Hans Rosling Has Died

It’s easy to miss the news these days. But as a designer who does a lot of work—and writes a blog about—data visualisation and information design, I was fortunate to catch the word that Hans Rosling died. You might know him best from his TED talks, but I became familiar with him through his Gapminder project.

Mind the gap, please.
Mind the gap, please.

Do I agree with the design decisions? Of course not, just ask anyone who has asked me anything about bubble charts. But that is not the point. He and others laid the groundwork for myself and those newer to the field to work on the presentation of data, and its integration into analysis.

Unfortunately his death comes at a time when the field of data visualisation comes under threat. Not from the Chinese stealing our jobs, or robots doing them better for cheaper, but from those who assail the veracity of data and fact itself.

It’s easy to joke about alternative facts and alternative data—I do it on an almost daily basis now. But, as Rosling knew that accepting facts, even if unpleasant or challenging to your view on things, was critical to public discourse. To quote from Claire Provost of the Guardian, who interviewed him in 2013:

“Rosling stood for the exact opposite – the idea we can have debates about what could or should be done, but that facts and an open mind are needed before informed discussions can begin.”

Hans Rosling, dead at the age of 68.

Credit for the piece goes to Hans Rosling.

Basketball Finals

So the basketball finals begin tonight with the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Golden State Warriors. This is also the part of the post where I fully admit I know almost nothing about basketball. I did, however, catch this so-labelled infographic from ESPN contrasting the two teams.

Point differential
Point differential

What I appreciate at this piece is that ESPN labelled it an infographics. And while the data might be at times light, this is more a data-rich experience than most infographics these days. Additionally the design degrades fairly nicely as your browser reduces in size.

The chart formats themselves are not too over-the-top (that seemed like a decent basketball pun when I typed it out) with bars, line, and scatter plots. Player illustrations accent the piece, but do not convey information as data-encoded variables. I quibble with the rounded bar charts for the section on each team’s construction, but the section itself is fascinating.

I might not know most of the metrics’ definitions, but I did not mind reading through the piece.

Go Red Sox.

Credit for the piece goes to Luke Knox and Cun Shi.

Growth of Inland Cities

Some of the nation’s fastest growing cities are inland, away from the coast where housing prices are high. To support an article about the demographic shift, the New York Times created this map. Circle size represents growth over a six-year period while the colour of the bubble represents housing prices.

Fastest growing cities
Fastest growing cities

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Coal vs. the Great Barrier Reef

Your humble author is away this week. But the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is still here. For now. The Guardian takes a look at the growing threat to the World Heritage site from the coal industry in Queensland, Australia. The author takes you through the narrative in a chapter format, using charts and maps to illustrate the points in the brief bit of text. A really nice job altogether.

Major ports and their volume
Major ports and their volume

Credit for the piece goes to Nick Evershed.

The Curse(s) of the CEOs

It’s Friday, so we should try to take things a bit lighter. For me that usually means knocking back a drink or two and a swear-y exultation about it being the end of the work week. But, it turns out, I’m just trying to emulate our captains of industry. Bloomberg has gone through company conference calls and tabulated the number of swear words used and charted the results. And for fun, you can read some of the excerpts.

They'll swear by it
They’ll swear by it

Credit for the piece goes to David Ingold, Keith Collins, and Jeff Green.

How Africa Tweets

Today’s piece is hit and miss. It comes from the World Economic Forum and the subject matter is the use of Twitter across Africa. I think the subject matter is interesting; mobile communication technology is changing Africa drastically. The regional trends shown in the map at the core of the piece are also fascinating. Naturally I am left wondering about why certain countries. Does spending on infrastructure, GDP per capita, disposable income levels have any sort of correlation if even only on a national and not city level?

How Africa tweets
How Africa tweets

But what really irks me is the content that wraps around the map. First the donut chart, I think my objections to donuts—at least the non-edible kind—are well known. In this case, I would add—or sprinkle on—that the white gaps between the languages are unnecessary and potentially misleading.

Secondly, the cities are eventually displayed upside down. Thankfully the labels are reversed so that city names are legible. However, the continually changing angle of the chart makes it difficult to compare Douala to Luanda to Alexandria. A neatly organised matrix of small multiples would make the data far clearer to read.

In short, I feel this piece is a good step in the right direction. However, it could do with a few more drafts and revisions.

Credit for the piece goes to Allan Kamau.

Ivory Poaching

The South China Morning Post had a fantastic infographic detailing the hunting of elephants for their ivory. Despite bans to make such hunting illegal, the problem continues and is worsening because of the Asian trade in ivory.

Cropping of the infographic
Cropping of the infographic

Credit for the piece goes to Adolfo Arranz.

The Young and the Educated

Today’s piece comes from the National Journal. It is an interactive bubble chart that compares the educated class of cities in 1980 to those in 2010 (educated meaning the share of population with at least a bachelor’s degree).

College graduate cities
College graduate cities

Not a whole lot to say about this one, in a good way. A nice summation at the top with clearly presented data below while annotations on the plot call out particular objects in the series worth noting. And then for those who want to find themselves, a drop down filter at the top allows users to select a particular city.

Credit for the piece goes to Brian McGill and Nancy Cook.

The New American Center

NBC News and Esquire magazine published results from their August survey of some 2000+ respondents that attempted to define the New American Center, i.e. the political persuasions of the majority of the country excepting the radical right and the loony left. For the purposes of Coffee Spoons, I am most interested in looking at the data visualisation and the infographics that result.

Both NBC News and Esquire visualised the results. While I could write two long blog posts looking at both of them, for today, it is more important to look more at the fundamental design difference between the two.

NBC News opted for a design direction emphasising data first. Perhaps because NBC is a news platform, their focus was on the clean communication of the data. Looking

NBC News results
NBC News results

On the other hand, Esquire opted for a more sensationalised direction. The same data points used for the screenshot above creates this graphic below. Not only is less data is contained, less context given, less subtlety and nuance captured, it also is just difficult to read. Is the 59% supposed to be the area of the cross filled in? Its length? Why is it three-dimensional? Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? At first glance, I ignore the horizontal wings and focus solely on the vertical length of the main bar.

Esquire results
Esquire results

For a useful representation of data, I think NBC News clearly wins. But that both organisations used the same data to craft their separate results, this story on the New American Center is useful for comparing two different design directions and the results thereof.

No designers are specifically mentioned, at least not that I could find, so credit for each piece goes to its respective owner, i.e. NBC News or Esquire.

Corporate Taxes

Corporate taxes are always a fun discussion point. Who pays too much? Too little? Not at all? In May, the New York Times published an interactive piece examining US companies and their effective tax rates from 2007 through 2012.

At its core, the piece is a bubble chart along one axis that plots the tax rate for the company, with the bubble sized proportionally to said company’s market capitalisation. Colours reinforce the tax rate plotting, but are not themselves necessary. I think they would have been better tied to something along the lines of industries or profit or sales growth.

Overall corporate tax rates
Overall corporate tax rates

Of course that was when I saw the button for viewing the data by industry. The view of all companies is broken up into a series of charts about each particular industry. And of course, if you want information on a particular company, the smart search/filter is particularly useful.

Corporate tax rates by industry
Corporate tax rates by industry

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock, Matthew Ericson, David Leonhardt, and Bill Marsh.