Our Nearest Neighbour

Yesterday scientists announced the discovery of a likely rocky planet within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, Sol’s (the Sun’s) nearest star. The New York Times covered the discovery with a piece full of nice explanatory graphics.

Now if we can only get onto the whole matter–anti-matter warp engine thing we could go explore the place.

Looking at the orbit of our newest neighbour
Looking at the orbit of our newest neighbour

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

OD’ing in Philly

Another day in Philadelphia, another post of Philly data visualisation work. Here we have a piece from 2015 that was updated earlier this spring. It looks at overdose rates in the Philadelphia region, including parts of New Jersey. It does include a map, because most pieces like this typically do. However, what I really find interesting about the piece is its use of small multiple line charts below to take a look at particular counties.

The piece overall is not bad, and the map is actually fairly useful in showing the differences between Jersey and Philadelphia (although why New Jersey is outlined in black and the Philly suburban counties are not I do not know). But I want to take a look at the small multiples of the piece, screenshot below.

Philly area counties
Philly area counties

You can see an interesting decision in the choice of stacked line charts. Typically one would compare death rates like for like and see whether a county is above, below, or comparable to the state, local, or national averages. But combining the three gives a misleading look at the specific counties and forces the user to mentally disentangle the graphic. I probably would have separated them into three separate lines. And even then, because of the focus on the counties, I would have shifted the colour focus to the specific counties and away from the black lines for the national average. The black is drawing more attention to the US line than to the county line.

Credit for the piece goes to Don Sapatkin.

Where do Philly’s Cops Live?

I am on holiday for a few days and am visiting Philadelphia. So what better time to cover some Philadelphia-made content? This interactive piece came out last year from Philly.com alongside coverage of the Philadelphia mayoral contest.

Where the cops live
Where the cops live

I want to call out the colour palette for the choropleth in particular. We can see a blue to red system with a stop at yellow in the middle—a divergent palette. With this kind of a setup, I would expect that yellow or the light blue to be zero or otherwise straddle the point of divergence. Instead we have dark blue meaning 0 and dark red meaning 401+. The palette confuses me. It could be that the point of divergence—something around the 200 number—could be significant. It could be the city average, an agreed upon number for good neighbourhood relations, or something. But there is no indication of that in the graphic.

Secondly the colour choice itself. I often hesitate using red (and green) because of the often-made Western connotation with bad. Blue here, it works very well with the concept of the thin blue line, NYPD blue, blue-shirted police. If we assume that there is a rationale for the divergent palette, I would probably place the blue on the high-end of the spectrum and a different colour at the negative end.

Lastly, from the perspective of the layout, Philly has a weird shape. And so that means between the bar chart to the right and the city map on the left the piece contains an awkward negative space. The map could be adjusted to make better use of the space by pointing north somewhere other than up.—why is north up?—to align the Delaware River with the bars. Or, the bars could abut West Philly.

The interactions, however, are very smooth. And a nice subtle touch that orients the reader without distracting them is the inclusion of the main roads, e.g. Broad Street. The white lines are sufficiently thin to not distract from the overall piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Olivia Hall.

Comparing the Brexit Results Designs: Part 3

Last one of these critiques—I promise. Earlier this week I looked at the New York Times’ coverage and the BBC’s coverage. Well, today I want to examine the Guardian’s coverage of the Brexit vote results. This piece differs the most from the preceding work and it starts right from the top, literally.

The faces of the campaigns
The faces of the campaigns

I am not the biggest fan of the illustrations of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, but in a sense, neither is a throw-in. For the last few months, the Guardian has been using these and similar illustrations of US presidential candidates to tie results into different political camps. Thus in that sense, they do fit the Guardian’s current brand. Interestingly, neither remains (pun intended) in the picture for the future of the Tories.

Data-wise, however, the decision to use the bar chart at the outset of the piece reflects an understanding of the importance of the top-line number. Districts count, but only at that granular level I discussed. What truly matter, though, is the aggregate. And this is a no-doubt-about-it means of conveying that information. (I will admit the David Cameron frowny face does help a wee bit.)

And if the use of big numbers and illustrations at the top of the piece broke with the choropleth map we saw with the New York Times and the BBC, well, we have another clear break.

Hexagonal representation
Hexagonal representation

Instead of using a geographic map, the Guardian employs a cartogram with hexagons. I have covered similar uses a several times before today. The hexagon shape allows better retention of familiar geographic shapes, while still providing a means of solving the small district problem, especially in places like central London.

From another design perspective, that of colour, we see an improvement over the blue–yellow spectrum used by the BBC. You may recall from yesterday:

Having multiple tints and shades of yellow makes the map difficult to read.

Here, the Guardian instead opted for a simplified, and easier to read, two-step split. Bright blue and yellow with each have a call it half-tint. With only two blues and, more importantly, two yellows to distinguish, the map becomes easier to read. The trade-off, the darker of the colours represents anything above a 15% majority.

Clicking on the map then provides with a small summary of the district results.

A look at Watford
A look at Watford

Here we see nothing too dissimilar from how the BBC treated the interaction with their map. A small, subtle design element I enjoy, however, is the inclusion of the national average. The 50% marker indicates clearly which side won, but the tick below the bar gives the reader context of where the district fell into relation to the remainder of the country.

And that leads us into the next set of comparisons.

Comparisons based on demographics
Comparisons based on demographics

The Guardian took local district results and compared them against several different demographic and socio-economic indicators. This allowed them to present various correlations of the vote. It turns out that higher education correlated best with the results of the UK vote. From a design perspective, the linked circles provides some stability. However, I would have preferred the ability to click a geography and have it remain sticky and bring up the specific figures. Additionally, some sort of text search for geographies would be helpful.

And then the Guardian’s piece closes as strongly as it opened.

Votes along the Tyne
Votes along the Tyne

The piece examines three riverside areas to provide specific analysis to the vote. The screenshot above focuses on the Tyne, which runs alongside the aptly named Newcastle upon Tyne. The Guardian uses the previous general election results for the area to contrast with the referendum results. It does similar analysis for the Thames (London) and the Mersey (Liverpool).

Similar to the New York Times piece, the Guardian’s piece responds well to viewing the content on a small screen. The changes are less complex and they deal mostly with the arrangement of the various components instead of the layout of contextual data. But the Guardian clearly considered how the piece would work on a mobile phone up through a widescreen monitor.

Overall the piece is quite strong and does an excellent job of showcasing the results data and providing insightful analysis that complements the vote totals.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Critiquing Brexit Results Designs: Part 2

So now it is two weeks since the Brexit vote. Yesterday, I looked at the results designs from the New York Times. Today I want to take a look at those of the BBC. Not surprisingly the two share in the use of choropleth maps; the choice makes a lot of sense. People vote within districts and those form the most granular unit of data available. But, whereas the New York Times led and really focused on one giant map, the BBC opted to use multiple, smaller maps. (They did choose a different page for their live results, but we are comparing post-result coverage.) For example, their piece leads in with a map of Leave’s results share.

Leave's share
Leave’s share

There are a few key differences between this and the New York Times. First and foremost, this map is interactive. Mousing over various districts provides you the name, and by clicking you move into a zoomed-in view of the district. It displays the district name, the vote totals and share for the two camps, and then voter turnout. From a design standpoint, the problem with the zooming in is that the scales of the outlining stroke does not change.

Zoomed in, looking at central London
Zoomed in, looking at central London

A thin stroke at the national, zoomed-out view, translates to a thick, clunky, and awkward-looking outline at the local, zoomed-in view. And as the above screenshot highlights, many of the urban districts are small in comparison to the more rural districts. Unfortunately the map does not offer the functionality of zooming-in prior to selecting a district. So many of the districts in the more urban areas like London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Belfast are difficult to see and select. Thankfully, below the map the BBC offers a function to type in your district, post code, or Northern Irish constituency to help you find smaller districts.

Another design criticism I have with the piece is the colour palette. Broadly speaking, the piece uses blue and yellow. The two colours make sense in a few ways. Both are present on the European Union flag, with yellow stars on a blue field. (Importantly the twelve stars do not represent EU members like the US flag’s fifty stars represent the states.) Another, far looser interpretation could be the blue of the Conservatives and the yellow closer to the gold of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, the former broadly anti-EU and the latter pro-EU. Regardless of the rationale, the choice of yellow to display multiple levels of data is less than stellar (pun intended), as this Remain share map highlights.

Remain's share
Remain’s share

Having multiple tints and shades of yellow makes the map difficult to read. The lowest value yellow is brighter than the next higher level, and so stands out more vividly on the map than those districts that had a higher share of Remain votes. Using yellow against blue does work, especially in the bar charts throughout the piece and seen in the aforementioned Islington screenshot. But, as a colour for wider, more intense use, yellow was not the wisest decision.

The BBC also included several other choropleth maps exploring the vote breakdown. In this instance of voter turnout, we have the same choropleth map, but a green colour indicating the total vote turnout.

Voter turnout
Voter turnout

The colour and its choice makes broad sense; green is what one gets when they mix yellow and blue, when you combine Remain and Leave. However, the map functionality of clicking to reveal results still shows the overall results.

Should the vote results be given the highest priority?
Should the vote results be given the highest priority?

At this point, we have moved on from the vote results themselves to the breakdown of the vote. I would have redesigned the mouse-click to display a results view that highlighted turnout over the results themselves. Certainly keeping the results is important, but the focus of this map is not the vote, but the turnout. The data display should be designed to keep that consistent.

One part of the piece where I quibble with the designer selection of chart type follows on from turnout: a comparison of turnout to the youth population.

The turnout vs the youth
The turnout vs the youth

Asking people to compare undistinguished districts on one map to those of another—note the white district lines have here disappeared—is difficult. My first thought: I would have instead opted for an interactive scatterplot. Comparing the turnout on one axis and youth on the other, the user would have an easier time identifying any correlations or clusters of data.

In contrast, the following map comparison would not work via a scatterplot. Here we compare June’s results to those of a vote in 1975. In the intervening years, the geography of the voting districts changed, and so a one-to-one comparison is impossible.

1975 vs. 2016
1975 vs. 2016

The broad scope, however, is clear. A resounding vote to stay part of the European Market or single market in 1975 evolved into a narrow but decisive vote to leave the European Union in 2016.

The piece then closes out with an interactive map of the total results and then, importantly, a long list of bar charts showing each district’s results. Unlike the map, however, the bar charts are a static graphic. And with a few hundred to view, it becomes difficult to isolate and compare two in particular. But the selection of the visualisation type makes a user’s comparison far more precise.

The results as a series of bar charts
The results as a series of bar charts

Overall, I would rate the piece a solid work, but with some clear areas of improvement. And who knows? Maybe there will be a second referendum. Or a new general election. And in that case, the BBC could improve upon the designs herein.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Words on the Orlando Shootings

Yesterday I looked at the coverage of the Orlando shooting. Today I want to look at a really nice piece from the Washington Post on the political reaction to the shooting. The Post collected the reactions and official statements of Congress, over 500 representatives and senators. They performed some analysis of the words and then parsed out sentences into groups. In the screenshot below, the phrases are colour-coded by party affiliation and then link to the copy of the statement. The end of the article features tiles for every statement, with relevant phrases colour-coded to those groups, e.g. phrases using something about thoughts and prayers. One of the most pronounced splits is on gun rights vs. gun controls. But overall, the whole piece is worth a read.

Selecting a single line from a statement
Selecting a single line from a statement

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Weiyi Cai, Denise Lu, and Lazaro Gamio.

Predicting the Electoral College

Well the Democratic DC primaries were last Tuesday and Hillary Clinton won. So now we start looking ahead towards the July conventions and then the November elections. Consequently, if a day is an eternity in politics we have many lifespans to witness before November. But that does not mean we cannot start playing around with electoral college scenarios.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice scenario prediction page that leads with the 2012 results map, in both traditional map and cartogram form. You can play god and flip the various states to either red or blue. But from the interaction side the designers did something really interesting. Flipping a state requires you to click and hold the state. But the speed with which it then flips is not equal for all states. Instead, the length of hold time depends upon the state’s likelihood to be a flippable state, based on the state’s partisan voter index. For example, if you try and flip Kansas, you will have to wait awhile to see the state turn blue. But try and flip North Carolina and the flip is near instantaneous.

Starting with the 2012 cartogram
Starting with the 2012 cartogram

While the geographic component remains on the right, the left-hand column features either text, or as in this other screenshot, smaller charts that illustrate the points more specifically.

Charts and cartograms and text, oh my
Charts and cartograms and text, oh my

Taken all together, the piece does a really nice job of presenting users with a tool to make predictions of their own. The different sections with concepts and analysis guide the user to see what scenarios fall within the realm of reason. But, what takes the cake is that flipping interaction. Using a delay to represent the likelihood of a flip is brilliant.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Zitner, Randy Yeip, Julia Wolfe, Chris Canipe, Jessia Ma, and Renée Rigdon.

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.

Europe’s Far-right Parties

On Sunday, Austria narrowly elected a former Green Party leader as president over the leader of the Freedom Party, a far-right party that surged in part because of the impact of Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis. The New York Times took a look at just how often and by how much far-right parties have succeeded in European countries in recent years.

There's more red than there used to be
There’s more red than there used to be

What I really like about this piece is that while they could have stopped at the above graphic, they opted to not. Some of the graphics above then introduce a section specific to the politics of the particular country, e.g. France and the rise of the National Front and Marine Le Pen.

France in detail
France in detail

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Bryant Rousseau.

2016 Holyrood Elections

Last week Scotland voted for its parliament, Holyrood. The Scottish National Party did well enough, the Conservatives picked up quite a few seats, and Labour lost quite a few. The Guardian put together this piece looking at the results and the stories contained therein. But I want to focus on the graphics, the big piece of which was a map of Scotland with each constituency represented by a small Sankey diagram.

Scotland's results
Scotland’s results

You see that generally, Scotland is a sea of yellow, surging blue, and diminishing red. But what about the numbers for each constituency? The interactive nature of the chart lets you see the 2016 results mousing over the constituency.

Aberdeenshire West results
Aberdeenshire West results

Normally I would say that a piece like this is missing an easy way for someone to find their own constituency, however, this is not a results page, but an article on the results, so something like a search bar is not necessary.

What I really enjoy, however, is that when the story breaks down the results by regions, the map becomes an abstracted series of squares used to highlight the constituencies in focus. It is a really nice reuse of the concept and the overall graphic.

Talking about Glasgow
Talking about Glasgow

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