Skip to main content

Your guide to the Visible Trade data visualisation tool

Updated Thursday, 16th June 2011
Our data visualisation of the UK's trade with the world can seem a bit daunting at first - so we've got this video and text guide to show you how to get the best from it...

This page was published over 11 years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see how we deal with older content.

Now visit our Visible Trade tool. 

We’ve developed Visible Trade, an exciting data visualisation tool to give you the chance to explore UK export and import data from the past 20 years. Using data mined from HM Revenue & Customs by Business & Trade Statistics Ltd, this tool gives you the chance to break the data down between years, commodities and countries.

You can then share any stories you find by taking snapshots of the screen you’re looking or embedding it into your blog, social networks, academic essays and more.

Before you delve into this interactive, here’s a little helping hand…

First, have a play...

Visible Trade - screengrab  

The first screen you see shows all UK imports and exports for all countries in all commodities for the year 2009. The colourful circles represent different countries, and the labels you see mark the top 10 countries.

Check out the labels to discover which country a circle represents, and the value of that country’s joint exports and imports with the UK in pound sterling. You can actually drag these labels around to they don't obscure your view.

The bigger the circle, the bigger the value. You can see more labels by using the Countries feature – see below.

In the background is a world map to help you figure out where in the world these circles are. As a default, the circles are coloured according to the country’s latest GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period). There is an option to change this to ‘Colour by population’ using the colours setting – see below.

In the top left are three options (currently showing UK Imports & Exports, 2009 and All commodities). Click on these to view data by:

  • All UK Imports & Exports, just Imports to the UK or just Exports from the UK
  • Years (ranging from 1992 to 2009)
  • Commodities (these are based on the official Harmonised System standard)

Use the arrows that appear to the left of each one to easily scroll through the options, allowing you to quickly visualise how data changes.

Visible Trade black bar  

Above the map is a black bar with different symbols and sliders on it. Let’s start with the symbols. Simply pass your mouse over each one to see what they mean. Here's a guide to what they mean:

Commodity logo   Commodity buttons: There are two Commodity symbols, the map view (the circles symbol on the left) and the tabular view (the bars symbol on the right). The map view is the default view with the circles but the tabular view is where you can see the same commodities information that we were visualising on the map, but displayed as an ordered list. You can change what is shown and the way the list is ordered by clicking on the drop down menu at the top. And you can also change the selection of data you are looking at, or flip through the years to see how the picture changes over time.

Now let’s look at the other side of the data story: Trade by Geography.

Geography symbol

Geography buttons: Click on this and see a new screen showing the data broken down by countries. The last drop down menu will then change to list countries instead of commodities. Then explore specific commodity data by clicking on the commodity name. To return to seeing all trade, click on the arrow in the circle. Of course you can also see this data in the tabular view using the bar symbol next to it, as we saw before with the Commodities, allowing you to see more clearly the Countries listed in the order you specify. 

Commodity symbol
Then to return to the original screen with the circles, click on ‘Filter by commodity’.


Countries symbol
Countries symbol: Here, you can choose to view data by specific countries. Simply click on the ‘Show top 10 countries by value’, then select those countries you wish you view. To return to all countries, click ‘Top 10 by value’ again.


Black rectangle with three horizontal white lines stacked vertically. Each line has a white dot on at different points. The first line has the dot nearest to the left of the line, the second has it nearest to the right of the line and the final one has it in the centre.
Colours symbol: Here you can personalise your viewing experience, changing the look and feel of the tool by changing hue, saturation and lightness, as well as transparency. You can also choose to ‘Colour by GDP’ to allow you to compare a country’s GDP with the size of its imports and exports with the UK, or ‘Colour by population’ to compare its population – a key to this is shown along the bottom of the screen. This section also allows you to restore defaults.


Share tool
Share symbol: Click on this symbol to download a screenshot of your current screen and use the embed code to embed the data into your blog, social network, academic essays and more.

In this black bar, you’ll also find sliders which allow you to change your view.

The ‘Scale’ slider changes the scales of the circles...

... and the ‘Zoom’ slider allows you to hone in on particular areas. Drag the screen around with your mouse to find your place. 

Get started with a story: Up in arms

Step 1. Select 'Imports to the UK' from the top left navigational area

Imports to the UK

Step 2. Select the year 2000

Select 2000

Step 3. Select Miscellaneous then Arms from the commodities

Select arms

Step 4. Drag the Scale bar up so the circles get bigger

Zoom in

Step 5. Zoom in a bit and drag around so the view is easier

Step 6. Now change it to Exports from the UK and notice how it changes

Interesting huh?

More about the data

You may notice slight anomalies in the data. All data comes from HM Revenue & Customs via Business & Trade Statistics Ltd. But due to a variety of reasons, including various changes in countries over the years eg, the break-up of the Soviet Union and political change in the Balkans and the fact Revenue & Customs made extensive changes to the country codes during the period 1990 to 1994 before settling down to a consistent classification after 1994 (NB. for clarity and consistency, we have based our country listings on their current status), there are some anomalies.

To view the data in its original form, visit the UK Trade Info website. You will need to register on the website (for free) to view the information. To do so, simply click on the dropdown box next to ‘register for’ at the top of the page and select Trade Data, this will take you to the registration form and once you complete and submit the form you will have a username and password. You will then need to login to the website to view import and export statistics from 1997 to 2010. Data is stored using either 8 digit commodity codes or SITC codes; and you can view the information in value (pounds sterling), quantity (weight in kilograms) and other units.

Are there any questions we haven’t answered in this help guide? If so, leave a comment below. 

Now visit our Visible Trade tool. 


Become an OU student

Ratings & Comments

Share this free course

Copyright information

Skip Rate and Review

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?