Lyra Gets its First Visualization Tutorial

Mar 4, 2014
The Why Axis

Before the demo session even began, Tapestry was humming with talk of "Lyra." A group gathered around Arvind Satyanarayan as he took us for a spin around the tool he helped developed at UW Interactive Data Lab.

It's just a few day later and the tool's open source code is up on Github. You can run the app yourself in the browser and now the first tutorial about Lyra has been written.

Jim Vallandingham's Lyra tutorial is naturally a tentative investigation of an app that is in early alpha. It does a fantastic job of teasing apart the current features of Lyra and making predictions about how it can be used in the future. Some sections are highlighted below.

Let's Make a Bar Chart with Lyra

The Why Axis

Using the example data in Lyra, Jim takes us step by step through creating a simple visualization of gold medals by country in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It's a simple chart but it keeps the tutorial manageable and encourages others to go further. The tutorial is peppered with animated gifs and annotated screenshots that are easy to follow. He leaves us with some "homework" at the end as well:

If you want to build on this example, what about filtering out countries with 0 gold medals?

Right now India, Armenia, etc are shown, but their bar values are really 0. Try filtering out these countries and re-situating the visual elements to take up this extra space.

For the more adventurous, try getting a visual display for all 3 types of medals. This might involve using the Group By Transform to add some hierarchy to the data.


Lyra’s binding capabilities allow for comparisons to some of what is featured in Bret Victor’s Drawing Dynamic Visualizations tool. If his tool is released, it will be interesting to compare further.

I heard comparisons to Bret Victor's proposed tool at Tapestry as well. Lyra seems like the distillation of several needs felt by the visualization community and undoubtedly has lots of potential.

Finding its place

It has some overlap with Density Design’s wonderful RAW app. While RAW is more polished, I think Lyra might ultimately provide a more powerful feature set for those interested in learning the tool.

I think Lyra is a stronger challenge to Tableau than RAW. While incredibly early in its life, Lyra is positioned well to be adopted and improved by the data visualization community in a way that Tableau can't match. Every gripe about Tableau will stay a gripe while power-users can actively improve Lyra by contributing to the open source project.

Jim goes on to say:

D3’s success in the data visualization world has been in part because of its large thriving community. And this large community was built up quickly in part because of the many examples provided by the authors as well as other individuals.

Jim has started the ball rolling with his tutorial. I'll be adding new resources and reviews of Lyra here as I come across them


Arvind also presented Lyra on stage at OpenVis Conference this year. He walked through some of the static examples above and talked about the future of Lyra for creating interactive visualizations.


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