Brexit’s Impact on Irish Shipping

Today’s post is, I think, the first time I’ve featured the Politico on my blog. Politico is, I confess, a regular part of my daily media diet. But I never thought of it as a great publication for data visualisation. Maybe that is changing?

Anyway, today’s post highlights an article on how the Irish shipping/logistics industry could be affected by Brexit. To do so, they looked at data sets including destinations, port volume, and travel times. Basically, the imposition of customs controls at the Irish border will mean increased travelling times, which are not so great for time-sensitive shipments.

This screenshot if of an animated .gif showing how pre-Brexit transit was conducted through the UK to English Channel ports and then on into the continent. Post-Brexit, to maintain freedom of movement, freight would have to transit the Irish Sea and then the English Channel before arriving on the continent. The piece continues with a few other charts.

Brexit strikes again
Brexit strikes again

My only question would be, is the animation necessary? From the scale of the graphic—it is rather large—we can see an abstracted shape of the European coastlines—that is to say it’s rather angular. I wonder if a tighter cropping on the route and then subdividing the space into three different ‘options’ would have been at least as equally effective.

Credit for the piece goes to Politico’s graphics department.

Brexit and the British General Election

On 8 June, Britons will go to the polls in a general election that Prime Minister Theresa May called to increase her parliamentary majority. The United Kingdom faces a number of issues—I am looking at you housing and the NHS for starters—but Brexit is on the minds of a lot of people.

That makes sense, because if you recall the nation split 52–48 to leave the European Union last June. But, as the Financial Times explained the other day, that split is not as even as it used to be and that may have significant ramifications for the Conservative Party not to mention Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The author explains the piece in nice detail, but this graphic including along with the article does a fantastic job showing the movements.

Who's moved where?
Who’s moved where?

As you can probably guess, I am a huge fan of the annotations. Although I would argue that the centre and lower two, by being placed over the graphic, may be a bit illegible. But the concept is fantastic. It shows you just how difficult it will be for Labour and the Lib-Dems to beat May in June.

Credit for the piece goes to John Burn-Murdoch.

The Timeline of Leaving the European Union

So yesterday was Article 50 Day and several British media companies published graphics about the historic event. I wanted to focus on this piece from the Economist, which is a timeline of the events leading up to Article 50. But more importantly, it includes the polling data for Remain or Leave along the length of those events.

The Brexit campaign timeline
The Brexit campaign timeline

There isn’t a whole lot more to say about this. Article 50 is just kind of a downer.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics department.

The Structure of Europe

Well today’s the day. Earlier this morning (East Coast time) the British government notified the European Council that it invoked Article 50 and is withdrawing from the European Union. So what precisely does that mean? Well, it means the structure of the ties binding Europe will be altered. How could it not when one of Europe’s largest and most powerful countries leaves the European Union?

How all the countries of Europe fit together, and yes that includes Turkey
How all the countries of Europe fit together, and yes that includes Turkey

This piece comes from Bloomberg Politics and it deals with the overlapping structures binding Europe together. My quibble, however, is with the complexity as it now relates to the United Kingdom. Obviously where it fits is an unresolved question. But one of the trickier issues to untangle is just how Ireland and the UK fit. (And then in 2020 we can worry about Scotland’s role in the graphic.)

The Common Travel Area predates the European Union by decades and, loosely speaking, creates border-free travel between the United Kingdom and Ireland. So I tried to amend Bloomberg’s version to show the CTA.

I moved Ireland to show the complexity in its relationship with the UK
I moved Ireland to show the complexity in its relationship with the UK

Credit for the piece goes to the Bloomberg graphics department.

What Does Europe Want from Brexit?

Sorry about last week, everyone. I had some trouble with the database powering the blog here. Great week for things to go down, right? Well, either way, we’re back and it’s not like the news is stopping. This week? Brexit’s back, baby.

I’m never using the word “baby” again on this blog.

I have been saving this piece until the announcement of Article 50 by the UK government. I know the British and Europeans among my audience likely know what that means, but for the rest of you, Article 50 is the formal mechanism by which the United Kingdom starts the two-year process to leave the European Union.

Think of it like signing the divorce papers, except that the divorce isn’t unofficial for two years until after that date. The interim period is figuring out who gets which automobile, the dinnerware, and that ratty-old sofa in the basement. Except that instead of between two people, this divorce is more like a divorce between polygamists with multiples husbands and wives. So yeah, not really like a divorce at all.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale

This piece from the Guardian attempts to explain what the various parties want from the United Kingdom and from the eventual settlement between the UK and the EU. It leads off with a nice graphic about the importance of a few key issues in a cartogram. And then several voting blocs run down the remainder of the page with their key issues.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale

I really like this piece as the small multiples for each section refer back to the opening graphic. But then on a narrow window, e.g. your mobile phone, the small multiples drop off, because really, the location of the few countries mentioned on a cartogram is not terribly important to that part of the analysis. It shows some great understanding of content prioritisation within an article. In a super ideal world, the opener graphic would be interactive so the user could tap the various squares and see the priorities immediately.

But overall, a very solid piece from the Guardian.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Scottish Independence?

I was having a conversation with a mate the other night about what Brexit means for Scottish independence. This mate, however, is an American. Because when American politics are depressing and nonsensical, we turn to British pol—wait, never mind.

Despite the overall UK vote to leave the European Union, Scotland (and London, and Northern Ireland) voted overwhelmingly to remain. But since part of the whole vote no to independence thing was remaining part of the EU thing, shouldn’t Scotland now be well positioned for IndyRef2?

I read this article from the Guardian back in January and meant to share it with you all, but I somehow forgot about it. So at long last, it turns out no, not so much. The whole thing is worth a read; it uses YouGov survey data to break out voters into different camps. And what sort of nails the argument is this graphic.

About that independence…
About that independence…

There are four/five groups of Brexit/IndyRef1 voters that then get sorted into two/three IndyRef2 results (yes, no, maybe I don’t know?). And what you can see is that yes, a significant number of those who voted to Remain in the EU, but voted no to Scottish independence would now vote for independence. But, an almost equal number of those who voted to Remain and also voted for Scottish independence would now vote against Scottish independence. In effect, these two voter movements are cancelling out any potential gains for a future Scottish independence vote.

Credit for the piece goes to the YouGov graphics department.

Education Correlates to Leave

So this isn’t quite a shocker, but the BBC gained access to more granular Brexit vote data, and then examined the results against demographic data. The conclusion, a lower education level best corresponded to voting to leave the European Union. Again, we all sort of knew that, but this provides an even larger, richer sample size.

Still a sad result
Still a sad result

What is interesting from the American perspective is how that compares with the election of Donald Trump. In that case as well, lower levels of education correlated well with votes for Trump.

Of course now I will be closely following the elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany this year to see if the same lower education level corresponds to the vote in favour of populist, nationalist political parties, e.g. Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Critiquing Brexit Results Designs: Part 2

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.

Leave's share
Leave’s 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.

Zoomed in, looking at central London
Zoomed in, looking at central London

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.

Remain's share
Remain’s share

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.

Voter turnout
Voter 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.

Should the vote results be given the highest priority?
Should the vote results be given the highest priority?

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.

The turnout vs the youth
The turnout vs the youth

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.

1975 vs. 2016
1975 vs. 2016

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.

The results as a series of bar charts
The results as a series of bar charts

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.

Critiquing Brexit Results Designs: Part 1

Well a little under two weeks later and here we are: Brexit. I wanted to take a moment in a slightly longer piece and comment on it. Not the results, because no, that I can leave to a pint at the pub. Instead I wanted to comment on this particular results content from the New York Times that I rather admire.

Overall the piece is not interactive; it features a static choropleth map with annotations and insets, particularly of greater London. On a side note, I would be remiss if I did not point out that similarly to the piece I wrote last week, this map omits a voting district: Gibraltar. Gibraltar, like Northern Ireland, borders the European Union directly via Spain. And despite voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, Gibraltar is omitted from these results.

The large format results
The large format results

In a large layout, the piece makes excellent use of annotation text to indicate the overview stories for the home nations of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, of course, will likely have to deal with the reintegration of border controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a point the piece makes quite clear.

Additionally the map makes use of small elements to draw attention to data points, i.e. geographies, worth noting. London dominates the urban landscape, but other important cities like Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham are circled to show the strength of Leave/Remain. I would be curious to know the rationale behind including some areas, but omitting others, e.g. the strong Remain results in Cambridge or Brighton or the strong Leave results in Boston, require knowing just where cities are located in England.

From a design standpoint, the colours used in the map work really well together in contrast to other palette choices one could make. (We will take a look at that tomorrow.) Additionally, the shape of the United Kingdom allows for contextual elements, e.g. the regional result aggregates, to be placed much closer and nearer to the results. The space also allows for those annotations to be placed near their particular geographies.

But, what makes the piece stand out is when the user consumes it on smaller screens. On a more tablet-sized screen, we see a tweaked layout.

The results on a medium-sized screen
The results on a medium-sized screen

It makes use of the remaining wide-aspect dimensions to move the greater London results into a white space carved out by the peninsula of East Anglia. While the city and home nation labels remain, the regional annotations and results are gone from the graphic. Instead, they have been placed below the map, the main and most important part of the story.

Then for mobile phone or other narrow displays, the piece degrades even further.

The results on a narrow screen
The results on a narrow screen

City labels and circles are gone, with the exception of London. The greater London inset moves from alongside the map to now below the map, in the Channel so to speak. This layout allows for a narrow screen to better view the geographic results and then scroll down into the districts of London that require more space to be displayed. The annotations and stories remain below the graphic.

The design of the overall piece accounts nicely for at least three different screen sizes while keeping the story constant. All the truly changes is the layout of the graphic (and the loss of a few contextual labels at the smallest of sizes). Overall, it makes for a rich and compelling—and well designed—piece on the Brexit results.

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karl Russell.