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.

The Russian Threat

A few days ago a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent, e.g. VX, in Salisbury, England. Over a decade ago, another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, died in London after being poisoned with polonium, a highly radioactive substance produced inside nuclear reactors, placed inside his tea. Russia’s spies are still a threat in the 21st century, at least attempting to assassinate people they choose in Western cities and capitals.

All that made me think back to an issue of the Economist I received a few weeks ago. It had a special report on the future of warfare and this map on the threat posed by Russian conventional forces.

The Russian threat
The Russian threat

It does a good job of showing that in just a conventional sense, Russia remains a dangerous threat to NATO. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are incredibly vulnerable, all but surrounded by Russia and its allies/proxies.

But as this week’s news highlights, Russia remains a threat in the unconventional space as well. (As also pointed out by the red colour sitting in the formerly Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, seized by unmarked “little green men” in 2014.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Post-Brexit Trading

Off of yesterday’s piece looking at the potential slowdown in British economic growth post-Brexit, I wanted to look at a piece from the Economist exploring the state of the UK’s current trade deals.

Still loathe the use of bubbles though…
Still loathe the use of bubbles though…

I understand what is going on, with the size of the bubbles relating to British exports and the colour to the depth of the free trade deal, i.e. how complex, thorough, and wide-ranging. But the grouping by quadrant?

With trade, geographical proximity is a factor. Things that come from farther cost more because fuel, labour time, &c. One of the advantages the UK currently has is the presence of a massive market on its doorstep with which it already has tariff- and customs-less trade—the European Union.

Consequently, could the graphic somehow incorporate the element of distance? The problem would be how to account for routes, modes of transport, time—how long does a lorry have to queue at the border, for example. Alas, I do not have a great answer.

Regardless of my concepts, this piece does show how the most valuable trade partners already enjoy the deepest and largest trade deals, all through the European Union. And so the UK will need to work to replicate those deals with all of these various countries.

Credit for the piece goes the Economist Data Team.

Onwards and Upwards

Yesterday SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage, and then recaptured several, though not all, of its reusable rockets. The Falcon Heavy represents the most powerful rocket available to mankind today, though NASA’s Saturn V of the Apollo programme era was considerably more powerful. That was all the stuff you could read in the news yesterday and today.

But how much more powerful? Thankfully we have the Economist who put together a nice graphic detailing not just the standard size comparisons of the Falcon series to the Saturn V and other famous rocket systems, e.g. the Space Shuttle and its boosters. The Economist graphic also adds information about the payload capabilities and timeframes for either historical operation or expected service dates.

It's big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…
It’s big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…

From the illustrative side, there were three really nice touches. First, the faint Statue of Liberty to give the rocket height context to famous landmark buildings. Two, the little human figure on the left-hand side to give context to ourselves, these things are big. Three, the ridiculousness of the Saturn V is captured by having its peak break the top frame of the chrome or graphic device, i.e. the red bar, standard on Economist graphics.

Overall a solid piece. (Yes, I know these are liquid fueled.)

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

The World Grows On

January is the month of forecasts and projections for the year to come. And the Economist is no different. Late last week it published a datagraphic showcasing the GDP growth forecasts of the Economist Intelligence Unit. I used to make this exact type of datagraphic a lot. And I mean a lot. But what I really enjoy is how successfully this piece integrates the map, the bar chart, and the tables to round out the story.

Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well
Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well

The easy thing to do is always the map, because people like maps. They can be big, and if the data set is robust, full of data and colour. But maps hide and obscure geographically small countries. And then you have to assume that people know all the countries in the world. Problem is, most people do not.

So the bar chart does a good job of showing each country as equals, a slim vertical bar. In such a small space, labelling every country is impossible, but the designers chose a select number of countries that might be of interest and called them out across the entire series.

Lastly, people always like to know who is #winning and who is a #loser. So the tables at the extreme ends of the chart showcast the top and last five.

I may have rearranged some of the elements, and dropped the heavy black rules between the bins on the legend, but overall I consider this piece a success.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

So Much for Jamaica, (Ger)Man

Last week we saw a lot of news break, and then here at Coffeespoons we had the usual American Thanksgiving holiday with which to contend. So now that things are creeping back to a new normal, let us dive back into some of the things we missed.

How about those German coalition government talks?

Remember two months ago when we looked at Die Welt and the German election results? Well it turns out that the FDP, the liberal (in the more classical sense that makes them more centre-right) Free Democrats, have walked away from coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party (it’s actually two separate parties that have an alliance) and the Green Party. That leaves Merkel with the the Social Democrats as the only other option to form a majority government. (She could attempt to hold a minority government, but from her own statements that appears unlikely.) But the Social Democrats do not appear too keen on joining up in a grand coalition.

So where does Germany stand? Well thankfully the Economist put together a short article with a few graphics to help show just how tricky putting together a new coalition government will be.

Crossing the finish line…
Crossing the finish line…

In terms of design, there is not too much to stay here. The colours are determined by the colours used by the political parties. And the 50% vote threshold is a common, but very useful and workable, convention. The only thing I may have done to emphasise the lack of change in the polling data is a line chart to show the percentage point movement or lack thereof.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Trumping (Most) All on Twitter

Initially I wanted today’s piece to be coverage of the apparent coup d’état in Zimbabwe over night. But while I have found some coverage of the event, I have not yet seen a single graphic trying to explain what happened. Maybe if I have time…

In the meantime, we have the Economist with a short little piece about Trump on Twitter and how he has bested his rivals. Well, most of them at least.

Trumping one's rivals
Trumping one’s rivals

The piece uses a nice set of small multiples to compare Trump’s number of followers to those of his rivals. The multiples come into play as the rivals are segmented into three groups: political, sport, and media. (Or is that fake media?)

Small multiples of course prevent spaghetti charts from developing, and you can easily see how that would have occurred had this been one chart. But I like the use of the reddish-orange line for Trump being the consistent line throughout each. And because the colour was consistent, the labelling could disappear after identifying the data series in the first chart.

And worth calling out too the attention to detail. Look at the line breaks in the chart for the labelling of Fox News and NBA. It prevents the line from interfering with and hindering the legibility of the type. Again, a very small point, but one that goes a long way towards helping the reader.

I think the only thing that could have made this a really standout, stellar piece of work is the inclusion of another referenced data series: the followers of Barack Obama. At 97 million followers, Obama dwarfs Trump’s 42.2 million. Would it not be fantastic to see that line soaring upwards, but cutting away towards the side of the graphic would be the text block of the article continuing on? Probably easier for them to do in their print edition.

Regardless, this is another example of doing solid work at small scale. (Because small multiples, get it?)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Phillip’s Curves are Flatlining

I’ve worked on a few scatter plots of late and so this piece from the Economist grabbed my attention. It examines the correlation between unemployment rates and inflation rates. Broadly speaking, the theory has been that low unemployment rates lead to high inflation rates. But the United States has had low unemployment rates now for a few years, but inflation is around that ideal 2% realm. This theory is called the Phillips Curve.

Straightening out the curve…
Straightening out the curve…

The graphic does a nice job of showing three data series all in one plot. Normally, I would argue for splitting the chart into three smaller plots, a la the small multiples. But here, the data aligns just well enough that the overlapping is minimal. And smart colour choices mean that each data range appears clearly separate from the rest. A nice thoughtful addition is the annotations to the time period are set in the same colour as the dots themselves.

My only two quibbles: One, I would probably increase the height of the chart to better show the trend line. I find that for scatter plots, a more squarish profile works better than the long rectangle. Overall, though, a really well done chart. Second, I would consider adding a zero line to the x-axis to show 0% cyclical unemployment. But that might also not be terribly useful, because you can see how the curve should move regardless of that natural line.

Full disclosure: the Economist article cites a paper from the Philadelphia Fed Research Department, which employs me.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Murder Rates in the US

Yesterday we looked at an article about exporting guns from one state to another. After writing the article I sat down and recalled that the copy of the Economist sitting by the sofa had a small multiple chart looking at murders in a select set of US cities. It turns out that while there was a spike, it appears that lately the murder rate has been flat.

Chicago is higher than Philly, to be fair
Chicago is higher than Philly, to be fair

It’s a solid chart that does its job well. That is probably why I neglected to mention it until I realised it fit in with the map of Illinois and talk about gun crimes yesterday. Because there is plenty of other news through data visualisation that we can talk about this week.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Speaking Freely About Free Speech

Last week the Economist published an article looking at the attitudes of the young at university in the United States. The examination was sparked by the recent-ish waves of news about stifled speech on campuses. Thankfully, we have a long-running survey from those on the ground in our universities and it reveals some interesting facts. You should head on over to the article if you want the full set, but in general, to perhaps nobody’s surprise, the media is exaggerating the confrontations we have seen.

You said what?
You said what?

My only quibble with the graphic is the height of the small multiples. I probably would have increased the height a little bit to allow any real fluctuations over the years to show more readily. But, for all I know, that could have been a limitation of the space in which the designers had to work, i.e. converting a print graphic to work on their blog.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.