England and Wales Census Results

Earlier this week, the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom released census results for England and Wales. (Northern Ireland and Scotland are reported separately.) England has more people than expected, most likely because of undercounting of immigrants, and Wales is now some three million and counting. There are fewer Christians than expected—and fewer Jedi than I expected—as the ranks of the non-religious grow. But from of course all of this comes a bevy of visualisations. These are but a few, but if anybody finds others worth nothing, please feel free to send them my way.

Straight from the source is a set of interactive mapping applications from ONS that compare 2001 data to 2011 data. As best it can, census districts are compared on a one-to-one basis, but with boundary changes that isn’t always possible. Clicking on district provides one with details about the responses for that area.

% Christian across England and Wales
% Christian across England and Wales
% Christian in North Devon
% Christian in North Devon

Perhaps the one thing missing from these—and it may well owe to the aforementioned boundary changes—is a map of changes to see which areas have been most impacted. Or a map of the results compared to the average to see where the average can be found and where the positive and negative extremes can be found.

An infographic from the Guardian looks at the overall dataset with quite a few maps and then circle-y things. While the large map is the white population in 2011, the remaining maps are before and after comparisons. Again, an interesting look would have been perhaps deviations from the average or of the actual change per district.

UK Census results visualised
UK Census results visualised

I appreciate the impact of the main story, the increasing diversity of England and, to a lesser extent, Wales. London in particular is now minority white. However, I am less keen on the circle-y things and that data could probably have been presented in a clearer, more direct fashion. I am not a fan of red, yellow, and green traffic light colours, but I also recognise that the Guardian is working within their brand on this.

Unfortunately this interactive map of Northern Ireland’s national identity does not quite work for me. I appreciate the toggle between the different response options, however, I find the responses themselves hard to compare. The colours remain the same, but the scales for the results change. For those identifying as Northern Irish, the top value is clearly less than those identifying as either British or Irish. But I would have liked to have seen the scales for British and Irish to closer match. I also find the black background distracting and overwhelming the colours. I wonder how the result would have worked if treated with the above aesthetic.

British identity in Northern Ireland
British identity in Northern Ireland

The BBC took a stab too with a section devoted to the results. Unlike the ONS visualisation above, however, the side-by-side comparison is forced to be smaller with the included text. And when one zooms into a particular district, the map degrades into crude polygons—a particular pet peeve of mine—that would be unrecognisable to someone familiar with the intimate geographic details of their home region. (Yes, simple shapes make the files smaller for overview maps, but when seen up-close, they lose their value by making ugly maps.) Also, the colours and bins in this particular view are not as informative as in the view above.

Christianity in England and Wales
Christianity in England and Wales
Christianity in North Devon
Christianity in North Devon

The BBC, however, did create a small graphic for an article that showed population changes in the districts, alas the colours did not work as well as one would hope.

Population Change
Population Change

That’s a lot for people to digest, but, overall I think the clearest visualisations go to the ONS. They lack the commentary that can be brought by journalism organisations, e.g. the BBC, but one needs a clear and powerful visualisation before one can start writing an analysis.

Credit for the ONS results goes to the ONS Data Visualisation Centre, for the Guardian infographic credit goes to Paul Scruton and Mark McCormick, for the Northern Ireland piece credit goes to John Burn-Murdoch, and credit for the BBC goes to the BBC.

Author: Brendan Barry

I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? I am the data visualisation manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (This blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of the Fed, blah blah blah legal stuff.) And with my main interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I enjoy cooking and reading and am interested in various subjects from history and geography to politics to science to the arts. And I allow all of them to influence my work.

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