Baselines Are Important

Last week the Washington Post published a fascinating article on the data visualisation work of the Donald Trump media campaign. In my last job I frequently harped on the importance of displaying the baseline and/or setting the baseline to zero. When you fail to do so you distort the data. But maybe that is the point of this, for lack of a better term, political data visualisation.

Baselines are important
Baselines are important

My favourite author is George Orwell of 1984 and Animal Farm fame. But Orwell also penned numerous essays, one of which has struck me as particularly relevant in this election cycle: Politics and the English Language. In concluding the essay Orwell wrote:

Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

And so political data visualisation? Well I believe it exists to serve the same purpose. The article goes into detail about how the designers behind the graphics fudged the numbers. Now did the campaign intend to mislead people with the data visualisation graphics? It is hard to say, because some of their graphics actually diminish leads that Trump has among certain demographics. Could it be the designer behind the graphics simply does not understand what he or she is doing? Perhaps. We clearly cannot know for certain.

Either way, it points to a need for more understanding of the importance and value of data visualisation in the political discourse. And then the natural follow-up of how to best design and create said visualisations to best inform the public.

But I highly recommend going to the Post and reading the entirety of the article.

Credit for the original work goes to the Trump campaign graphics department, the criticism to John Muyskens of the Washington Post.

Miniature Ball Fields

Last week Jackie Bradley Jr., the starting centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox, saw his hit-streak end at 29 games. For those of you who do not follow baseball, that means he hit the ball and reached first base safely without causing an out for 29 games in a row. Quite a feat. Anyway, because it is a feat, the story gets covered and in this case, by the Boston Globe.

They wrote several articles on Bradley and the hit streak, but this one included a small, interactive graphic that mapped out his hits. Because a streak exists over time, the component includes a slider to show how the hits have progressed.

Bradley hit to all parts of the field
Bradley hit to all parts of the field

Worth keeping in mind that this was merely a sidebar graphic, not a large and fully immersive piece. The piece itself features only a few tables detailing baseball data comparisons, but it exists in a new design layout from the Globe featuring bigger, glossier photographs. Not all graphics need to be the biggest element on the page. From a pacing perspective, it sometimes helps to have a small graphic placed next to the important text to provide immediate context. Speaking of context…

The graphic in the context of the page
The graphic in the context of the page

Overall, a very nice piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the Boston Globe graphics department.

Where Is Pennsyltucky?

So last week I mentioned Pennsyltucky in my blog post about Pennsylvania’s forthcoming importance in the election. And then on Friday I shared a humourous illustrated map of Pennsylvania that led into an article on Pennsyltucky. But where exactly is it?

Luckily for you, I spent a good chunk of my weekend trying to find some data on Pennsylvania and taking a look at it. You can see and read the results over on a separate page of mine.

Where is Pennsyltucky?
Where is Pennsyltucky?

Design and Data Visualisation

Today’s piece features a critique of the data visualisation world from Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post. It centres on the difference between these two maps. The one on the left is Ingraham’s and the one on the right from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Spot the difference
Spot the difference

I do not want to spoil or ruin the article for you—it’s a short read after all. But the crux of the argument, which I believe extends beyond maps, is that despite the proliferation of tools to visualise data, one still needs to understand the principles behind it to create meaningful work. Anybody can put words to paper—look at this blog after all—but the truly great writers have the education and the experience to move and motivate people. And the same holds true for designers of data visualisation. And designers even more broadly.

If I have to add one design critique to Ingraham’s work, I would also add that design decisions like colours and map type also play a role in creating legible pieces. The grey lines in the Pew map versus the white lines in the Post’s make it difficult to read the colours in the smaller, eastern counties of the United States.

Credit for the Washington Post piece goes to Christopher Ingraham.

Credit for the Pew Charitable Trusts piece goes to Pew’s graphics department.

The London Underground Typeface

Johnston, the typeface of the London Underground, turns 100 this year. And so last Thursday the Guardian posted a short article about the typeface. It is worth a quick read, if only for the description of serif typefaces as “letters without the little flicks at the end of their strokes”. Some people overlook typeface selection when it comes to the display of data and information, but it is vitally important. Letters need to be clear and easy to understand, but also set at the right size for the audience. If they fail to do that, a work fails to be legible, and that means something is not being communicated. And that is a failure in design.

The original design
The original design

Note the handwriting for the notes versus the sans-serif letterforms.

Details in Charts

Today we are looking at a smaller piece from the Washington Post. The graphic fits within an article about US stock prices. What the graphic does is show the total scale, i.e. starting the chart on the 0 axis, and then showing in detail the fluctuations near the maximum end of the scale. And yet all of this done as an inset graphic. It need not be a full-width graphic, because the data does not demand it.

The chart is in the details
The chart is in the details

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

The Disappearing Polish S

Today’s piece is not a chart, nor is it some complicated piece of data visualisation. Instead, we are looking at a piece from Medium that attempts to explain the disappearing Polish S. Basically, it is a roundabout way of saying that it is very difficult to type in foreign languages on American keyboards because of the additional letters and/or diacritics. If you are at all interested in typography, the article makes nice use of comparative photographs and highlighted colours in the alphabet to illustrate its case.

English vs. Polish alphabets
English vs. Polish alphabets

Credit for the piece goes to Marcin Wichary.

Massimo Vignelli Dies

Massimo Vignelli died yesterday at the age of 83. Fastco has a much better article than I think I could read, this image is from their piece but is of Vignelli’s transit map for New York. I wrote about an interactive piece several years back that allowed you to compare Vignelli’s map to the new system map for the MTA.

Vignelli's subway map
Vignelli’s subway map

Credit for the piece goes to Massimo Vignelli.

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?