More on California’s Dry Heat

Yesterday we looked at the wildfire conditions in California. Today, we look at the Economist’s take, which brings an additional focus on the devastation of the fires themselves. However, it adds a more global perspective and looks at the worldwide decline in forest fires and both where and why that is the case.

California isn't looking too…hot. Too soon?
California isn’t looking too…hot. Too soon?

The screenshot here focuses on California and combines the heat and precipitation we looked at yesterday into a fuel-aridity index. That index’s actual meaning is simplified in the chart annotations that indicate “warmer and drier years” further along the x-axis. The y-index, by comparison, is a simpler plot of the acres burned in fires.

This piece examines more closely that link between fires and environmental conditions. But the result is the same, a warming and drying climate leaves California more vulnerable to wildfires. However, the focus of the piece, as I noted above, is actually on the global decline of wildfires.

Only 2% of wildfires are actually in North America, the bulk occur in Africa. And the piece uses a nice map to show just where those fires occur. In parallel the text explains how changing economic conditions in those areas are lessening the risk of wildfire and so we are seeing a global decline—even with climate change.

Taken with yesterday’s piece with its hyper-California focus, this provides a more global context of the problem of wildfires. It’s a good one-two read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Pulling Gene-ies Out of Bottles

I don’t always get to share more illustrative diagrams that explain things, but that’s what we have today from the Economist. It illustrated the concept of a gene drive by which a gene modified in one chromosome then modifies the remaining chromosome to insert itself there. Consequently it stands an almost 100% chance of being passed onto the subsequent generation.

Naturally this means great things for removing, say, mosquito-born diseases from populations as the gene drives can be used to ultimately eliminate the population. But of course, should we be doing this? Regardless, we have a graphic from the Economist.

I still find them a pest…
I still find them a pest…

It makes nice use of a small mosquito icon to show how engineered mosquitos can take over the population from wild-type. The graphic does a nice job showing the generational effect with the light blue wild-type disappearing. But I wonder if more could not be said about the actual gene drive itself. Of course, it could be that they simplified the process substantially to make it accessible to the audience.

Credit for the piece goes the Economist graphics department.

The New Longest Flight

You might recall that back in March I wrote about the use of spherical maps to show great circles. This helps illustrate the actual routes that aircraft take in flight. (Yes, actual flight plans deviate based on routes, weather, traffic, &c.) At the time I wrote about how there was a soon-to-be Singapore–New York route. Ta da.

That's just a long time in one aircraft.
That’s just a long time in one aircraft.

Nothing fancy here in this graphic from the Economist. It probably is just a reuse of the original but with the additional routes removed. But, I still love these kinds of maps. From a design manager standpoint, in a way this is great efficiency in that an element from a graphic made once can now, with minimal effort, be used in a second piece. And not in a meaningless, throw-in way, but this graphic does very much help to illustrate the actual route and long across the globe it travels.

In a second note, not related to the graphic itself, I want to point out a subtle change made by the Economist. This is the first online graphic to use an updated chrome, which is the branding elements that surround the actual content of the piece.

Slight changes
Slight changes

The biggest change is a new or modified typeface for the graphic header. I have not seen anything about design changes at the Economist, but I will look into it. But the changes are, again, subtle. The best example in these two comparisons (new on the left, old on the right) is the shape of the letter e.

E, as in Economist
E, as in Economist

You can see how the terminal, or the part of the letter hooking and swinging out at the bottom, used to come to an end at an angle. Now it ends with a vertical chop. I haven’t looked too extensively at the typeface, but given the letter e, it appears to be a little bit wider of a face.

The other change, not quite as subtle, is the positioning of the iconic red rectangle around which so much of the Economist’s brand hangs. Bringing back the above graphic, you can see where I drew a black line to indicate the edge of the original graphic.

Slight changes

The box is now orientated horizontally (again, new is on the left), which actually brings it closer to the actual Economist logo. But, and probably more importantly, it allows the graphic’s edge to go to the, well, edge. And since their site uses generous whitespace around their graphics, they don’t necessarily need margins within the graphic.

They have also chosen to raise the level at which the header starts, i.e. there is less space between the red rule at the top of the graphic and the start of the words. This, however, appears to have been possible in the original design.

As more graphics roll out, I am going to be curious to see if there are other changes. Or even just to see how these subtle changes affect the rest of the graphics.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Europe is More than the Big States

First, I want to start with a housekeeping note. Your author will be travelling for work and then a short autumn holiday. And so while I may be able to sneak a post or two in, I generally would not expect anything until next Friday, 12 October.

But let’s end this string of posts with a map. It is a choropleth, so in one sense there is nothing crazy going on here. The map comes from the Economist, which published an article on life expectancy throughout Europe and the big takeaway is that it is lower in the east than the west.

Apparently life is pretty good in northern Spain
Apparently life is pretty good in northern Spain

The great part of the map, however, is that we get to see a more granular level of detail. Usually we just get a view of the European states, which presents them as an even tone of one shade or one colour. Here we can see the variety of life expectancy in the UK, France, and Belgium, and then still compare that to eastern Europe.

Of course creating a map like this demands data to drive it. Do data sets exist for the sub-national geographic units of EU or European states? Sometimes not. And in those cases, if you need a map, the European state choropleth is the choice you have to make. I just hope that we get to see more data sets like this with more granular data to present a more complex and patterned map.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Our Lives Are a Mixed Bag

Last Thursday the Economist published an article looking at quality of life across the world. The data came from the Social Progress Imperative and examined quality of life, excluding economic performance. And as the article details, the results were mixed at best.

But, hey, the chart was really nice. We have a small multiple set looking at the overall index across all regions across the world and then the US, China, and India in particular.

Unfortunately the US is heading in the wrong direction…
Unfortunately the US is heading in the wrong direction…

I think this chart hits almost all the right notes. My only qualm would be the component indices being placed alongside the overall index. I wonder if breaking the whole thing out by component would work. As it is, it generally works well, I am just curious because there is the one issue of the United States where our well-being line falls beneath that of the overall index. But then again, the story is the overall index.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

iPhone Screen Size

Your humble author has returned. And on my trip up to Boston I took plenty of photos with my Nexus 5X, a Google-designed smartphone. That is correct, this designer does not use an iPhone. But I am aware of the latest things coming out of Apple—after all this is being typed up on a Mac—and so the larger screen size caught my attention.

The Economist put together a piece looking at the screen sizes of the iPhone models over the years and then used that to project into the future the likely sizes of the phone’s display.

Bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and…
Bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and…

Now the article hints at what I would be particularly interested in: the screen sizes of comparable Android models. How have they changed over the years? I still cling to my smaller screen size mobile as I am not a fan of the phablet.

The chart itself is simple and well done, plotting the models without any fuss. But the most important part is the benchmark line of the iPad mini’s screen size. And the user can clearly see the forecast merger of the sizes.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Europe’s Far-right Parties

Yesterday we looked at the rise of the far-right in Sweden based on their electoral gains in this past weekend’s election. Today, the Economist has a piece detailing their strength throughout Europe and they claim that this type of nationalist party may have peaked.

The tile map, though
The tile map, though

The graphic fascinates me because it appears to be a twist on the box or tile map, which is often used to eliminate or reduce the discrepancies in geographic size so that countries, states, or whatevers, can be examined more easily and more equitably.

I am guessing that the ultimate sizes, which appear to be one to four units, are determined by population size. The biggest hitters of Germany, the UK, France, and Spain are all four squares or boxes whereas the smaller states like Malta are just one. (But again, hey, we can all see Malta this time.)

I think this kind of abstraction will grow on me over time. It is a clever solution to the age-old problem of how do we show important data in both Germany and Malta on a map when Malta is so geographically small it probably renders as only a few pixels.

On the other hand, I am not loving the line chart to the right. I understand what it is doing and why. And even conceptually it works well to show the peaks of the parties. However, there are just a few too many lines and we get into the spaghettification of the chart. I might have labelled a far fewer number and let most sit at some neutral grey. Or, space permitting, a series of small multiples could have been used.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Which of These Countries Does Not Belong

For those of you reading from the States, I hope you all enjoyed your holiday. And for my UK readers, I hope you all enjoyed your summer bank holiday last weekend. So now to the good and uplifting kind of news.

Something is clearly not right here.
Something is clearly not right here.

Indeed, a chart about deaths from firearms from the Economist. From a graphical standpoint, we all know how much I loathe stacked bar charts and this shows why. It is difficult for the user to isolate and compare the profiles of certain types of firearm violence against each other. Clearly there are countries where suicide by gun is more prevalent than murder, but most on this list are more murder happy.

And then the line chart that is cleverly spaced within the overall graphic, well, it falls apart. There are too many lines highlighted. Instead, I would have separated these out into a separate chart, made larger, so that the reader can more easily discern which series belongs to which country. Or I would have gone with a set of small multiples isolating those nine countries.

I am also unclear on why certain countries were highlighted in the line chart. Did they all need to be highlighted? Why, for example, is Trinidad & Tobago. It is not mentioned in the article, nor is it in the stacked bar chart.

But the biggest problem I have is with the data itself. But, every one of the countries on that list is among the developing countries or the least developed countries. Except one. And that, of course, is the United States.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

The Rise of Online Dating

This past weekend I cited this article from the Economist that looked at the rise of online dating as a way of couples meeting. There was some debate about which channels of interaction/attraction still worked or were prevalent. And it turns out that, in general, the online world is the world today.

Meeting your partner in primary/secondary school has clearly gone out of fashion since the 40s.
Meeting your partner in primary/secondary school has clearly gone out of fashion since the 40s.

My problem with the graphic is that it is a bit too spaghettified for my liking. Too many lines, too many colours, and they are all overlapping. I probably would have tried a few different tricks. One, small multiples. The drawback to that method is that while it allows you to clearly analyse one particular series, you lose the overlap that might be of some interest to readers.

Second, maybe don’t highlight every single channel? Again, you could lose some audience interest, but it would allow the reader to more clearly see the online trend, especially in the heterosexual couple section of the data. You could accomplish this by either greying out uninteresting lines or removing them entirely, like that primary/secondary school series.

Third, I would try a bit more consistent labelling. Maybe increase the overall height of the graphic to give some more vertical space to try and label each series to the right or left of the graphic. You might need a line here or there to connect the series to its label, but that is already happening in this chart.

However, I do like how the designers kept the y-axis scale the same for both charts. It allows you to clearly see how much of an impact the online dating world has been for homosexual couples. My back-of-the-envelope calculations would say that is more than three times as successful than it is for heterosexual couples. But that insight would be lost if both charts were plotted on separate axis scales.

But lastly, note how the dataset only goes as far as 2010. I can only imagine how these charts would look if the data continued through 2018.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Most Liveable Cities Ranking

There is nothing super sophisticated in these charts, but I love them all the same. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published its rankings of the world’s most liveable cities and this year Vienna knocked off Melbourne for top spot. But what about the rest of the list?

Thankfully the Economist, a related company, put together a graphic highlighting important or noteworthy cities among the entire dataset. It is a wonderful tangle of light grey lines that have select cities highlighted in thicker strokes and brighter colours. Labelling each city would be too tricky at this scale.

I'm okay with the occasional rainbow spaghetti

I’m okay with the occasional rainbow spaghettiThat said about labelling each city, a few years back I worked on a similar top cities in a category datagraphic for Euromonitor International. We took a similar approach and coloured lines by region, but we presented the entire dataset and then complemented it by some additional charts to the side.

These were always fun pieces on which to work
These were always fun pieces on which to work

What is really nice about the Economist piece, however, is that they opted not to show the whole dataset. This could be a business decision, if people want to find where a particular city they could be persuaded to either outright subscribe or otherwise provide contact information in exchange for access to the data. Either way, the result is a piece that has space to provide textual context about why cities rose or fell over the years.

I think I like these types of pieces because there is so much to glean from getting lost in the chart. And this one from the Economist does not disappoint.

Credit for the liveability piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Credit for the destinations piece goes to me.