My Family Shrub?

One of the main objectives of my long weekend in Boston is to research my family history. Usually when you do that kind of research you see familiar visualisation forms: trees. And in this book on a New England ancestral family, I saw trees. But the problem is history is never as neat and clean as we would prefer it to be. Or at least as I would prefer it to be. And this is the tree I discovered for my ancestor George, the guy labelled N-1.

People need to stop naming their kids the same old names. It can make my research a pain in the arse.
People need to stop naming their kids the same old names. It can make my research a pain in the arse.

Normally family trees are direct lines of descent. But here the problem is that the current research cannot clearly state who the parents are of George. He can be one of two Georges, one the son of Francis and Tabitha and the other of Timothy and Elizabeth. So instead of a single trunk, we have more of a shrub-like set of parallel branches with lots of leaves.

But what I really liked about this graphic is that, one, it appears to have been made by being typeset on a typewriter instead of some fancy design software (the book was printed in 1984). And then for the researcher like me, the author took care to remove the names of people inconsequential for this particular line of enquiry. It shows the Georges of interest, including the known cousin labelled as C-1, and their parents but omits siblings. It is a very nice touch. (And made my life easier.)

Credit for the piece goes to Henry L. Bunker.

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.

Pie Charts

Today is my Friday, everyone, as I am going away on holiday for a little bit. (You can expect me back mid-next week.) So, enjoy this design tip from xkcd on my favourite form of data visualisation: the pie chart.

Pie charts are always 100% the wrong choice
Pie charts are always 100% the wrong choice

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

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.

Swedish Election Results

Sweden went to the polls this past weekend and the results are mostly in, with overseas ballots left to be counted. But the results are clear, a stark rise for the nationalist Sweden Democrats, though not as high as some had feared late last week.

Not surprisingly we had the standard parliamentary seat chart, seen below by the BBC. The nice twist this time is the annotations stating the seat change. (More on that later.)

An unnerving amount of yellow
An unnerving amount of yellow

It does a good job of showing the parties and how they are laid out, though I am sometimes more partial to a straight-up bar chart like below at Reuters.

Here the Sweden Democrats are grey.
Here the Sweden Democrats are grey.

However, both do not do a great job in showing what would traditionally be a kingmaker result for Sweden Democrats. When stacked at each end, neither the centre-left bloc, led by the Social Democrats, nor the centre-right, led by the Moderates, are in control of a majority of seats in the Riksdag. Imagine that neutral colour straddling a 50% benchmark line or sitting in the middle of the seats. It makes it far clearer just how pivotal the Sweden Democrats would usually be. Because, usually, Sweden Democrats or parties like it—in the sense of it won a large number of seats—that help the main coalition cross that 50% threshold would have an enormous sway in the next governing coalition. But here, the Sweden Democrats are an anti-immigrant, nationalist party that both the centre-left and centre-right have said with whom they will not enter talks.

Here the Sweden Democrats are brown.
Here the Sweden Democrats are brown.

But graphically, the thing I always find lacking in charts like those above are just how dramatic the rise of the Sweden Democrats has been. And so for that, we have this little piece of mine that complements the two. Because not all members of the coalitions experienced the declines of their major parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderates. In fact, with the exception of the Green Party, all others rose or, in the case of the Liberals, stayed flat. A more thorough defeat would have probably seen the whole of the coalition falling in the number of seats. Unfortunately for Sweden, in this case, the nationalists took the lion share of the seats lost by the top two parties.

Credit for the BBC piece is mine.

Credit for my work is mine.

In-law Trees

Happy Friday, all. I’ve been busy preparing for a trip to Boston next week where I’ll continue to research my family’s history. But family trees and generational relationships between cousins can be confusing. Over at xkcd, however, it turns out the in-law relationships are more confusing.

It's all confusing…
It’s all confusing…

I don’t think I blame him.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

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.

Big Bulls

Last Thursday, the US entered its longest bull market in history. And the New York Times covered the story on the front page, which makes this another episode of covering graphics when they land on the Times’ front page. Of course, last week was a big news week away from the economy and so it is no surprise that the above-the-fold coverage was on the scandals besetting the president and those of his team who have pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes by juries.

The front page design
The front page design

But you will note that below the fold is that nice little graphic. Here we see it in more detail.

Bull runs
Bull runs

What I like about the graphic is how it uses the blue fill to draw attention to the bull markets but then also labels how long each was. Those keen on the story will note there is a debate whether a particular 19.9% drop qualifies for the 20% drop usually used to benchmark the beginning and ending of a bull market. That is why there is that second label with the black arrows on the graphic.

It also uses the negative space created by the shape of the graphic to contain its title, text, and caption information.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russell.

Tracking the Charges and Convictions

In case you missed it somehow, the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, is now also an unnamed, unindicted criminal co-conspirator in a federal campaign election law case in New York to which his co-conspirator pled guilty.

And you thought Obama’s tan suit was bad.

The guilty plea by Michael Cohen and the eight convictions of Paul Manafort are all part of a growing scandal surrounding the White House. Thankfully the New York Times published a piece highlighting the results of the various trials. In short, the former National Security Advisor has pled guilty, as has a former campaign advisor, a former deputy campaign manager/transition leader/early administration staffer, and another campaign advisor. Throw in yesterday’s news and this table will get longer.

How much longer will the table get?
How much longer will the table get?

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.