Quasi-satellite Asteroid Orbits

Scientists discovered Earth has a new quasi-satellite. It is an asteroid, and it does not orbit the Earth. But, because of the relationship between its orbit and Earth’s around the sun, it is involved in what NASA described as a dance with Earth. This is not Earth’s only dance partner, however, as we interact with a second asteroid as well. The screenshot of a YouTube video (from user britoca) shows how gravity choreographs the second dance.

Cruithne's orbit
Cruithne’s orbit

Credit for the piece goes to YouTube user britoca.

Coverage of the Orlando Shootings

Last Monday I stated that I would attempt a longer piece on the graphics explaining the shootings in Orlando. Since I do not have access to the print versions, I am examining only the digital versions here. Go grab a cup of tea, because this is certainly one of my longer pieces.

One of the most common ways sites covered the story was through maps of the club, Pulse. It makes a lot of sense—if we want to understand what happened inside the building we need to be able to place ourselves inside the building. So how to do that?

The first thought would be photography. But, the site is a crime scene likely riddled with bullets and stained with blood. Probably not the best thing for publications to use. So we are left with illustrations of the interior. But what level of detail do readers need to understand the story?

At the one end of the spectrum we have the stripped-down and simplified graphic from the BBC.

The BBC's layout
The BBC’s layout

In many respects this could offer the clearest explanation. Unlike the next versions, we have no graphical elements with which to confuse and clutter the drawing. Walls are omitted for a far more architectural layout. Doors are clearly marked, but that is it. We have no indication of where other key places are located. Where are the restrooms into which the attacker fled with hostages? Where are the dance floors? Where is the patio through which people escaped? We get some indication through the timeline annotations, but a lot of the detail needed to provide context is missing.

The New York Times takes a more detailed approach.

The New York Times layout
The New York Times layout

First you can see that the graphics, while smaller, are interspersed within a text-driven timeline of events. Key areas at that point in the timeline are highlighted on the graphic. For the graphic itself, the Times opts for a high-angle view with walls extending from the floor plan and the three key areas are annotated within the graphic. Colour is kept to a minimum with only whites and greys used in addition to the highlight. However, the high grey walls overlap with each other and the unidentified white boxes. What are the white boxes? Are they important? Do the walls need to be grey? Do they need to be so high that they interfere with the graphic?

We can see some different answers to those questions from the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal's layout
The Wall Street Journal’s layout

Here the graphic is lighter in overall tone, with white and very faint greys replacing the darker tones in the New York Times’ piece. They Journal opts for the same graphics within timeline treatment. They also highlight the areas of the club relevant to the story at that moment in time. But here we first find a larger graphic. The Times could have had space limitations on their online site or they could have had to reuse graphics from their print edition for their online edition. While the Times could have very real reasons for the smaller images, the Journal’s larger graphic gives the content the space it needs to be read and understood comfortably. Also note how the use of grey vs. white for emphasis is reversed. Whereas the Times used white for unmarked boxes and grey for walls and floors, the Journal uses white for the floors and the walls. Grey is used to callout important parts of the club that are then crucially labelled, e.g. where the bars are located. Another really nice touch missing from my screenshot is how the Journal only labels the elements in the first graphic in the timeline. The second graphic only calls out the newly important elements.

The Washington Post takes a similar approach to that of the Journal.

The Washington Post's layout
The Washington Post’s layout

We see above the timeline a large graphic identifying the key areas of the club. The use of the small multiples in the timeline then allows the graphics to be smaller and thus accompanied by more text. But in the graphics, the Post diverges from the Journal’s direction in the graphic’s design. We find the layout depicted at a lower angle. And instead of a restrained palette, we find warm beiges and ochres depicting the floors and key elements like the bars. The shadows here begin call more attention to themselves than in the previous designs. We also find high levels of detail with the inclusion of bar stools and seat cushions. On the large graphic, the colour and detail, while distracting, still work because of the space. But in the small multiples for the timeline, a simplified version without stools and seats and a toned-down palette could make the graphic easier to understand.

And then somewhere between the approaches of the Journal and the Post we have the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times' layout
The Los Angeles Times’ layout

We return to a restrained palette with colour used sparingly to emphasise key parts of the narrative. Detail is limited to the key elements, without any illustrative adornments like furniture. Typographic distinctions, bold vs. italic, delineate the important areas of the club from the remainder of the context. Elements like service alleys, fences, and the patio gate are clearly marked and provide that context of the possible escape routes for patrons attempting to flee the attacker. The graphic then repeats through the timeline, but the subsequent graphics reflect a missed opportunity. Each remains as labelled as this first, and the labels begin to distract from understanding the narrative.

Then we have the Orlando Sentinel’s timeline graphics.

The Orlando Sentinel's layout
The Orlando Sentinel’s layout

Note any similarities in this graphic to the preceding one? The Tribune Publishing Company, to be rebranded as tronc, owns both the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel. So my guess would be the graphics departments collaborated or one of them created a shared asset to be used across the Tribune Publishing Company’s—sorry, tronc’s—media platforms. The Sentinel’s version lacks the finer design details of the LA Times’s, for example note how the typographic treatment here lacks the clearer hierarchy present in the LA Times’ version. I doubt the small type size increase would be noticed by the audience, though I could be wrong. But in terms of providing a timeline of events, the Sentinel’s version, which incorporates the above graphic as well as other media, is the most detailed and complete.

Then similar to some extents to the preceding graphics, we have a piece from the Orange County Register.

The Orange County Register's layout
The Orange County Register’s layout

As you can likely tell from the screenshot, this is a graphic where the entire piece is designed as a large graphic file instead of components on the page. It could be because the piece was designed primarily for print and not digital consumption. The layout of the club draws heavily on the BBC’s architectural drawing concept, but here is executed far more awkwardly. Instead of including hallways in the schematic, they are indicated by coloured rectangles. And we also know from the other graphics that almost the entirety of the wall at the graphic’s top supported the club’s main bathrooms. The graphic itself is sourced from The Villages Daily Sun, but the OC Register would have been better served by sourcing a more accurate and more clearly designed graphic for the layout. I should also point out the photograph at the top of the graphic appears to have come directly from the New York Times.

Lastly we have the National Post, which is at the other end of the spectrum.

The National Post's layout
The National Post’s layout

Per the style of the National Post, this graphic is more illustrative in its quality than the others. Like the Orange County Register, the National Post designed an entire graphic instead of smaller components on a webpage. The timeline occupies the left column and numbers correspond to locations in the club. However, I think the graphic could have been made more clear if the roof illustration were removed and a higher angle taken to make the back of the club easier to see.

Different publications included different amounts and types of supplemental context. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for example, included additional graphics on mass shootings. Others, like the New York Times, provided links to pieces that examined the context separate from the timeline of events.

Is there a best design among these? Well, design exists to solve problems, and those problems could vary from publication to publication. How soon did the graphics needed to be published? How many people worked on the design? How much information was available when producing the work? Were print considerations necessary?

For me, the Orlando Sentinel’s work, in toto, most clearly presented the narrative. While I quibble with particular elements of the design, again, I would have removed most of the text labels after their first appearance, it provides a balanced amount of detail and broad overviews in a clear fashion. Colour is used to emphasise elements in that moment. The illustration itself does not distract and allows the reader to focus on the story itself.

Credit for the pieces goes to a lot of people.

BBC: BBC graphics department

New York Times: Gregor Aisch, Larry Buchanan, Joe Burgess, Ford Fessenden, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn, Haeyoun Park, Adam Pearce, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Sergio Peçanha, Anjali Singhvi, Derek Watkins, and Karen Yourish.

Wall Street Journal: Wall Street Journal graphics department

Washington Post: Weiyi Cai, Emily Chow, Chiqui Esteban, Lazaro Gamio, Chris Ingraham, Laris Karklis, Denise Lu, and Tim Meko.

Los Angeles Times: Eben McCue and Angelica Quintero.

Orlando Sentinel: Gal Tziperman Lotan, Charles Minshew, Mike Lafferty and Andrew Gibson.

Ocean County Register: Ocean County Register graphics staff

National Post: Mike Faille and Dean Tweed.

Counterbalancing Presidential Support

The night after the California primary—or as an East Coaster should say, the night of the New Jersey primary—we take a look at how US presidents often experience a counterbalancing political force in state, gubernatorial, House, and Senate races. The content comes from the Washington Post and it makes use of nicely annotated graphics, including the screenshot below.

How Senate control changed
How Senate control changed
How Senate control changed
How Senate control changed

What I enjoy about the piece, however, is how it responds to a narrower browser, like one might see on a mobile phone. The screenshot to the right shows how the data visualisation changes. You can see how some of the annotations disappear, like the note about Nixon’s support growing.

The same adaptation to the display occurs for the other graphics throughout the piece, with axes and orientations changing to take advantage of the more vertical orientation.

I also think it is worth pointing out that the more illustrative ornamentation of the piece, i.e. the presidential illustrations, drop off completely. I could have lived without them as they do not contribute directly to the data story. I also think the white lines on the charts above could be removed to make the narrower margins more visible on the charts.

Credit for the piece goes to Stephanie Stamm.

Basketball Finals

So the basketball finals begin tonight with the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Golden State Warriors. This is also the part of the post where I fully admit I know almost nothing about basketball. I did, however, catch this so-labelled infographic from ESPN contrasting the two teams.

Point differential
Point differential

What I appreciate at this piece is that ESPN labelled it an infographics. And while the data might be at times light, this is more a data-rich experience than most infographics these days. Additionally the design degrades fairly nicely as your browser reduces in size.

The chart formats themselves are not too over-the-top (that seemed like a decent basketball pun when I typed it out) with bars, line, and scatter plots. Player illustrations accent the piece, but do not convey information as data-encoded variables. I quibble with the rounded bar charts for the section on each team’s construction, but the section itself is fascinating.

I might not know most of the metrics’ definitions, but I did not mind reading through the piece.

Go Red Sox.

Credit for the piece goes to Luke Knox and Cun Shi.

Fruits and Vegetables

Friday is finally here and so for many that means it is time for the desserts and the drinks. But before you get that far, we all need to eat our fruits and vegetables. Thankfully the Washington Post has an article that examines changes in the appearance of our fruits and veggies over time.

Portrait of a man made in fruit and veggies
Portrait of a man made in fruit and veggies

Credit for the piece goes to Giuseppe Arcimboldo. It’s not everyday I credit a Renaissance artist on the blog.


You may remember my post from Wednesday talking about the likely importance of Pennsylvania in the forthcoming election. I referenced an article from Philadelphia Magazine, which opened with a great map of Pennsylvania. I find the map very much worth sharing, especially on a Friday. I love the island life.

Take note of the other island off to the east, it is another good one on which I have spent many a years of my life. But, yes, anything generally west of the straits is a very, very different experience.


Credit for the piece goes to Mario Zucca.

The T-14 Armata

Or the post’s sub-title could be something like, Boys with Toys, because I have long enjoyed diagrams of military hardware, like these examples. Today’s post is about Russia’s new main battle tank, the first new design since the 1970s: the T-14 Armata. It premiered in last year’s parade and is expected to enter service soon. This BBC article from last year’s parade shows the various new models expected to enter the Russian Army.

Russia's new toy
Russia’s new toy

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Analysing the World’s Flags

Flags are cool. And I will openly admit I may have designed several of my own over the years. So thanks to my good friend for pointing me in the direction of this project from ferdio that breaks down flags across the world. If you are at all curious about how many flags use particular colours, shapes, sizes, you need not go any further.

The representative flag of the world
The representative flag of the world

Credit for the piece goes to ferdio.

Nova Beats the Buzzer

As you may know, while I presently live in Chicago, I hail from Philadelphia. I grew up there and most of my best mates did too. And some of them attended a small school called Villanova. And as you may know, their men’s basketball programme just won the national championship in dramatic fashion. So today’s post shares with you a graphic from the Wall Street Journal that explains how Villanova won the game in the final few seconds.

The final shot won it all
The final shot won it all

Credit for the piece goes to the Wall Street Journal graphics department.

China’s New Islands

Okay, so the title might be a bit hyperbolic, but the point that China has spent the last few years expanding minor reefs into major military installations still stands. This New York Times piece is a few months old at this point, but through a combination of maps, photography, and diagrams, it illustrates what has been going on in the South China Sea.

Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef

The screenshot above is of the first still in a short time lapse video introducing the article If you do not have the time to read the entirety of the piece, just watch the video. A lot can happen in one year.

Credit for the piece goes to Derek Watkins.