Deformed Tree Map

Yesterday the BBC published an article about the success of the United Kingdom’s creative industry especially given the not-so-successful economy of the last few years. Unfortunately, the article included the tree map below.

A not so necessary tree map
A not so necessary tree map

The problems are a few. First, a tree map is usually looking at two variables. One is encoded through the size of the block and the other often its colour. Here, colour means nothing. So you are instead looking at only the size of the blocks. Basically, the same type of information that would be clearer to differentiate if this were a bar chart.

Second, a tree map has a hierarchy of placement. In other words, even if you cannot tell how much larger one block is from another—we all know we are not so great at comparing areas—you know which block is larger than the other by their arrangement in the map. Here we see no such hierarchy. The smallest block follows the largest block, which itself follows three other blocks.

Now that arrangement would be acceptable if the tree map were nested. That is to say if the different industries were grouped within like industries. Because then you would order those nested blocks. But that is also something not happening here.

All in all, this would have been a lot more effective of a chart if it had simply been made into a bar chart.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Future of Data Visualisation

Okay, we have all watched enough science fiction to know that there is not one future, but multiple futures. All options existing as if taken in parallel universes. Today’s post is not about a specific graphic, but rather a short article in the New York Times examining data visualisation. Through the work of Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, it looks at how we may need to change our current vocabulary, if you will. Naturally the article offers a counterpoint nearer the end about how older forms are still useful.

Visual candy to entice you to read
Visual candy to entice you to read

Where do you fall?

Virginia Election Results

Last night was election night. Okay, maybe not the big midterm, but there were still a few interesting races. The one I want to look at it, however, is the gubernatorial race in Virginia. Maps are pretty much the default in big, statewide races like these and it is no surprise that the three screenshots here are use a map as an anchor component.

The Huffington Post uses a scatterplot to compare the margin of victory for Terry McAuliffe to that of Barack Obama in 2012. A technical flaw places the drop down menu atop the plot, unfortunately, but the component works to show differences in just one year.

Huffington Post results
Huffington Post results

Over at the New York Times, the Virginia results were given a nice overview. Here they used a text summary to explain the race in short. They used a small amount of space to show polling results over time. And then beneath the map they looked at recent elections across the state.

New York Times results
New York Times results

The Washington Post, which reports to the northern counties of Virginia, had a much simpler piece. They used solely a map to present the data.

Washington Post results
Washington Post results

Credit for the Huffington Post piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe, Jay Boice, and Hilary Fung.

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

Credit for the Washington Post piece goes to the Washington Post’s graphics department.

LAX Shootings

I didn’t see a lot of informative graphics regarding the shooting at LAX. But, here are two pieces. The first is from the Los Angeles TImes. Terminal 3 is rendered in three dimensions. Different buttons add views of the remainder of the airport.

Los Angeles Times' terminal diagram
Los Angeles Times’ terminal diagram

The Washington Post opted for a flat, two-dimension drawing in one graphic with both all of LAX and Terminal 3 in the same graphic.

Washington Post's terminal diagram
Washington Post’s terminal diagram

The thing about the three-dimensional rendering is that it adds too much complexity whereas the two-dimensional schematic strips most of it out. Is it important to know the specific details of a building? Or is it more important to see its general shape and an area inside of it?

Credit for the Los Angeles Times piece goes to Javier Zarracina, Raoul Ranoa, Lorena Iniguez, and Anthony Pesce.

Baseball Payrolls

The World Series starts tomorrow night and for all but two teams, that means focusing on the upcoming 2014 roster. And rosters are often defined by payroll flexibility. A co-worker of mine forwarded along today’s interactive graphic that looks at team payrolls through stacked bar charts.

The Red Sox payroll
The Red Sox payroll

The design is certainly a bit clunky with heavy black outlines and garish colours. But the story told is clear, especially if you begin to look at different teams. Which teams have players locked up for the long-term and thereby have little flexibility?

The Red Sox, of course, sent most of that bar from 2011 to the Los Angeles Dodgers near the end of 2012. That allowed them to pick up the free agents like Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Koji Uehara. You know, the guys without whom the Red Sox would not have advanced to the World Series.

Credit for the piece goes to Phil Roth.

Redesigning the Traffic Map

This small graphic is one of several from a very smart piece on redesigning the traffic map. Have you ever looked at a Google or an Apple traffic map to find the quickest route home or to get an idea of how long it will take you to get to the ballpark? According to Josh Stevens, your traffic map is lying to you.

Potential solutions
Potential solutions

The article is a summary or overview of a research paper not-yet-published. When you have a few moments, the whole thing is worth the read for its analysis of popular transit map designs and the five big lies.

Credit for the piece goes to Josh Stevens.

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.

The Future of Data Visualisation

Happy Friday, everyone. According to xkcd, I am failing the future test. That is to say, by 2019, I will be unable to communicate data through infographics or create data visualisations.

The future of data visualisation
The future of data visualisation

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Paying a Bribe

Some say bribes grease the wheels of business. But if that is the case, where are the greasiest wheels? This interactive piece from the BBC showcases an interesting story. It maps who has paid bribes and the value thereof. Then it looks at corruption in the different sectors of the country and which is perceived to be the most corrupt.

A look at bribery
A look at bribery

Aesthetically this is not the finest piece. Some of the most interesting countries to view are in Africa and Southeast Asia, i.e. geographies near the equator. Unfortunately the designers here chose a map projection that emphasises Siberia and Arctic Canada at the expense of those very countries. Also, where did Greenland go? I know that the ice is melting, but I don’t think it’s melted that quickly. Furthermore, if the user clicks the “List” option, he or she is presented only with a list of geographies. None of them are selectable nor do they encode data. So why is the list there?

In short, the interface is a bit clunky and strangely designed. Line lengths are too long and it looks ugly. But, there are two interesting things going on here worth noting. First the legend here actually does not just show the range for the choropleth, but it also encodes the number of countries that fall within that range.  

Second, by clicking on a particular bin for the legend, the map filters for the selection. I think that from a design perspective, a lighter grey and a lighter stroke outline would have made the filtering a bit more prominent, but the idea is interesting. Unfortunately, I found no way of easily returning to an all-bin view of the map.

A piece for the BBC that misses a few, but also hits a few.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics team.

Whip Counts to Authorise Force in Syria

I was catching up on some news tonight and I came upon an unhelpful graphic that was supposed to be helping me understand the whip count (who is voting yes or no) for authorising the use of force in Syria. Below is the original graphic from Think Progress.

The whip count as of 15.30 on 3 September
The whip count as of 15.30 on 3 September

I struggled, however, to directly compare the yes and no votes. While I certainly understand that the splits within both parties are a fascinating subplot to the greater issue of will we bomb Syria, the traditional congressional arc visualisation is not helpful here. So using the same numbers, I simply plotted what is essentially a stacked bar chart. In truly heretical, i.e. independent, fashion I mixed the two parties together and placed them at either ends of the chart. The first to reach 50% wins. (If I were updating this live of course.)

My visualisation of the whip count…
My visualisation of the whip count…

Credit for the original goes to Igor Volsky and Judd Legum.