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.
Somalia is beset by a bevy of problems; from an Islamist insurgency that holds great swathes of the south, to the de facto independent regions of Somaliland and Puntland in the north, to the pirates operating off the coast, to the barely functional government in Mogadishu that controls only sections of the capital through the backing of an African Union peacekeeping force, to the recent famine that devastated the south of the country.
The famine, which ended formally ended only earlier this month, is the focus of an interactive piece by the Guardian. It examines how the tragedy unfolded, especially when early indicators pointed to the likelihood of a famine. Through a timeline, the piece marks out what happened when—probably important as not all readers may be familiar with the details of the disaster—atop a chart that visualises the aid given to Somalia. Other line charts describe who donated and when.
The most interesting, however, is an investigation into what (perhaps) spurred the donations. Using the same timeline as a common base, it charts when donations were made against mentions in six US and UK media outlets against Twitter mentions and Google Search Insights.
With this last bit in particular, the Guardian has attempted to use data visualisation to support an argument made in accompanying text. Often times data visualisation and infographics will simply document an event or provide facts and figures. Here, however, an attempt was made to link the aid effort to media coverage (90% of aid came to Somalia after the story broke in the media), perhaps to show causation. But, the writer admits that ultimately the visualisation can only show the overlap or correlation, which the writer further notes is itself consistent with academic debate over the existence of the “CNN effect”.
Credit for the piece goes to Claire Provost, Irene Ros, Nicola Hughes, and the Guardian Interactive Team.
So apparently last night actors, directors, and others associated with the production of films won little statues. (And then probably celebrated with fancy foods and wines.) Yes, last night was the Academy Awards. But who is this Academy that decides upon the best films and performances?
As it turns out, the demographics of the Academy do not quite mirror those of the broader country. Just over a week ago, the Los Angeles Times looked at the Academy and visualised its membership, discovering the details of which was itself a journalistic feat.
After a broad overview with pie charts and such, each branch was mapped as a choropleth to the Los Angeles area. Those members from outside the LA metropolitan area were given small squares to represent their cities.
As someone not at all familiar with Los Angeles and its neighbourhoods, perhaps where the members of the various branches of the Academy live is actually somewhat interesting. However, I fail to understand the value in that. More useful is the idea of breaking out a socio-economic demographic and mapping that data. And if that had been the case here we almost have a set of small multiples. These are just a bit big.
Overall, a solid body of work.
Credit for the visualisation piece goes to Doug Smith, Robert Burns, Khang Nguyen, and Anthony Pesce.
Part of the State of the Union was about the administration’s plan to lower the corporate tax rate while closing loopholes and ending subsidies. The goal is to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% without losing revenue.
Along with the New York Times article about the proposal the Times offers a graphic showing the amount of taxes paid by almost all members of the S&P 500. This includes local, state, federal, and foreign taxes and over earnings from 2005 to 2010. The visualisation is a simple dot plot showing the distribution of tax rates for the various companies, grouped into economic sectors.
We are coming upon the date when a year ago an earthquake and its subsequent tsunami devastated Japan. As the wave rushed over land it ripped up and destroyed whole villages. Most of the debris remained scattered across the Japanese landscape, but as the water receded some was inevitably swept back out to sea.
The International Pacific Research Center has released a model of where any floating debris—a good amount is presumed to have sank by now—may have been carried by the ocean’s currents.
Yo, Philly, apparently Pew did a survey on what Philadelphians think about Philadelphia. And what better way to talk about a survey than through an infographic. So thanks to the Inquirer, that is what we have.
The interesting bit is that while there is a black-and-white, presumably print version, the website broke the whole graphic into its components and made them larger for web viewing. But, if you look at this example from the segment on immigration and diversity, they ought to have left colour alone. The two segments Bad Thing and No Difference use the same colour when they clearly do not mean the same thing. The black-and-white version keeps those two as separate greys.
Presidents’ Day is actually Washington’s Birthday. That makes sense when you consider how Washington is still a much beloved president. And according to a recent survey, the most favoured president.
What is worth nothing is that most Americans know little of the 19th century presidents, save the big names like Lincoln, Grant, and (Teddy) Roosevelt. Not until the other Roosevelt (FDR) do we start seeing a decline in “Not Sure” responses. But, by far, Washington and Lincoln are the most favoured presidents.
The questions for all of us on this holiday are who’s your favourite? And how does he stack up? (Get it? Eh, chart humour.)
The crisis in Syria now resembles more of a civil war. The UN General Assembly has condemned the conflict and passed a resolution calling for Bashar al-Assad to step aside along with a host of other steps to resolve the conflict. However, nothing can happen until the Security Council agrees on a measure, which is still unlikely given the previous vetoes by China and Russia.
This piece from the Guardian chronologically explains what has been happening—at least as best as can be determined in the not-so-media-friendly country. As this story focuses on dates and places, a map feels natural. The designers have added some crucial details from the backstory about the ethnic complexities of the country and denoted the larger and more important urban centres.
When one clicks on a date, coloured by what part of the story is taking place, markers with text boxes overlay the original city markers and provide the user information on what happened in that city on that date. Or, if the event is more general, the box appears outside the borders.
The interface is rather simple, but works in focusing a person in on a time. Unfortunately, since much of this story can be seen through the lens of locale, e.g. the city of Homs has borne the brunt of al-Assad’s wrath, one cannot focus in on a place and then add time. For example, clicking on the marker for Homs and then seeing a chronological list of events that occurred there would also be quite useful.
Another slight improvement would be more clearly signifying the date being viewed. It does appear in the text box, but with the visual prominence of the main navigation at the top, on a few occasions when I was going through the piece, I did forget what date I was on and had brief moments of confusion.
The previous two entries have been about visualisations of the administration’s budget proposal for 2013. Today’s will be (probably) the last in such a theme. Perhaps some wonder if not the bubbles and circles of the Times’ visualisation, what?
Some might answer bar charts. Because we all love bar charts. But, as in this example from the Philadelphia Inquirer, sometimes we are left wanting more.
The graphic captures the size of the budget by general spending and revenue areas, but misses the story on how each has changed on account of this new era of austerity. What colour was in the previous examples, here instead we see it used to group the different categories of spending. From an aesthetic standpoint, the depth in the third dimension is distracting and the space between the two stacked bars (and the line separating them) does not aid in comparison.
In brief review, of the three visualisations presented over the past three days, I have to say that the Washington Post’s tree maps are the most useful from a design perspective, but sadly lacks in the granularity we see—regardless of the clarity or lack thereof in presentation—in the piece from the New York Times.
The main visualisation shows spending by department compared against revenue, the difference between being the grey box of deficit. Of note is that this piece also contains the revenue, and not just the spending, unlike the New York Times version. You can also see that the level of granularity is different; the Post looks only at department-level data while the Times delves into specific programmes. Critically, the arrangement of the budget components in this graphic makes it easier to attempt comparisons of area and thus weigh Education against Defence.
If you click a particular department, you swap out the revenue side of the budget equation with the details of previous spending in that area, broken down into presidential administrations that are coloured by party. The same holds true for revenue, clicking on those reveals the amount of revenue taken in by administration. Of some note is the deficit, which shows how we did briefly have a budget surplus back in the 1990s and how that compares to the deficits of today.
All in all, while the level of detail is not present in the Post’s visualisation, I find that the comparison at the departmental level stands strongly in the favour of the Post. The Post also benefits from presenting the other side of the budget story, revenue. Unfortunately, if you care to dig any deeper into any particular part of the budget, say weapons procurement or education grants, you cannot in the Post. That leaves space for a nicely designed, detailed, clear, and informative piece should someone or some organisation be so inclined to build it.
Credit for the piece goes to Wilson Andrews, Dan Keating and Karen Yourish.