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.
Monday was the birth of the newest British prince. We covered that here. Interestingly, the Economist then covered the cost of giving birth. No surprise, those involving royals tend to be costly. But I did not think that the average American birth actually cost more.
Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics department.
On Monday I read, in print, part of a page one article in the Times. I ran out of times given the whole new royal baby coverage, and opted to read the rest digitally. Originally, this was just for my own enjoyment as there were no graphics in the article.
But this one appeared online.
I clearly have nothing to compare it to in print, which is a shame because this is a nice graphic with one thing I really wanted to point out. Although, maybe a print version would not have had the thing I will get to. But maybe there just wasn’t space in the print edition or they tried to make it work, but the colours or layout wasn’t working. Who knows.
When I saw the digital version, the line chart struck me as particularly nice. Now, maybe the Times has been doing this for a little while and I have missed it, but notice the highlighted line, Rural public. Yes the line is thicker or bolder than the others, but more importantly it has a thin white stroke attached that helps separate it from the lines behind it. Those lines are important for context, but not necessarily to tell the story of how rural public servant jobs have been hit the hardest.
You often see this kind of approach taken with maps. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Google Maps as one example. Their text often has a thin white outline to make it stand out from the content of the map. I just have never seen the logic applied to a line chart.
I doubt the design would hold up in a number of other scenarios. For example, a straight line chart with no line highlighted in particular, the spaghetti-ness mess would make the above a largely white line chart. Too much overlap. And a simple comparison, say of two lines, probably is clear enough that the approach is not necessary. But in scenarios like these where the highlighted series is important, the choice clearly works.
On a much smaller note, check out the x-axis labels. They are used only once for the first chart. And then because the bar charts and line charts align, they carry through straight down the rest of the piece. Very efficient.
I only wish I knew how this would have appeared in print…
Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.
When I woke up this morning, the BBC was reporting that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour. Clearly by the time I sat down to write today’s blog post, she gave birth to the child, a boy. And so now we have this graphic from the BBC showing how the new child fits into the line of succession to the British throne.
In all likelihood, the BBC had this graphic prepared well in advance. And once the child’s name is announced, it can be rapidly updated to include that additional information.
An interesting quirk I wanted to point out was the graphic’s use of orange. The graphic clearly shows how purple is used for the line of succession (and the dotted lines for divorce). But, what about the two orange circles, one for Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the other Prince Harry? Interestingly, those two are both in the line of succession as well, just not directly.
For example, Harry becomes monarch only if William and his children all die without heirs. But we all sort of knew that. Philip, on the other hand, is a few hundred down on the list, but is himself also eligible. Though the odds of that happening are so remote it’s a wonder it was put on the graphic. But still a neat little piece of trivia.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
This week was tax week for my American readers—hopefully you all filed or received an extension. And with it comes to my mind the quote by that guy who did a lot of stuff in and for Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin. Nothing in life is certain, he said, but for death and taxes.
Enter Indexed, who had this great Venn diagram on Tax Day.
On Tuesday, Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing here in Philadelphia after the Boeing 737-700’s port engine exploded. One passenger died, reportedly after being partially sucked out of the aircraft after the explosion broke a window. But the pilot managed to land the aircraft with only one engine and without any further deaths.
I wanted to take a look at some of the eventual graphics that would come out to visually explain the story. And as of Thursday, I have seen two: one from the Guardian and another from the New York Times.
The Guardian’s piece is the simpler of the two, but captures the key data. It locates the engine and the location of the window blown out by debris from the engine.
The New York Times’ piece is a bit more complex (and accompanied elsewhere in the article by a route map). It shows the seat of the dead passenger and the approximate locations of other passengers who provided quotes detailing their experiences.
So the first thing that struck me was the complexity of the graphic. The Times opted for a three-dimension model whereas the Guardian went with a flat, two-dimensional schematic of the aircraft. Notice, though, that the seating layout is different.
Four rows ahead of the circled window location are two seats, likely an exit row, in the Guardian’s graphic where in the Times’ piece they have a full three-seat configuration. If you check seating charts—seatguru.com was the first site that came up in the Google for me—you can see that neither configuration actually matches what the seating chart says should be the layout for a 737-700. Instead it, the Guardian’s more closely resembles the 737-800 model.
Nerding out on aircraft, I know. But, it is an interesting example of looking at the details in the piece. The Guardian’s piece is far closer to the layout, as least as provided by SeatGuru, and the New York Times’ is more representative of a generic narrow-body aircraft.
Personally, I prefer the Guardian in this case because of its improved accuracy at that level of detail. Though, the New York Times does offer some nice context with the passenger quotes. Unfortunately, the three-dimensional model ultimately provides just a flavour of the story, compared to the drier, but more accurate, schematic depiction of the Guardian.
Credit for the Guardian piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.
Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Anjali Singhvi, Sahil Chinoy, and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas.
So two weeks ago I posted about the graphics in a BBC article about how London has surpassed New York in terms of murders, due to a spate of stabbings in the British capital. Well, somehow I missed this: an article from the Economist that rebuts that point. And it does it brilliantly.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
I think everybody who works with data knows that adage. Now, I am not using it to say that the BBC—or the numerous other media outlets that ran the story—lied. Just that it is easy to change the story based on the data, how it is presented, or which subsets of the data are selected.
The Economist’s article points out that the surpassing of New York is a short term data point, a worrying short term trend, definitely, but they then look at the data. They select two timeframes and look at them side-by-side.
And that is what I love about this piece. It shows the long-term context of New York having a far-higher medium-term history of murder (some 28 years of data is shown). When I was growing up in the 90s, murders in New York—and to be fair almost all large American cities—was just something that was a known fact. During that time, London hovered below 200 or so, compared to the 2000+ in early 90s New York.
But then they also show the short term, which does point to a steady rise in London murders. But, the data could also show a one-time dip in the murders in New York. But they also show that the total number of deaths is still higher in New York than London, despite the three months of data.
Murder is not good. But these graphics are a good example of how selecting different time series for the same data set, and then showing which parts of the data to show. The earlier BBC piece, and my revision of it, did not show the total deaths. Nor did either piece show the longer timeline of data.
Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.
Yesterday was Patriots’ Day, celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine—and in my research for this post, apparently now in Connecticut as of this year and Wisconsin of all places—with the date used as that of the famous Boston Marathon. Since I live in none of those states, I know it only because to my knowledge it is the only day we get morning baseball. As the Red Sox play in the morning with the Marathon runners passing through the neighbourhood mid-game-ish.
But yesterday was some wet weather along the East Coast and whilst the Red Sox game was postponed to May—no longer a morning game—the Marathon went on. One has to wonder, however, if those conditions affected the race—they almost certainly did—because this year’s winning times were the slowest in years. Thankfully FiveThirtyEight captured it in this graphic.
It makes nice use of colour to highlight the origin of the various runners and then highlights yesterday’s two winners: an American woman and a Japanese man. Those two nations have not won in a couple of years.
Overall a solid little piece that makes me sad I have to wait until 2019 for another chance at morning baseball.
Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.
Friday night the US, UK, and France struck targets in Syria that play a role in the chemical weapons programme of the Bashir al-Assad regime. This is despite “eliminating” his chemical weapons several years ago. And so not surprisingly the media this past weekend covered Syria and the airstrikes. This print piece from the New York Times, however, looked backwards at the history of the chemical attacks Syria has unleashed against its own people.
The map is straightforward and the timeline helpful. Though I would probably have added a point on the timeline highlighting the Ghouta attack of August 2013. That attack prompted the international community to pressure the Assad regime to, again, “eliminate” its chemical weapon stocks. Clearly it hid some sarin and chlorine gas has industrial uses, making it a classic dual-purpose object that is tricky to classify as a weapon. (Though using it against civilians is clearly a weaponised use of the element.)
On a side note, I wanted to point the editorial design here. The overall page is quite nice.
The map falls squarely within the middle of the article, with a nice gallery of photographs running along the top. It also features a devastating pull quote describing the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. The article fits almost entirely above not just the fold, but also another terrible line of text, in this case the title of another article: Officials Have Lost Count of How Many Thousands Have Died in Syria’s War.
Overall, this was a solid piece providing a backdrop and historical context for the news.
Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.
For those of you in Philadelphia, you are probably glad for today’s (and Saturday’s) forecast: sunny and 25ºC. That means grilling, outdoor drinking, and if you fit this description from Indexed, well, mowing.
Thankfully I live in a city where this is no such thing as lawn. What is lawn?
Though let us not kid ourselves, temperatures fall back to my personal preference by Tuesday.
Yesterday we looked at the shrinking Denver Post. Today we have a graphic from a related story via Politico. The article explores the idea that President Trump performs better in what the article terms “news deserts”, those counties with a very low level of newspaper circulation. (The article explains the methodology in detail.) This piece we are looking at here shows how those counties performed against the circulation rate and their 2016 presidential election result.
Overall, the work is solid. But I probably would have done a few things differently. First, the orange overlay falls in the middle of one column of dots. Do those dots then fall inside or outside the categorisation of news desert?
Secondly, the dots. If this were perhaps a scatter plot comparing the variables of circulation rates and, perhaps, election vote results as a percent, dots would be perfect. Here, however, they create this slightly distracting pattern in the the main area of counties. When the dots are stacked neatly and apart from other columns, as they are more often on the right, the dots are fine. But in the packed space on the left, not as much.
As I was reading through the article I had a couple of questions. For example, couldn’t the lack of newspapers be reflective of the urban–rural split or the education split, both of which can be seen in the same election results. Thankfully the article does spend time going through those points as well. It is a bit lengthy of a read—with a few other perfectly fine graphics—but well worth it.