, there are times in which the term flow just makes sense—and not just on Six Feet Under.

Case in point: Sankey diagrams. Creating them is very simple with this tool and the case studies in The Visual Organization contain a few examples.

I grabbed the salaries of the 2017-2018 Cleveland Cavaliers from Basketball Reference:

Cavs' Salaries by Player in USD (2017-8)

Your Diagram TitleSalary → LeBron James: 33,285,709Salary → Kevin Love: 22,642,350Salary → George Hill: 20,000,000Salary → Tristan Thompson: 16,400,000Salary → J.R. Smith: 13,760,000Salary → Jordan Clarkson: 11,562,500Salary → Kyle Korver: 7,000,000Salary → Cedi Osman: 2,642,857Salary → Rodney Hood: 2,386,864Salary → Jose Calderon: 2,328,652Salary → Jeff Green: 2,116,955Salary → Ante Zizic: 1,645,200Salary → Larry Nance: 1,471,382LeBron James: 33,285,709LeBron James: 33,285,709Salary: 137,242,469Salary: 137,242,469Kevin Love: 22,642,350Kevin Love: 22,642,350George Hill: 20,000,000George Hill: 20,000,000Tristan Thompson: 16,400,000Tristan Thompson: 16,400,000J.R. Smith: 13,760,000J.R. Smith: 13,760,000Jordan Clarkson: 11,562,500Jordan Clarkson: 11,562,500Kyle Korver: 7,000,000Kyle Korver: 7,000,000Cedi Osman: 2,642,857Cedi Osman: 2,642,857Rodney Hood: 2,386,864Rodney Hood: 2,386,864Jose Calderon: 2,328,652Jose Calderon: 2,328,652Jeff Green: 2,116,955Jeff Green: 2,116,955Ante Zizic: 1,645,200Ante Zizic: 1,645,200Larry Nance: 1,471,382Larry Nance: 1,471,382

Evidently, J.R. Smith’s salary doesn’t guarantee that he pays attention to the game’s score. (Couldn’t resist.)

Sure, I could have used a simple bar or line graph above. As I tell analytics capstone students, though, playing with new dataviz applications, tools, charts, datasources, and techniques is just plain fun. This mind-set is a major part of my teaching philosophy.

Marillion Studio Albums by Decade

I noodled around with SankeyMATIC and it’s fairly straightforward. Here’s a dataviz of Marillion’s remarkably consistent stream of albums by decade. I put my favorites of each decade in red. (Let the debate begin.)

Your Diagram TitleRadiation (1998) → 90's: 1Script for a Jester's Tear (1983) → 80's: 1Misplaced Childhood (1985) → 80's: 1Clutching at Straws (1987) → 80's: 1Seasons End (1989) → 80's: 1Holidays in Eden (1991) → 90's: 1Brave (1994) → 90's: 1Afraid of Sunlight (1995) → 90's: 1This Strange Engine (1997) → 90's: 1Fugazi (1984) → 80's: (1999) → 90's: 1Anoraknophobia (2001) → 00's: 1Marbles (2004) → 00's: 1Somewhere Else (2007) → 00's: 1Happiness Is the Road Vol. 1 (2008) → 00's: 1Less Is More (2009) → 00's: 1Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012) → 10's: 1F E A R (2016) → 10's: 1Script for a Jester's Tear (1983): 1Script for a Jester's Tear (1983): 180's: 580's: 5Fugazi (1984): 1Fugazi (1984): 1Misplaced Childhood (1985): 1Misplaced Childhood (1985): 1Clutching at Straws (1987): 1Clutching at Straws (1987): 1Seasons End (1989): 1Seasons End (1989): 1Holidays in Eden (1991): 1Holidays in Eden (1991): 190's: 690's: 6Brave (1994): 1Brave (1994): 1Afraid of Sunlight (1995): 1Afraid of Sunlight (1995): 1This Strange Engine (1997): 1This Strange Engine (1997): 1Radiation (1998): 1Radiation (1998): (1999): (1999): 1Anoraknophobia (2001): 1Anoraknophobia (2001): 100's: 500's: 5Marbles (2004): 1Marbles (2004): 1Somewhere Else (2007): 1Somewhere Else (2007): 1Happiness Is the Road Vol. 1 (2008): 1Happiness Is the Road Vol. 1 (2008): 1Less Is More (2009): 1Less Is More (2009): 1Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012): 1Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012): 110's: 210's: 2F E A R (2016): 1F E A R (2016): 1

For a much better example when this type of diagram makes sense, consider how where one Reddit user slept during over the past six months:

In case you are wondering, you can do the same thing in Tableau.

Simon Says: Use new and interesting methods such as Sankey diagrams to represent data.

I can’t say it any better than Dr. Seuss:


What say you?




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