I mean really, given the rampant and pervasive nature of the Russian state-aided doping programme, how could I not use the Russian reversal? Yesterday WADA, the international anti-doping agency, released its findings on Russian doping at the Olympics. And, suffice it to say, the report is rather damning. The BBC published this graphic in an article to help demonstrate the scheme.
Unlike the evidence of doping, I find the graphic itself lacking. More could have been done to create more consistent type. Text justification ranges (pun intended) from left to right, without any clear system. Why do some stages, e.g. four, align to the right and then others, e.g. seven, align to the left?
Also, I believe more could have been done with the illustrations, in particular the bottles labelled A and B, to better differentiate between a clean sample and a contaminated sample. Why, for instance, does Step 1 include both an A and a B when it mentions only one sample?
In short, the story certainly warrants explanatory graphics, especially as to how the sealed lids were removed, but this piece is not the solution (pun also intended).
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
So now it is two weeks since the Brexit vote. Yesterday, I looked at the results designs from the New York Times. Today I want to take a look at those of the BBC. Not surprisingly the two share in the use of choropleth maps; the choice makes a lot of sense. People vote within districts and those form the most granular unit of data available. But, whereas the New York Times led and really focused on one giant map, the BBC opted to use multiple, smaller maps. (They did choose a different page for their live results, but we are comparing post-result coverage.) For example, their piece leads in with a map of Leave’s results share.
There are a few key differences between this and the New York Times. First and foremost, this map is interactive. Mousing over various districts provides you the name, and by clicking you move into a zoomed-in view of the district. It displays the district name, the vote totals and share for the two camps, and then voter turnout. From a design standpoint, the problem with the zooming in is that the scales of the outlining stroke does not change.
A thin stroke at the national, zoomed-out view, translates to a thick, clunky, and awkward-looking outline at the local, zoomed-in view. And as the above screenshot highlights, many of the urban districts are small in comparison to the more rural districts. Unfortunately the map does not offer the functionality of zooming-in prior to selecting a district. So many of the districts in the more urban areas like London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Belfast are difficult to see and select. Thankfully, below the map the BBC offers a function to type in your district, post code, or Northern Irish constituency to help you find smaller districts.
Another design criticism I have with the piece is the colour palette. Broadly speaking, the piece uses blue and yellow. The two colours make sense in a few ways. Both are present on the European Union flag, with yellow stars on a blue field. (Importantly the twelve stars do not represent EU members like the US flag’s fifty stars represent the states.) Another, far looser interpretation could be the blue of the Conservatives and the yellow closer to the gold of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, the former broadly anti-EU and the latter pro-EU. Regardless of the rationale, the choice of yellow to display multiple levels of data is less than stellar (pun intended), as this Remain share map highlights.
Having multiple tints and shades of yellow makes the map difficult to read. The lowest value yellow is brighter than the next higher level, and so stands out more vividly on the map than those districts that had a higher share of Remain votes. Using yellow against blue does work, especially in the bar charts throughout the piece and seen in the aforementioned Islington screenshot. But, as a colour for wider, more intense use, yellow was not the wisest decision.
The BBC also included several other choropleth maps exploring the vote breakdown. In this instance of voter turnout, we have the same choropleth map, but a green colour indicating the total vote turnout.
The colour and its choice makes broad sense; green is what one gets when they mix yellow and blue, when you combine Remain and Leave. However, the map functionality of clicking to reveal results still shows the overall results.
At this point, we have moved on from the vote results themselves to the breakdown of the vote. I would have redesigned the mouse-click to display a results view that highlighted turnout over the results themselves. Certainly keeping the results is important, but the focus of this map is not the vote, but the turnout. The data display should be designed to keep that consistent.
One part of the piece where I quibble with the designer selection of chart type follows on from turnout: a comparison of turnout to the youth population.
Asking people to compare undistinguished districts on one map to those of another—note the white district lines have here disappeared—is difficult. My first thought: I would have instead opted for an interactive scatterplot. Comparing the turnout on one axis and youth on the other, the user would have an easier time identifying any correlations or clusters of data.
In contrast, the following map comparison would not work via a scatterplot. Here we compare June’s results to those of a vote in 1975. In the intervening years, the geography of the voting districts changed, and so a one-to-one comparison is impossible.
The broad scope, however, is clear. A resounding vote to stay part of the European Market or single market in 1975 evolved into a narrow but decisive vote to leave the European Union in 2016.
The piece then closes out with an interactive map of the total results and then, importantly, a long list of bar charts showing each district’s results. Unlike the map, however, the bar charts are a static graphic. And with a few hundred to view, it becomes difficult to isolate and compare two in particular. But the selection of the visualisation type makes a user’s comparison far more precise.
Overall, I would rate the piece a solid work, but with some clear areas of improvement. And who knows? Maybe there will be a second referendum. Or a new general election. And in that case, the BBC could improve upon the designs herein.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
Last Monday I stated that I would attempt a longer piece on the graphics explaining the shootings in Orlando. Since I do not have access to the print versions, I am examining only the digital versions here. Go grab a cup of tea, because this is certainly one of my longer pieces.
One of the most common ways sites covered the story was through maps of the club, Pulse. It makes a lot of sense—if we want to understand what happened inside the building we need to be able to place ourselves inside the building. So how to do that?
The first thought would be photography. But, the site is a crime scene likely riddled with bullets and stained with blood. Probably not the best thing for publications to use. So we are left with illustrations of the interior. But what level of detail do readers need to understand the story?
At the one end of the spectrum we have the stripped-down and simplified graphic from the BBC.
In many respects this could offer the clearest explanation. Unlike the next versions, we have no graphical elements with which to confuse and clutter the drawing. Walls are omitted for a far more architectural layout. Doors are clearly marked, but that is it. We have no indication of where other key places are located. Where are the restrooms into which the attacker fled with hostages? Where are the dance floors? Where is the patio through which people escaped? We get some indication through the timeline annotations, but a lot of the detail needed to provide context is missing.
First you can see that the graphics, while smaller, are interspersed within a text-driven timeline of events. Key areas at that point in the timeline are highlighted on the graphic. For the graphic itself, the Times opts for a high-angle view with walls extending from the floor plan and the three key areas are annotated within the graphic. Colour is kept to a minimum with only whites and greys used in addition to the highlight. However, the high grey walls overlap with each other and the unidentified white boxes. What are the white boxes? Are they important? Do the walls need to be grey? Do they need to be so high that they interfere with the graphic?
We can see some different answers to those questions from the Wall Street Journal.
Here the graphic is lighter in overall tone, with white and very faint greys replacing the darker tones in the New York Times’ piece. They Journal opts for the same graphics within timeline treatment. They also highlight the areas of the club relevant to the story at that moment in time. But here we first find a larger graphic. The Times could have had space limitations on their online site or they could have had to reuse graphics from their print edition for their online edition. While the Times could have very real reasons for the smaller images, the Journal’s larger graphic gives the content the space it needs to be read and understood comfortably. Also note how the use of grey vs. white for emphasis is reversed. Whereas the Times used white for unmarked boxes and grey for walls and floors, the Journal uses white for the floors and the walls. Grey is used to callout important parts of the club that are then crucially labelled, e.g. where the bars are located. Another really nice touch missing from my screenshot is how the Journal only labels the elements in the first graphic in the timeline. The second graphic only calls out the newly important elements.
The Washington Post takes a similar approach to that of the Journal.
We see above the timeline a large graphic identifying the key areas of the club. The use of the small multiples in the timeline then allows the graphics to be smaller and thus accompanied by more text. But in the graphics, the Post diverges from the Journal’s direction in the graphic’s design. We find the layout depicted at a lower angle. And instead of a restrained palette, we find warm beiges and ochres depicting the floors and key elements like the bars. The shadows here begin call more attention to themselves than in the previous designs. We also find high levels of detail with the inclusion of bar stools and seat cushions. On the large graphic, the colour and detail, while distracting, still work because of the space. But in the small multiples for the timeline, a simplified version without stools and seats and a toned-down palette could make the graphic easier to understand.
We return to a restrained palette with colour used sparingly to emphasise key parts of the narrative. Detail is limited to the key elements, without any illustrative adornments like furniture. Typographic distinctions, bold vs. italic, delineate the important areas of the club from the remainder of the context. Elements like service alleys, fences, and the patio gate are clearly marked and provide that context of the possible escape routes for patrons attempting to flee the attacker. The graphic then repeats through the timeline, but the subsequent graphics reflect a missed opportunity. Each remains as labelled as this first, and the labels begin to distract from understanding the narrative.
Note any similarities in this graphic to the preceding one? The Tribune Publishing Company, to be rebranded as tronc, owns both the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel. So my guess would be the graphics departments collaborated or one of them created a shared asset to be used across the Tribune Publishing Company’s—sorry, tronc’s—media platforms. The Sentinel’s version lacks the finer design details of the LA Times’s, for example note how the typographic treatment here lacks the clearer hierarchy present in the LA Times’ version. I doubt the small type size increase would be noticed by the audience, though I could be wrong. But in terms of providing a timeline of events, the Sentinel’s version, which incorporates the above graphic as well as other media, is the most detailed and complete.
As you can likely tell from the screenshot, this is a graphic where the entire piece is designed as a large graphic file instead of components on the page. It could be because the piece was designed primarily for print and not digital consumption. The layout of the club draws heavily on the BBC’s architectural drawing concept, but here is executed far more awkwardly. Instead of including hallways in the schematic, they are indicated by coloured rectangles. And we also know from the other graphics that almost the entirety of the wall at the graphic’s top supported the club’s main bathrooms. The graphic itself is sourced from The Villages Daily Sun, but the OC Register would have been better served by sourcing a more accurate and more clearly designed graphic for the layout. I should also point out the photograph at the top of the graphic appears to have come directly from the New York Times.
Per the style of the National Post, this graphic is more illustrative in its quality than the others. Like the Orange County Register, the National Post designed an entire graphic instead of smaller components on a webpage. The timeline occupies the left column and numbers correspond to locations in the club. However, I think the graphic could have been made more clear if the roof illustration were removed and a higher angle taken to make the back of the club easier to see.
Different publications included different amounts and types of supplemental context. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for example, included additional graphics on mass shootings. Others, like the New York Times, provided links to pieces that examined the context separate from the timeline of events.
Is there a best design among these? Well, design exists to solve problems, and those problems could vary from publication to publication. How soon did the graphics needed to be published? How many people worked on the design? How much information was available when producing the work? Were print considerations necessary?
For me, the Orlando Sentinel’s work, in toto, most clearly presented the narrative. While I quibble with particular elements of the design, again, I would have removed most of the text labels after their first appearance, it provides a balanced amount of detail and broad overviews in a clear fashion. Colour is used to emphasise elements in that moment. The illustration itself does not distract and allows the reader to focus on the story itself.
Credit for the pieces goes to a lot of people.
BBC: BBC graphics department
New York Times: Gregor Aisch, Larry Buchanan, Joe Burgess, Ford Fessenden, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn, Haeyoun Park, Adam Pearce, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Sergio Peçanha, Anjali Singhvi, Derek Watkins, and Karen Yourish.
Wall Street Journal: Wall Street Journal graphics department
Washington Post: Weiyi Cai, Emily Chow, Chiqui Esteban, Lazaro Gamio, Chris Ingraham, Laris Karklis, Denise Lu, and Tim Meko.
Los Angeles Times: Eben McCue and Angelica Quintero.
Orlando Sentinel: Gal Tziperman Lotan, Charles Minshew, Mike Lafferty and Andrew Gibson.
Ocean County Register: Ocean County Register graphics staff
I will be trying to do a longer piece on the data visualisations surrounding the shootings in Orlando later this week. But for starters, a simple point through this piece from the BBC—not that they are the only culprits of this. Not all data-driven stories need visualisations. Sometimes a nicely typeset table will do the job better and faster.
An actual table with typographic emphasis on the tables would have been better and clearer than this. Or with a little more time and effort—not that those always exist in a journalism organisation—something more appropriate to the type of data could have been designed.
Credit for the piece goes the BBC graphics department.
Who is Rousseff? She is the president of Brazil and both she and her government are currently mired in a corruption scandal. Yesterday a parliamentary committee voted in favour of proceeding with impeachment, the first step in a lengthy process. What is that process? Thankfully, we have a BBC graphic to explain it all.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
Well, to start, we don’t really know for sure. We also don’t really know Planet Nine exists for sure. But, you plug its existence into mathematical models and it explains some of the quirks we see in the Kuiper Belt, the cloud of dust and ice at the outer reaches of the Solar System. A team of intrigued Swiss scientists then created a model exploring the range of characteristics Planet Nine might exhibit. The BBC published an article that featured an image of the interior characteristics of the plent.
Credit for the graphic goes to Christoph Mordasini and Esther Linder.
Another Tuesday, more primary and caucus victories for Donald Trump in his quest to become the Republican nominee. However one of the refrains you hear from the right is that he is not a true conservative. How true is that? Well the BBC put together an article comparing Trump to the other candidates and some previous Republican presidents on various issues like foreign policy.
Okay, so it sort of works with cutout photos of people pasted onto an American flag background. But I cannot quite take the piece seriously because of its amateurish design. Maybe the American flag makes sense as a background graphic? But the heads? Surely not.
So what happens if we take a more serious approach—though I admit originally the idea of a Trump candidacy seemed farcical—to this graphic? Well I took a quick stab this morning.
Credit for the original goes to the BBC graphics department.
I’m sure the word you were looking for was symbolism. (Points if you get the reference.) Apologies for yesterday, I was a bit under the weather.
Today we deviate from graphs and things and go to another area of conveying information: symbology. I mean iconography. The BBC featured an article about possible new symbols for maps ahead of the 2020 Olympics when, presumably, lots of foreigners will need maps to get around Tokyo. And so you can imagine that the agency behind the proposed ideas has received a backlash about changing customary Japanese symbols for foreigners.
I combined each of the examples from the article. Each row includes the proposed Japanese version and the foreigner version. See if you can identify them without the word. You can imagine, however, that the focus of the article was upon that first row. The answers are after the credits.
Credit for the original work goes to the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan.
The answers, top to bottom: temple, hotel, church, hospital, post office, police station.
So yesterday we reimagined a less-than-stellar BBC chart. Today, we look at a good chart from the BBC about climate change, timed to coincide with the start of the Paris climate talks. This comes from an article with six charts related to climate change, but it is the best in my mind.
Nothing but nice design here with the use of colour to highlight the top ten hottest and coldest years over the last 225+ years. But it really comes alive when animated and tells the story how those coldest years occurred at the beginning of the set and the hottest are among the most recent years.
Credit for the piece goes to Emily Maguire, Tom Nurse, Steven Connor, and Punit Shah.
I know, I know. You probably expect some sort of climate post given the whole Paris thing. But instead, this morning I came across an article where the supporting chart failed to tell the story. So today we redesign it.
The BBC has an article about MPs backing a tax on sugary drinks. Within the text is a graphic showing the relative importance of sugary drinks in the sugar consumption of various demographics. Except the first thing I see is alcohol—not the focus of the article. Then I focus on a series of numbers spinning around donuts, which are obviously sugary and bad. Eventually I connect the bright yellow to soda. Alas, bright yellow is a very light colour and fails to hold its own on the page. It falls behind everything but milk products.
So here is 15 minutes spent on a new version. Gone are the donuts, replaced by a heat map. I kept the sort of the legend for my vertical because it placed soda at the top. I ran the demographic types horizontally. The big difference here is that I am immediately drawn to the top of the chart. So yeah, soda is a problem. But so are cakes and jams, you British senior citizens. Importantly, I am less drawn to alcohol, which in terms of sugars, is not a concern.
Credit for the original goes to the BBC graphics department. The other one is mine.