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.
Next week is Thanksgiving and for me that means no pub trivia next week. So ahead of a two-week gap, here are our latest (and greatest?) in trivia scores. We won some, we lost some. And we definitely blew some. The key, as always, remains score points before music. Because we do not know music.
Last we looked at the revenge of the flyover states, the idea that smaller cities in swing states are trending Republican and defeating the growing Democratic majority in big cities. This week I want to take a look at something a few weeks back, a piece from CityLab about the elections in Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
There’s nothing radical in this piece. Instead, it’s some solid uses of line charts and bar charts (though I still don’t generally love them stacked). The big flashy graphic was this, a map of Virginia’s state legislative districts, but mapped not by party but by population density.
It classified districts by how how urban, suburban, or rural (or parts thereof) each district was. Of course the premise of the article is that the suburbs are becoming increasingly Democratic and rural areas increasingly Republican.
But it all goes to show that 2020 is going to be a very polarised year.
As many of my readers know, I have a keen interest in genealogy. And for me that has often met spending hours—far too many hours—wandering around cemeteries attempting to find memorials to ancestors, links to my history, a context to that soil from a different time.
But if you live in Xinjiang or more broadly western China, and you’re not Han Chinese, you probably don’t have that luxury. The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people native to that part of Asia, have long been oppressed by the Chinese central government. Most recently they have been in the news after scholars and leading figures have “disappeared”, after news of re-education and concentration camps (though thankfully I have read nothing of industrialised death camps).
Instead, now Chinese authorities are destroying mosques (not news), but also now cemeteries, as this article in the Washington Post explains.
The piece just uses some simple before and after photography to visualise its point. Sadly it does it to great effect.
I forget who originally said it, but someone once said that we all die, each of us, two deaths. The first time is when we die and our buried in the ground. The second and final time is when the last person who remembers us forgets us.
And we are now watching thousands of Uighurs in western China die for the second and final time.
Just before Halloween, NBC News published an article by political analyst David Wasserman that examined what airports could portend about the 2020 American presidential election. For those interested in politics and the forthcoming election, the article is well worth the read.
The tldr; Democrats have been great at winning over cosmopolitan types in global metropolitan areas in the big blue states, e.g. New York and California. But the election will be won in the states where the metropolitan areas that sport regional airports dominate, i.e. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. And in those districts, support for Democrats is waning.
The closing line of the piece sums it up nicely:
…to beat Trump, Democrats will need to ask themselves which candidates’ proposals will fly in Erie, Saginaw and Green Bay.
But what about the graphics?
We have a line chart that shows how support for Democrats has been increasing amongst those in the global and international airport metros.
It uses four colours and I don’t necessarily love that. However, it smartly ties into an earlier graphic that did require each series to be visualised in a different colour. And so here the consistency wins out and carries on through the piece. (Though as a minor quibble I would have outlined the MSA being labelled instead of placing a dot atop the MSA.)
The kicker, however is one of those maps with trend arrows. It shows the increasing Republican support by an arrow anchored over the metropolitan area.
The problem here is many-fold. First, the map is actually quite small in the overall piece. Whereas the earlier maps sit centred, but outside the main text block, this fits neatly within the narrow column of text (on a laptop display at least). That means that these labels are all crowded and actually make it more difficult to realise which arrow is which city. For example, which line is Canton, Ohio? Additionally with the labels, because they are set in black text and a relatively bolder face, they standout more than the red lines they seek to label. Consequently, the users’ focus falls not on the lines, but actually on the labels—the reverse of what a good graphic should do.
Second, length vs. angle. If all lines moved away from their anchor at the same angle, we could simply measure length and compare the trending support that way. However, it is clear from Duluth and Green Bay that the angles are different in addition to their sizes. So how does one interpret both variables together?
Third, I wonder if the map would not have been made more useful with some outlines or shading. I may know what the forthcoming battleground states are. And I might know where they are on a map. But Americans are notorious for being, well, not great when it comes to geography. A simple black outline of the states could have been useful, though it in this design would have conflicted with the heavy black labelling of the arrows. Or maybe a purple shading could have been used to show those states.
Overall, the piece is well worth a read and the graphics generally help tell the narrative visually. But that final graphic could have used a revision or two.
Credit for the piece goes to Jiachuan Wu and Jeremia Kimelman.
Yesterday was Armistice Day, a bank holiday hence the lack of posting. So I spent a few hours yesterday looking at my ancestors to see who participated in World War I. It turned out that on my paternal side, my one great-grandfather was too old and the other was both the right age and signed up for the draft, but was not selected.
And so the only two that served were my maternal great-grandfathers. One served a few months in the naval reserve towards the end of the war. My other great-grandfather served for a year, a good chunk of it in France. This I largely knew from my great aunt, who had told us stories about how he had told her about blowing up bridges they had just built to prevent Germans from capturing them. And then how after the war he served as military police, arresting drunk American soldiers in France. But I had never realised some of the documents I had collected told more of the skeletal structure like units and ranks. Consequently, I decided to make this graphic.
John Bercow is no longer the British Speaker of the House. He left office Thursday. Fun fact: it is illegal for an MP to resign. Instead they are appointed to a royal office, in Bercow’s case the Royal Steward of the Manor of Northstead, that precludes them from being an elected MP. Consequently the House of Commons then had to elect a new Speaker.
For my American audience, despite the same title as Nancy Pelosi, John Bercow had a very different function and came to it in a very different fashion. First, the position is politically neutral. Whoever the House elects resigns from his or her party (along with his or her three deputies) and the political parties abide by a gentlemen’s agreement not to contest the seat in general elections. (The Tories were so displeased with Bercow they were actually contemplating running somebody in the now 12 December election to get rid of him.) Consequently, the Speaker (and his or her deputies) do note vote unless there is a tie. (Bercow actually cast the first deciding vote by a speaker since 1980 back in April.)
Because the position is politically neutral, all MPs vote in the election and debate is chaired by the Father of the House, the longest continuously serving MP in the House. Today that was Ken Clarke, one of the 21 MPs Boris Johnson booted from the Tory party for voting down his No Deal Brexit and who is not standing in the upcoming election. The candidates for Speaker must receive the vote of 50% of the House. And so they are eliminated in successive votes until someone reaches 50% of the total votes cast, though not all MPs cast votes, since some have already started campaigning. (Today there were 562, 575, 565, 540 votes per round.)
Notably, today’s vote occurs just days before Parliament dissolves prior to the 12 December election. Bercow, who chose to retire on 31 October, essentially ensured that the next Parliament will have a Speaker not chosen what could well likely be a pro-No Deal Brexit, one of the things which the Tories have against him.
So all that said, who won? Well I made a graphic for that.
Yesterday the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union. Again. Boris would rather be dead in a ditch. But he’s neither dead nor in a ditch. And the UK is still in the EU. So let’s enjoy the moment and reflect on this xkcd piece from the other day. And then enjoy the weekend.
After looking this week at the growth of the physical size of cities due to improvements in transport technologies, the increasing density of cities, and then the contribution of automobile (especially personal cars) to carbon dioxide emissions, today we look at a piece from the Transport Politic comparing US and French mass transit ridership to see whether the recent decline in US ridership is inevitable or a choice made by consumers and policymakers. Spoiler: it’s not inevitable.
The article makes use of a few graphics and an interactive component. The lead-in graphic is a nice line chart that runs with the spaghetti nature of the graphic: lots of line but only two are really highlighted.
Light grey lines and light blue lines encode the US and French cities under study. But only the lines representing the averages of both the US and France are darkly coloured and in a thicker stroke to stand out from the rest. Normally I would not prefer the minimum of the y-axis being 50%, but here the baseline is actually 100% so the chart really works well. And interestingly it shows that prior to the Great Recession, the United States was doing better than France in adoption of mass transit, relative to 2010 numbers.
But then when you directly compare 2010 to 2018 for various US and French cities, you get an even better chart. Also you see that French cities reclaim the lead in transit growth.
These two static graphics, which can each be clicked to view larger, do a really great job of cutting through what some might call noise of the intervening years. I do like, much like yesterday’s post, the comparison of total or aggregate ridership to per capita numbers. It shows how even though New York’s total ridership has increased, the population has increased faster than the ridership numbers and so per capita ridership has declined. And of course as yesterday’s post examined, in the States the key to fighting climate change is reducing the number of people driving.
What I cannot quite figure out from the graphic is what the colouration of the lines mean. I thought that perhaps the black vs. grey lines meant the largest cities, but then LA would be black. Maybe for the steepest declines, but no, because both LA and Boston are grey. I also thought the grey lines might be used when black lines overlap to aid clarity, but then why is Boston in grey? Regardless, I like the choice of the overall form.
But where things go really downhill are the interactive charts.
Talk about unintelligible spaghetti charts. So the good. The designer kept the baseline at 100% and set the min and max around that. After that it’s a mess. Even if the colours all default to the rainbow, the ability to select and isolate a particular city would be incredibly valuable to the user. Unfortunately selecting a city does no such thing. All the other cities remain coloured, and sometimes layered atop the selected city.
I would have thrown the unselected cities into the greyscale and let the selected city rise to the top layer and remain in its colour. Let it be the focus of the user’s attention.
Or the designer could have kept to the idea in the first graphic and coloured American cities grey and French cities light blue and then let the user select one from among the set and compare that to the overall greyed/blued masses and the US and French averages.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad piece. But that final interactive bit was questionable. Unfortunately the piece started strong and ended weak, when the reverse would have been preferable.
The last two days we looked at densification in cities and how the physical size of cities grew in response to the development of transport technologies, most notably the automobile. Today we look at a New York Times article showing the growth of automobile emissions and the problem they pose for combating the greenhouse gas side of climate change.
The article is well worth a read. It shows just how problematic the auto-centric American culture is to the goal of combating climate change. The key paragraph for me occurs towards the end of the article:
Meaningfully lowering emissions from driving requires both technological and behavioral change, said Deb Niemeier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland. Fundamentally, you need to make vehicles pollute less, make people drive less, or both, she said.
Of course the key to that is probably in the range of both.
The star of the piece is the map showing the carbon dioxide emissions on the roads from passenger and freight traffic. Spoiler: not good.
Each MSA is outlined in black and is selectable. The designers chose well by setting the state borders in a light grey to differentiate them from when the MSA crosses state lines, as the Philadelphia one does, encompassing parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. A slight opacity appears when the user mouses over the MSA. Additionally a little box remains up once the MSA is selected to show the region’s key datapoints: the aggregate increase and the per capita increase. Again, for Philly, not good. But it could be worse. Phoenix, which surpassed Philadelphia proper in population, has seen its total emissions grow 291%, its per capita growth at 86%. My only gripe is that I wish I could see the entire US map in one view.
The piece also includes some nice charts showing how automobile emissions compare to other sources. Yet another spoiler: not good.
Since 1990, automobile emissions have surpassed both industry emissions and more recently electrical generation emissions (think shuttered coal plants). Here what I would have really enjoyed is for the share of auto emissions to be treated like that share of total emissions. That is, the line chart does a great job showing how auto emissions have surpassed all other sources. But the stacked chart does not do as great a job. The user can sort of see how passenger vehicles have plateaued, but have yet to decline whereas lorries have increased in recent years. (I would suspect due to increased deliveries of online-ordered goods, but that is pure speculation.) But a line chart would show that a little bit more clearly.
Finally, we have a larger line chart that plots each city’s emissions. As with the map, the key thing here is the aggregate vs. per capita numbers. When one continues to scroll through, the lines all change.
Very quickly one can see how large cities like New York have large aggregate emissions because millions of people live there. But then at a per capita level, the less dense, more sprawl-y cities tend to shoot up the list as they are generally more car dependent.
Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich and Denise Lu.
Yesterday we looked at the expansion of city footprints by sprawl, in modern years largely thanks to the automobile. Today, I want to go back to another article I’ve been saving for a wee bit. This one comes from the Economist, though it dates only back to the beginning of October.
This article looks at the different ways a city can achieve density. Usually one things of soaring skyscrapers, but there are other paths. For those interested, the article is a short read and I won’t cover it here. But for the sake of the graphic below, there are three basic paths: coverage, height, and crowding. Or to put in other terms, how much of the city is covered by homes, how tall those homes go, and how many people fit into each home.
I really like this graphic. It does a great job of using small multiples to compare and contrast three cities that exemplify the different paths. Notably, it keeps each city footprint at the same scale, making it easier to see things such as why Hong Kong builds skyward. Because it has little land. (It is, after all, an island and the tip of a peninsula.)
One area where I wish the graphic had kept to the small multiples is its display of Minneapolis. There, the scale shifts (note the lines for 5 km below vs. Minneapolis’ 10 km). I think I understand why, because the sprawling city would not have fit within the confines of the graphic, but that would have also hammered home the point of sprawl.
I should also point out that the article begins with a graphic I chose not to screenshot, but that I also really enjoy. It uses small multiples to compare cities density over time, running population on the x-axis and people per hectare on the y-. It is not a perfect graphic (it uses I think unnecessary arrowheads at the end of the line), but scatter plots over time are, I think, an underused graphic to show how two variables (ideally related) have moved in tandem over time.
Overall, this is a strong piece from the Economist.
Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.