March 21, 2014

Lyra: the Interactive Visualization Design Environment

I recently spent some time using Lyra an "interactive visualization design environment" that allows you to create visualizations without writing a single line of code. It's being developed by Arvind Satyanarayan, Kanit “Ham” Wongsuphasawat and Jeffrey Heer (think Prefuse, Protovis, D3, Vega) at the University of Washington's Interactive Data Lab.

Lyra is a bit like other interactive visualization design tools such as Tableau and Spotfire. However, under the hood it's powered by D3 (like Now, I enjoy coding visualizations directly using D3 but I realise not everyone shares my enthusiasm or has the time to learn D3. Lyra gives you access to the expressiveness of D3 without requiring you to learn its API (or Javascript).

The Lyra application is shown below and consists of three panels:
  • the left-hand panel manages Data Pipelines, where you define and transform (sort, group, filter, window, apply formula) data sources
  • the centre panel displays your visualization, where you interactively select and modify visualization elements: marks (rectangles, symbols, arcs, areas, lines and text), axes and layers
  • the right-hand panel provides access to attributes of the elements in your visualization
Once you've created a visualization you can export it as an image (PNG or SVG) or a Vega specification.

If you're familiar with D3 then you'll recognise some of its idioms in Lyra. For example, D3's data-binding mechanism is implemented by dragging-and-dropping data variables onto the attributes of visual elements.

If you want to try Lyra then you have several options:
Bear in mind that Lyra is alphaware. I did encounter a few issues, e.g. saving and recovering work didn't appear to work properly. The authors are interested in constructive feedback.