Germany

Last week Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, visited President Trump in Washington. This post comes from the Economist and, while not specifically about that trip, describes Germany in a few different metrics. Back in the day it would be what I called a country-specific datagraphic. That is, it shows metrics not necessarily connected to each other, but all centred around a country. In theory, the framework can then be used to examine a number of different countries.

The thin red line…
The thin red line…

That sort of works here, except the choropleth is for the Alternative for Germany political party. That only real works as a metric in, you know, Germany.

Overall, I like the piece. The layout works well, but Germany is fortunate in that the geographic shape works here. Try it with Russia and good luck.

First let us dispense with the easy criticism: do we need the box map in the lower right corner to show where in the world Germany is? For Americans, almost certainly yes. But even if you cannot identify where Germany is, I am not certain its location in Europe is terribly important for the data being presented.

But the pie charts. I really wish they had not done that. Despite my well-known hatred of pie charts, they do work in a very few and specific instances. If you want to show a reader 1/4 of something, i.e. a simple fraction, a pie chart works. You could stretch and argue that is the case here: what is the migrant percentage in Bavaria? But the problem is that by having a pie party and throwing pie charts all over the map, the reader will want to compare Bavaria to the Rhineland-Palatinate.

Just try that.

Mentally you have to take out the little red slice from Bavaria and then transpose it to Rhineland-Palatinate. So which slice is larger? Good luck.

Instead, I would have left that little fact out as a separate chart. Basically you need space for 16 lines, presumably ranked, maybe coloured by their location in former East or West Germany, and then set in the graphic. Nudge Germany to the left, and eat up the same portion of Bavaria the box map, cover the Czech Republic, and you can probably fit it.

Or you could place both metrics on a scatter plot and see if there is any correlation. (To the designers’ credit, perhaps they did and found there is none. Although that in and of itself could be a story to tell.)

The point is that I still hate pie charts.

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

The Cost of Giving Birth

Monday was the birth of the newest British prince. We covered that here. Interestingly, the Economist then covered the cost of giving birth. No surprise, those involving royals tend to be costly. But I did not think that the average American birth actually cost more.

Babies are expensive…
Babies are expensive…

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

Circle This

Last week I met a friend for drinks and part of our conversation was about how on a trip to east Asia, he flew from New York and then over the North Pole. The North Pole! I then explained it was cool, but not unique. Instead aircraft typically fly between destinations via great circles. Basically, the shortest distance between two points on the Earth is a straight line, but remember the Earth is not exactly flat. Its spherical nature means that the shortest distance sometimes is what you would see as a curve on a flat map. And sometimes, those curves are shortest when plotted over the North Pole, because unlike a flat map, the east and west ends really do connect.

Lo and behold, yesterday the Economist published a piece about a new non-stop flight between London and Perth, on Australia’s southwest coast. The graphic shows the ten longest commercial flight paths. And what do you know, one of the longest is a soon-to-be flight from New York to Singapore that flies near the North Pole.

Great circles are cool.
Great circles are cool.

Of course the key to this type of diagram is the type of projection. Instead of using the Mercator-like map made popular by direction-focused maps like those of Google, here we see an orthographic presentation. It presents the Earth as if we were to see it from space, allowing us to see the fullness of the flight paths. Tellingly, those that appear to cross the middle of the map are shown as straight lines (Atlanta to Johannesburg), but those nearer the edges show the curvature of the great circles (Houston to Sydney).

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

All Hail the Nurses and Working People

Let’s start this week with a quick hit on popularity and politics. It ties in nicely with the fact that my local congressman, a Republican, announced on Sunday he would not be seeking re-election in a very competitive district.

This piece in particular comes from the Economist and in terms of form, it is fairly simple. A scatter plot tackling the popularity of groups of people and specific politicians divided by whether the respondent is Republican or Democratic.

A nation divided…
A nation divided…

The reason I really like this scatter plot are the inclusion of the keys at the four corners. The split between Republicans and Democrats is fairly obvious and nicely coloured. But the little keys really help to clear up any confusion about what is happening as groups of people fall closer to one corner or another. The keys were a small and subtle, but very important design decision.

But what does it all mean? Well, as the headline says, we both rate favourably nurses and working people. Less so Congress and Mitch McConnell.

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

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.