While today’s post is not an uplifting story, I did find it remarkable in its presentation. Nothing too fancy or revolutionary to be certain, but remarkable nonetheless. What was it? This morning when I picked up the Times there was a chart in black and red, above the fold, below the cover photo.
The story is about the rising number of deaths in the United States attributed to drugs. And, no, the line chart is not groundbreaking—though I do love the way the designers cut into the space to efficiently set copy and annotations. But as an above-the-fold graphic this morning, it did the trick.
If this week’s news cycle cooperates, I am going to try and catch up on some things I have seen over the last several weeks that got bumped because of, well, Trump usually. Today we start with a piece on life expectancy from FiveThirtyEight.
The piece begins with a standard choropleth to identify, at county levels, pockets of higher mortality. But what I really like is this small multiples map of the United States. It shows the changes in life expectancy for all 50 states. And the use of colour quickly shows, for those states drastically different than the national average, are they above or below said average.
Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.
Well, we are one day away now. And I’ve been saving this piece from the New York Times for today. They call it simply 2016 in Charts, but parts of it look further back while other parts try to look ahead to new policies. But all of it is well done.
I chose the below set of bar charts depicting deaths by terrorism to show how well the designers paid attention to their content and its placement. Look how the scale for each chart matches up so that the total can fit neatly to the left, along with the totals for the United States, Canada, and the EU. What it goes to show you is best summarised by the author, whom I quote “those 63 [American] deaths, while tragic, are about the same as the number of Americans killed annually by lawn mowers.”
I propose a War on Lawn Mowers.
The rest of the piece goes on to talk about the economy—it’s doing well; healthcare—not perfect, but reasonably well; stock market—also well; proposed tax cuts—good for the already wealthy; proposed spending—bad for public debt; and other things.
The commonality is that the charts work really well for communicating the stories. And it does all through a simple, limited, and consistent palette.
If you have heard enough about the Affordable Care Act, well, you could be listening to the desire to defund Planned Parenthood. Because, while that organisation cannot use any federal funding for abortions, it is the nation’s largest provider of that service. So if you follow that logic, you must strip all federal funds from the organisation.
Yeah, it makes no sense. But whatever, those are part of the Republican plans. But, if you look at the data, abortion rates are now at the lowest level since Roe v. Wade in the 1970s.
We are counting down the days until President Obama steps aside. And shortly thereafter his signature work, the Affordable Care Act, may be repealed. But looking back, what is the legacy of the first few years under Obamacare? Besides the obvious death panels, of course. Well FiveThirtyEight took a look. And in this graphic, we see simple line charts. But what I really like is the attention that went into the titling/labelling. The titles draw you down through the story, explaining just what you are looking at.
Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.
Happy Friday after the election. Now that we have had our fill on sweets and bitters, we probably need to move towards a more balanced, more moderate diet. A couple of months ago the New York Times put together this scatter plot from the difference between public and nutritionist opinion on whether certain common foods are healthy.
I normally do not comment on the design of my Friday posts, since I intend them to be on the lighter, more humourous side of things. But this piece interests me, because despite the seriousness of the subject matter I find it lighter and less serious. Why? After studying it, I think it is because of the inclusion of photographs of the items. With the labels still present, I am left thinking that a small dot would be equally effective in communicating what falls where.
But more importantly, look at the sizes of the images relative to the plot. Take the bowls of granola or popcorn, for example. They occupy almost an entire square; the actual value could be anywhere with the 10 percentage point range either vertically or horizontally. And for those two, it does not matter a great deal. Each falls firmly on one side of the line. But what about butter? Kind bars? Cheddar cheese? The large graphic size straddles the line, but because the designers opted for photos over more precise dots, we cannot ascertain whether these foods fall on one side of the line or the other.
The point is that the graphics and design of a piece can influence the perceived seriousness of a piece. An image of a can of Coca-Cola certainly can be more engaging than a 10-pixel dot. But the precision of the dot over the image can also be engaging to the right audience, an audience interested in the data behind the story. There are ways of integrating both, because later on in the same article, we see a means of doing just that.
Here the image provides supplemental information. Just what does a granola bar look like? Well here you can see it. But even here, despite the smaller size and cropped dimensions, the photographs steal a bit of emphasis from the numbers and the charts to the right. (For things like SlimFast, that is no surprise, because the package is designed to capture your attention.)
At the end of the day, the piece interests me because the data interests me. And the story interests me. And I generally like the data visualisation forms the designers chose. But I keep getting hung up the photographs. And not in a good way. What do you think? Do the photos add to the story? Do they make the data clearer?
Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz.
And by this title I am not referencing McKinleys, K2s, or Everests. No, the BBC published this piece on the changing average heights of citizens of various countries. This was the graphic they used from the report’s author.
Personally speaking, I do not care for the graphic. It is unclear and puts undue emphasis on the 1914 figure by placing the illustration in the foreground as well as in the darkest colour. I took a thirty-minute stab at re-designing the graphic and have this to offer.
While I admit that it is far from the sexiest graphic, I think it does a better job of showing the growth than decline of national heights by each sex in each of these three select countries. Plus, we have the advantage of not needing to account for the flag emblems. Note how the black bars of Egypt disappear into the black illustration of the person.
Credit for the piece goes to the eLife graphics department.
Last week Philadelphia became the first large US city to introduce a soda tax. (Berkeley introduced one a few years ago, but is 1/10 the size of Philly.) The Guardian has a really nice write-up on how the tax was sold not on health benefits, but of civic benefits to the education system. But the article made me wonder if somebody had published a map looking at obesity in Philadelphia. Turns out Philadelphia Magazine published an article with just such a map from another source, RTI International. (You can find the full interactive map here.)
The map has three views, one of which allows you to see areas of statistically significant clustering. North and West Philly had some bright red clusters, whereas the western suburbs, in particular along the Main Line have some very cold blues.
We hear ever more about the Zika virus that currently plagues South America. But the fact is that the mosquito that carries it could inhabit some regions of the United States as well as the South American tropics. Over at the Daily Viz, there was an article about just what the potential numbers could be.
The piece is a nice reminder that not every important story needs a super-complicated graphic. It just needs a clean, clear, and concise graphic. The threat here is to parts of the American south. But, as yesterday’s post showed, ever more people are moving there and so that puts roughly 80 million Americans in harm’s way.
Also, another validation of my dislike of warm weather.