Tag Archives: design

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?

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.

16 Useless Infographics

Happy Friday, everyone. Today’s post comes via colleagues of mine in London, who shared with me the Guardian’s selection of 16 useless infographics. They are shit infographics. Well, at least one is. Check them out and you’ll understand.

Using maps to explain maps…

Using maps to explain maps…

Credit for the selection goes to Mona Chalabi. Credit for each infographic belongs to the infographic’s respective designer.

England and Wales Census Results

Earlier this week, the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom released census results for England and Wales. (Northern Ireland and Scotland are reported separately.) England has more people than expected, most likely because of undercounting of immigrants, and Wales is now some three million and counting. There are fewer Christians than expected—and fewer Jedi than I expected—as the ranks of the non-religious grow. But from of course all of this comes a bevy of visualisations. These are but a few, but if anybody finds others worth nothing, please feel free to send them my way.

Straight from the source is a set of interactive mapping applications from ONS that compare 2001 data to 2011 data. As best it can, census districts are compared on a one-to-one basis, but with boundary changes that isn’t always possible. Clicking on district provides one with details about the responses for that area.

% Christian across England and Wales

% Christian across England and Wales

% Christian in North Devon

% Christian in North Devon

Perhaps the one thing missing from these—and it may well owe to the aforementioned boundary changes—is a map of changes to see which areas have been most impacted. Or a map of the results compared to the average to see where the average can be found and where the positive and negative extremes can be found.

An infographic from the Guardian looks at the overall dataset with quite a few maps and then circle-y things. While the large map is the white population in 2011, the remaining maps are before and after comparisons. Again, an interesting look would have been perhaps deviations from the average or of the actual change per district.

UK Census results visualised

UK Census results visualised

I appreciate the impact of the main story, the increasing diversity of England and, to a lesser extent, Wales. London in particular is now minority white. However, I am less keen on the circle-y things and that data could probably have been presented in a clearer, more direct fashion. I am not a fan of red, yellow, and green traffic light colours, but I also recognise that the Guardian is working within their brand on this.

Unfortunately this interactive map of Northern Ireland’s national identity does not quite work for me. I appreciate the toggle between the different response options, however, I find the responses themselves hard to compare. The colours remain the same, but the scales for the results change. For those identifying as Northern Irish, the top value is clearly less than those identifying as either British or Irish. But I would have liked to have seen the scales for British and Irish to closer match. I also find the black background distracting and overwhelming the colours. I wonder how the result would have worked if treated with the above aesthetic.

British identity in Northern Ireland

British identity in Northern Ireland

The BBC took a stab too with a section devoted to the results. Unlike the ONS visualisation above, however, the side-by-side comparison is forced to be smaller with the included text. And when one zooms into a particular district, the map degrades into crude polygons—a particular pet peeve of mine—that would be unrecognisable to someone familiar with the intimate geographic details of their home region. (Yes, simple shapes make the files smaller for overview maps, but when seen up-close, they lose their value by making ugly maps.) Also, the colours and bins in this particular view are not as informative as in the view above.

Christianity in England and Wales

Christianity in England and Wales

Christianity in North Devon

Christianity in North Devon

The BBC, however, did create a small graphic for an article that showed population changes in the districts, alas the colours did not work as well as one would hope.

Population Change

Population Change

That’s a lot for people to digest, but, overall I think the clearest visualisations go to the ONS. They lack the commentary that can be brought by journalism organisations, e.g. the BBC, but one needs a clear and powerful visualisation before one can start writing an analysis.

Credit for the ONS results goes to the ONS Data Visualisation Centre, for the Guardian infographic credit goes to Paul Scruton and Mark McCormick, for the Northern Ireland piece credit goes to John Burn-Murdoch, and credit for the BBC goes to the BBC.

Maps Are Not Silver Bullets

I make a lot of maps in my line of work. Often times, they are not particularly interesting. Mostly because they follow similar patterns to this. More stuff is bought and sold where there are more people. More stuff is bought and sold where more people have more money. Et cetera, et cetera.

Maps are not always helpful

Maps are not always helpful

Maps are sometimes very useful. But I have a saying when people ask for a map of some kind of data tied to geographies: Maps are not silver bullets. That is to say, just because you throw data about countries, states, or counties onto a map does not mean you are going to see anything worthwhile let alone new or unexpected.

Credit for the XKCD piece goes to Randall Munroe

Comparing the (Display of) Results in Colorado

Mitt Romney lost badly last night. No way around that. But as I watched the results come in through various sources, I noticed two interesting design decisions that made me think; one from the Guardian (the British perspective), and the other from the New York Times.

Using only Colorado as an example, here is the map of county results by the Guardian.

Results map from the Guardian

Results map from the Guardian

Note how the map is presented in 3-D that therefore allows the use of height as another encoded variable, in this case the size of the lead. Now compare that to the map used by the New York Times.

Results map from the New York Times

Results map from the New York Times

Note how this map is flat. So much less cool, right? But try to compare the results in Denver County. When I look at the Times’ map, I see blue; Mitt Romney won. When I look at the Guardian’s map, I see…actually, I can’t. That label is in the way. And then even when I begin to interact with the map, Denver County is hidden by the height of Arapahoe County.

But what about the size of the lead? I cannot see that encoded in the New York Times map. No, one cannot. However, they added a toggle function to change the data displayed on the map—though the utility of that view can be left for another discussion.

And now to a minor point about comparing the totals.

Again, a look at the Guardian’s presentation.

Results table from the Guardian

Results table from the Guardian

And now the New York Times. Numbers are numbers and faces are faces. But look at the graphic element representing the percentage. With the Guardian, I can just barely discern that the size of the circles for Santorum and Romney are not the same. And the same goes for Gingrich and Paul. But when I look at the Times’ presentation, I see a simple bar chart that more clearly shows the relationships between the results.

Results table from the New York Times

Results table from the New York Times

So interesting design decisions lead to one view that I find far more successful in showing the data: the New York Times.

Damn the Torpedoes…We’ll Just Use Our Fists

A brief bit of background before I begin, a few months ago, a South Korean warship, a corvette, was sunk in waters claimed by both South Korea and North Korea. And technically speaking, the Korean War has never ended and the two countries remain at war. An independent commission studied the situation and determined that a North Korean submarine sank the ship with a torpedo. It did not help North Korea that North Korean markings were found on the remnants of a torpedo not far from the submerged wreckage.

Regardless, North Korea claimed innocence and the case went before the United Nations. The UN expressed, per usual, its toothless displeasure at the entire affair and everything has since sort of faded away—at least here in the United States it has. However, apparently somebody has smuggled a poster out of North Korea that hints at responsibility. According to the article, the text in the poster reads “If they attack, we will smash them in a single blow”.

North Korean Propaganda Poster

North Korean Propaganda Poster

photo uncredited, via the New York Times

I just found it fascinating that in 2010 we can still see good, old-fashioned propaganda posters. Even if we can only get them smuggled out of North Korea.

New New York

Not quite of the New Earth (and therefore the 15th reincarnation of New York) variety, but, with maps being a key means of defining a city, state, or country, when a map is changed its meaning can also be changed. So, the new MTA map for New York presents some interesting changes summarised in this piece by the New York Times.

current–1998

When you compare the new map to the most recent, a few things stand out. The blue is much brighter—which I think detracts from the purpose of communicating rail routes over land—for starters. Beyond that we see that the boroughs are all larger with the exception of Staten Island. An unfortunate implication is that reducing the prominence of Staten Island on the map will, well reduce the prominence of the island to those who ride the MTA. To be fair, that is likely an acceptable trade-off given what I understand about the demographic, commercial, and cultural scales of importance between Staten Island and the other four boroughs when you factor in the need to display routes and other such transit information.

Another key change is the reduction in the additional information at the bottom of the map. Removing the text—perhaps the bus connection information referenced in the article, but as a non-New Yorker I cannot say for certain—allows one the space to make the boroughs larger. This allows the rail map to be more a map about rails than about bus connections.

All in all, the map appears an improvement. I disagree with some of the colour choice and the drop shadowing of the lines over the map. But for making the map larger and more about being a map, I could live with those changes. On the other hand, I still prefer non-geographic maps for transit maps. And so I shall never quite understand why they dismissed the Vignelli map.

current–1972