Deaths in America

Yesterday was murders in London and New York. Today, we have a nice article from FiveThirtyEight about deaths more broadly in America. If you recall, my point yesterday was that not all graphics need to be full column width. And this article takes that approach—some graphics are full width whereas others are not.

This screenshot shows a nice line chart that, while the graphic sits in the full column, the actual chart is only about half the width of the graphic. I think the only thing that does not sit well with me is the alignment of the chart below the header. I probably would align the two as it creates an odd spacing to the left of the chart. But I applaud the restraint from making the line charts full width, as it would mask the vertical change in the data set.

The screenshot is of the graphic's full width, note the lines only go a little over half the width.
The screenshot is of the graphic’s full width, note the lines only go a little over half the width.

Meanwhile, the article’s maps all sit in the full column. But my favourite graphic of the whole set sits at the very end of the piece. It examines respiratory deaths in a tabular format. But it makes a fantastic use of sparklines to show the trend leading towards the final number in the row.

Loving the sparklines…
Loving the sparklines…

Credit for the piece goes to Ella Koeze and Anna Maria Barry-Jester.

The Cost of the US Tax Cut

I know I’ve looked at the Times a few times this week, but before we get too far into the next week, I did want to show what they printed on Saturday.

It is not too often we get treated to data on the front page or even the section pages. But last Saturday we got just that in the Business Section. Two very large and prominent charts looked at federal government borrowing and the federal deficit. Both are set to grow in the future, largely due to the recently enacted tax cuts.

That's about half the page on those two charts.
That’s about half the page on those two charts.

The great thing about the graphic is just how in-the-face it puts the data. Do two charts with 14 data points (28 total) need to occupy half the page? No. But there is something about the brashness of the piece that I just love.

And then it continues and the rest of the article points, at more normal sizes, to treasury bill yields and car loan rates. The inside is what you would expect and does it well in single colour.

These two seem small by comparison…
These two seem small by comparison…

But I just loved that section page.

Credit for the piece goes to Matt Phillips.

Russia Tomorrow

In news that surprises absolutely nobody, Russia “re-elected” Vladimir Putin as president for another six-year term. The Economist recently looked at what they termed the Puteens, a generation of Russians born starting in 1999 who have no memory of a Russia pre-Vladimir Putin.

This piece features a set of interactive dot plots that capture survey results on a number of topics that are segmented by age. It attempts to capture the perspective of Puteens on a range of issues from their media diet to foreign policy outlook to civil rights.

The ideas of youth…
The ideas of youth…

The design is largely effective. The Puteen generation sticks out clearly as the bright red to the cool greys. And more importantly, when the dots would overlap they move vertically away from the line so users can clearly see all the dots. And on hover, all the dots of the same age cohort’s interest are highlighted. I think one area of improvement would have been to apply that same logic to the legend to allow the user to scroll through the whole dataset without always having to interact with the chart. But that is a minor bit on an otherwise really nice piece.

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

US Olympic Performance

I don’t know if you heard, but the Winter Olympics just concluded. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Winter Olympics, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep my eye on some of the stories coming out of the coverage. One that I liked was this piece from FiveThirtyEight.

US performance was lagging at this point
US performance was lagging at this point

It was about halfway through the Olympics and the US was not doing terribly well. The chart does a great job of showing how various countries were performing, or over- or under-performing, their expected total medal winnings. It did this through a filled bar chart with a bar-specific benchmark line. It was a nice combination of a couple of different techniques to incorporate not just the usual above or below the trend, but also the actual amounts.

Credit for the piece goes to Gus Wezerek.

The World Grows On (Part II)

Earlier this month I wrote-up a piece from the Economist that looked at 2018 GDP growth globally. I admitted then—and still do now—that it was an oddly sentimental piece given the frequency with which I made graphics just like that in my designer days of youth and yore. Today, we have the redux, a piece from the New York Times. Again, nothing fancy here. As you will see, we are talking about a choropleth map and bar charts in small multiple format. But why am I highlighting it? Front page news.

Choropleth on the front page? More please.
Choropleth on the front page? More please.

I just like seeing this kind of simple, but effective data visualisation work on the front page of a leading newspaper.

Lots of green on that map
Lots of green on that map

I personally would have used a slightly different palette to give a bit more hint to the few negative growth countries in the world—here’s lookin’ at you, Venezuela—but overall it works. And the break points in the bin seem a bit arbitrary unless they were chosen to specifically highlight the called-out countries.

Then on the inside we get another small but effective graphic.

Page 4
Page 4

It doesn’t consume the whole page, but sits quietly but importantly at the top of the article.

The world's leading economies, on their own
The world’s leading economies, on their own

There the small multiples show the year-on-year change—nothing fancy—for the world’s leading economies. A one-colour print, it works well. But, I particularly enjoy the bit with China. Look at how the extreme growth before the Great Recession is handled, just breaking out of the container. Because it isn’t important to read growth as 13.27% (or whatever it was), just that it was extremely high. You could almost say, off the charts.

Overall, it was just a fun read for a Sunday morning.

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

Gerrymandering Again

The last two weeks we twice looked at gerrymandering as it in particular impacted Pennsylvania, notorious for its extreme gerrymandered districts. And now that the state will have to redraw districts to be less partisan, will Pennsylvania usher in a series of court orders from other state supreme courts, or even the federal Supreme Court, to create less partisan maps?

To that specific question, we do not know. But as we get ever closer to the 2020 Census that will lead to new maps in 2021, you can bet we will discuss gerrymandering as a country. Maybe to jumpstart that dialogue, we have a fantastic work by FiveThirtyEight, the Gerrymandering Project.

Since we focus on the data visualisation side of things, I want to draw your attention to the Atlas of Redistricting. This interactive piece features a map of House districts, by default the current map plan. The user can then toggle between different scenarios to see how those scenarios would adjust the Congressional map.

The setup today
The setup today

If, like me, you live in an area with lots of people in a small space, you might need to see Pennsylvania or New Jersey in detail. And by clicking on the state you can quickly see how the scenarios redraw districts and the probabilities of parties winning those seats. And at the bottom of the map is the set of all House seats colour-coded by the same chance of winning.

But what I really love about this piece is the separate article that goes into the different scenarios and walks the user through them, how they work, how they don’t work, and how difficult they would be to implement. It’s not exactly a quick read, but well worth it, especially with the map open in a separate tab/window.

Overall, a solid set of work from FiveThirtyEight diving deep into gerrymandering.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe, Ella Koeze, David Wasserman and Julia Wolfe.

Where It’ll Be Too Warm for the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are creeping ever closer and so this piece from the New York Times caught my eye. It examines the impact of climate change on host cities for the Winter Olympics. Startlingly, a handful of cities from the past almost century are no longer reliable enough, i.e. cold and snow-covered, to host winter games.

This screenshot is of a bar chart that looks at temperatures, because snow and ice obviously require freezing temperatures. The reliability is colour-coded and at first I was not a fan—it seemed unnecessary to me.

At first I did not care for the colours in the bars
At first I did not care for the colours in the bars

But then further down the piece, those same colours are used to reference reliability on a polar projection map.

But then this map changed my mind
But then this map changed my mind

That was a subtle, but well appreciated design choice. My initial aversion to the graphic and piece was changed by the end of it. That is always great when designers can pull that off.

Credit for the piece goes to Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich

Data Displays

This past weekend I saw the film Darkest Hour with one of my mates. The film focuses on Winston Churchill at the very beginning of his term as prime minister. Coincidentally I was walking through some of the very rooms and corridors depicted in the film—and rather accurately I should say—just one week prior.

One of the things in the real place that caught my eye in particular was the Map Room Annex. Most people know about the Map Room proper, from which the British Empire’s war effort was coordinated, but the annex contained data on wartime casualties, material production, &c. Consequently the walls were lined with displays of that data. But this was also the early 1940s and so none of it was computerised. Instead, we had handmade charts.

Alas, the space is quite narrow and the museum was quite crowded. So I only managed a snapshot or two, but I think this one does some justice to the hardworking folks producing charts about the war.

They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…
They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…

Credit for the piece goes to some junior officer/staffer back in the day.

Harvey’s Rainfall Totals

Hurricane Harvey landed north of Corpus Christi, Texas late Friday night. By Monday morning, Houston has been flooded as nearly two feet of water have fallen upon the city, built on and around wetlands long ago paved over with concrete. Naturally the news has covered this story in depth all weekend. Even leading up to it, when I was still posting eclipse things, various outlets had projections and why we should care graphics. But as the storm begins to move back into the Gulf—only to move back inland tomorrow—I wanted to compare some of the graphics I have been seeing.

Of course, not all graphics are the same, let alone cover the same things. So this morning we are looking at just the rainfall total maps of a few different outlets.

From the Washington Post, we have the following graphic.

The Post's rainfall graphic
The Post’s rainfall graphic

The palette chosen performs well at quickly scaling up to the record level of rainfall, i.e. the 20+ inches realm, but quickly shifting from the green–blue palette into dark purples.

Then we have the Wall Street Journal’s graphic.

The Journal's graphic
The Journal’s graphic

Here we have a more familiar blue–red diverging spectrum. The point of divergence set to 20 inches.

Lastly, we have the New York Times graphic. Though in this case, it’s not an exact like-for-like comparison. I could not find a graphic mapping total rainfall, instead this is for projected rainfall totals. But the design is for the same type of map, i.e. how much rain falls in a location.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

The Post takes the closest approach to the true continuous spectrum palette, where the shift from dry to drenched is gradual. It makes for a smoother, more blended looking map. Somewhere around that 20 inch point, however, the palette shifts from the green to blue range to purple. It emphasises the record-hitting point, but otherwise the totals are presented as more fluid. Perhaps correctly since rain does not neatly fall evenly into pixels.

By comparison, the Journal segments the rainfall totals into bins of blues. The scale is not even, the lighter blues incorporate two inches, the darkers upwards of five. And then again, like the Post, separate 20+ as a different colour, here switching to reds.

Lastly the Times keeps to a simple segmented bin palette of all blues. 20+ inches is rendered is just a dark blue.

Each map has pluses, each has minuses. The Times map, for example, is simple and quick to understand. Southeastern Texas will be wet by the middle of next week. If your goal is only to communicate that point, well this map has done its job. It is worth noting, again, that this is a map of projections. Because the other thing missing from this map is the storm’s path. So if the goal were to showcase the rainfall along the storm’s path, well this graphic does not accomplish that nearly as well as the other two.

The Post and the Journal both show the track of the storm. The Journal takes it one step further and plots its projected course through Thursday. This helps us really see if not understand the east side problem of hurricanes. That is, the eastern quadrants of hurricanes typically experience the heaviest amounts of rain. And as the darker portions of the map all fall to the north and east of those lines, it reaffirms this for us.

So what really differentiates the two? The colour palette and its application. The Post’s palette is more natural as, again, rain does not fall neatly into bins and instead makes for blurred and messy totals across a map. Separating the heaviest rains into the purples, however, makes a lot of sense as that amount of rainfall, as we are seeing this morning, makes for a mess in Houston.

But the point of a graphic is to translate nature and the observed into a digestible and pointed statement of the observed. What should I learn? Why should I care? The Journal, like the Post, does a fantastic job of splitting out the 20+ inch totals by using a divergent palette. But instead of blending into that colour, the distinction is sharp. And then below that threshold, we get rainfall totals segmented into just a few bins. These help the reader see, also more starkly because of the selection of the specific blues, just where the bands of heavy rain will fall.

I do want to point out, however, that all of these maps occur in articles with lots of other fantastic graphics that visually explore lots of details about the story. And in particular, I want to highlight that the normal bit where I state the credits includes a lot of people. Creating a whole host of graphics to support a story takes a lot of work.

Credit for the Washington Post piece goes to Darla Cameron, Samuel Granados, Chris Alcantara, and Gabriel Florit.

Credit for the Wall Street Journal piece goes to Bradley Olson, Arian Campo-Flores, Miguel Bustillo, Dan Frosch, Erin Ailworth, Christopher M. Matthews, and Russell Gold.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jeremy Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Joe Burgess, Audrey Carlsen, Ford Fessenden, Troy Griggs, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Jasmine C. Lee, Jugal K. Patel, Adam Pearce, Bedel Saget, Anjali Singhvi, Joe Ward, and Josh Williams.