You Say You Want a Revolution…

If you have been living under a rock—or perhaps I should say isolated at an oasis deep in the Sahara—you may not have heard that these are some interesting times in northern Africa and the Middle East. Popular protests begat revolutions that have now toppled two governments, Tunisia and Egypt, and quite possibly a third in the near future, Libya. And for those that have not seen governments fall, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and Morocco have all been disrupted to some degree by protests against the governments in power.

Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of these movements have been the social-networking and mobile communications that spread the news of protests, riots, and crackdowns like wildfire. Sites like Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in passing word and for many other, people simply used their mobile phones to spread the news.

CNN has this series of maps to highlight internet and mobile phone use in the region. Nothing particularly fancy about the maps, though I wonder about the choice of green to represent so many Arab nations. Intentional or coincidence? Regardless of the colours, I think these maps are an example of using simple informational-based graphics to support a story. And given the goings-ons in the world, I thought this worth posting.

Internet and Mobile Phone Use in Northern Africa and the Middle East
Internet and Mobile Phone Use in Northern Africa and the Middle East

From CNN via a post at the Map Room.

Having Your (Presidential Birthday) Cake and Eating It Too

Presidents’ Day originally celebrated the birthday of George Washington, the first president of the United States. (Though, one could get crazy and say it was actually Samuel Huntington, but I fear I would digress.) Now technically the holiday still does celebrate Washington as the official name of the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday, but by and large we group folks like Lincoln in there too.

Regardless of who exactly is remembered, we remember a United States of the 18th and 19th centuries. And thus it seems appropriate to share a piece from Charles Blow over at the New York Times.

United States' Ranking
United States' Ranking

The information graphic is a heat chart of various rankings and index numbers that compare the United States across various metrics to the rest of the world’s “advanced economies”, as decided by the IMF. I certainly have some issues with a few of the metrics, for example what exactly does Gallup mean by percentage of people thriving? And are the math and science scales out of 600 total points? I presume as much but cannot be certain. These could have briefly explained in the footer, or similar to how the food insecurity metric is handled—though I suspect that would be too much from an aesthetic standpoint. The use of drop shadows, from a design perspective, I disagree with; the dark crimson should surely be enough distinction to stand alone. And for completeness, I would have included what appears to be the beigish middle ground between the best and the worst in the scale at the top of the piece.

As to the story the piece supports, I leave that for the audience to decide. Is the United States of the President Obama/Bush as great as that of President Washington/Adams?

If Money Grew on Trees…

I would have become an arborist…alas, I am a mere designer in a world where trees shed leaves, not cash. The government, on the other hand, now that sheds a lot of cash.

President Obama released his budget proposal for 2012, proposal because the responsibility actually falls to the House of Representatives to pass spending bills and budgets. The New York Times, crediting Shan Carter and Amanda Cox, has put together a nice little interactive piece explaining the proposal. (It would be rather interesting to see if they compare the proposal to the passed budget, whenever that happens.)

Cropping of the US Budget for 2012 (Proposed)
Cropping of the US Budget for 2012 (Proposed)

From one side of the aisle we hear arguments about how we must cut spending from things like education and infrastructure while the other side pushes back. However, what this piece does quite nicely is allow the user to isolate mandatory spending. That is, we see that if we really wanted to cut spending, we would need to look at reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and then cutting the Defense Department budget. At last, something on which we see bipartisan agreement, reforming and cutting those budgets is too tough (read likely to cost representatives, senators, and presidents their jobs) and so they are left alone. But, I digress.

Furthermore, the piece adds the change in spending since 2010 for the various programs by way of greens and reds. While certainly not necessary—one could argue that the inclusion of such data makes a sometimes difficult chart type that much more difficult—I think that in this case the additional data is more than worthwhile. This year’s theme seems to be austerity and that means cuts. So while highlighting, say, the massive portion of government spending that is Medicare, Medicaid, and the US military we can also highlight that much of all that spending is still rising.

All You Need Is a Box of Chocolates, a Dozen Roses, a Pricey Dinner Reservation, a Fancy Bottle of Wine, Tickets to the Show…

Valentine’s Day is a day both loved and loathed; I need not detail which groups feel which way. However, despite the dark history—think less hearts and love and more martyrdom and death—we have seen the lighter elements promoted by various causes from genuine love to commercial profits. But all things must have their symbols, especially if they are to be capitalised upon for profits, and we are now accustomed to Cupid representing love and Valentine’s Day. (One must wonder what the Christian martyrs would think if they learned that Valentine’s Day, once originally a Christian saint day, was now symbolised by a heathen, pagan god.)

Courtesy the New York Times, designer Ji Lee now, however, offers you not the staid and static symbol of love we have all come to know and love, but now a true choice of form and symbol. Which would you choose?

A Selection of Cupids
A Selection of Cupids

Personally, I have to go for the G5…

Charging the Flux Capacitor: No Lightning Required.

My co-worker, Ben, who is far more knowledgable about cars than myself, brought the following to my attention.

At the Consumer Electronics Show we always get to see the latest in cool, new, must-have toys. This year, however, a company called Fulton Innovations displayed a proof-of-concept, wireless charging-station for electric vehicles. And while one must wonder about the conservation and inefficiencies of such a powering station, Fulton provided information on just how efficient their system would be. In the form of graphics.

Car Charger Graphics
Car Charger Graphics

And by and large, they are not bad. Yes, yes, the pie charts could be substituted for something else. But, I do like linking the colours in the pie chart to the parts in the power-system located in the diagram of the car. They help to explain just where exactly the inefficiencies in the system are to be found. And by providing the base of the plugged-in car, they also allow one to compare the two methods of wireless charging to that of plugging the vehicle in.

South Sudan

For those who may not be aware, part of Africa’s largest country is holding a referendum on whether it should remain a part of Sudan or secede and become an independent state, Southern Sudan—though one wonders if they would not come up with a different name. About 2005 a peace agreement all-but-ended a decades-long civil war in Sudan and as that violence subsided the attention in Sudan shifted to Darfur. The terms for the peace deal included a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan, long since joined with the northern half of Sudan as part of a British colony in Africa to control the Nile River.

Map of Southern Sudan
Map of Southern Sudan

The two halves of the country were and are very much different and the BBC has used maps to highlight these differences. The problem is that there are oil fields along the proposed border and a disputed region, called Abeyi, has significant deposits of its own. And so the question of who controls the oil and thus the money and the power remains. That, however, is a story for another post. This is just to highlight the maps.

Overall, not bad. I find using the different hues for the different subject matters a smart idea. The shift forces the audience to focus on the change in meaning, which is very important if the shape of the coloured area is not otherwise changing. That said, the infant mortality choropleth uses too great a shift in hues between data bins when compared to the water, education, and food security maps. The oil field map, while not necessarily a data-heavy map in the same way as the choropleths, is a nice bookend to what started the series, i.e. the satellite view. These highlight the sheer environmental and, in a fashion, economic differences between the two regions of Sudan.

I find the ethnic groups map, however, the most difficult to fit into the series. Certainly from a subject matter it is the most important. However, the colours chosen to represent the various ethnic groups seem disparate. The southern Dinka, for example, are represented as an olive-green whereas the northern Beja are more of a bluish-green. I think a better solution would have been to keep the three main groups, i.e. the Arabs, Northern Sudan, and Southern Sudan, and then assign each a different hue, for the sake of an example say the three primary colours. Then within those groups, different tints for the various but related ethnic groups. This would highlight the various ethnic groups existing across Sudan, but show the geographic split between the two groups.

Overall, a good effort from the BBC to highlight the stark differences between Northern and Southern Sudan.

May I Have Pepperoni on That Pie (Chart)?

I love pizza. I think most people do too, though, we can all disagree on whether thin crust or thick crust is better. Yet as someone who has now eaten both…well…I shall not wade into the matter. But, I will toss up this piece from the New York Times.

a Pizza Pie Chart
a Pizza Pie Chart

The paper has an article about Domino’s adding more cheese to their pizza to increase sales as part of a plan from a US government-supported agency. At the same time, the US government is also trying to reduce the amount of saturated fats consumed to reduce obesity. And of course cheese contains saturated fat.

Naturally, the supporting graphic should make use of pizza. And in what better form than as a pie chart.

Though having now been looking at this for quite some time, I am in the mood for pizza. Though I could do without the saturated fat…

The Candidate Says Tweet Tweet

Yesterday, the New York Times released this interactive piece to look at the popularity of particular candidates in that seemingly ubiquitous world of Twitter. Perhaps it was inevitable that the Times or somebody else would create something like this. Regardless, it is out there and I have to say, I am left confused.

A cropping of the interactive piece.
A cropping of the interactive piece.

No, not by the how it works. I understand that more activity makes for larger bubbles. (Although at this point I shall refrain from my usual diatribe on bubbles.) And if you click on a particular bubble/candidate, the vector and colour of the little bubbles describes the type of activity. Understand? Check.

But why are the bubbles placed where they are on the screen?

Perhaps the rationale is explained somewhere…but I have yet to find it. And after sitting down with a colleague yesterday, the two of us could not quite figure it out. Vaguely one gets the impression of representing actual geography—except for things like Delaware being in the bottom corner. Perhaps the bubbles’ centre points are randomly generated? They do not appear to be on separate loads of the Flash piece.

And so I am left with the thought that the bubbles are a needless distraction and, in fact, lead to greater confusion. What if, for example, the candidates were not bubbles but bars? The bars would create a visual rhythm as they grow and shrink and each could be clickable. One could sort the bars by some sort of a hierarchy: alphabetic, geographic, political, &c. You could even still click on a bar for more detailed views and perhaps do some other neat things.

I am just left scratching my head on this one.