How Healthy Is It?

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.

In general, try to be in the upper right
In general, try to be in the upper right

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.

The image lives on the left of the table
The image lives on the left of the table

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.

The Sorting Hat

Well the election is finally over. And since last week I used my Friday post to talk about something serious, I apologise for backtracking just a wee bit to go back to the election.

This summer I had a discussion with one of the designers I worked with at the time, Ciana Frenze. We were sitting out in the Art Institute garden with a few other designers where she was explaining Harry Potter’s sorting hat to me—I know nothing about Harry Potter. I never thought that knowing the defining characteristics of the various houses would come in handy, especially given my interest in politics and data. But today’s piece fits rather well.

Fits right in there
Fits right in there

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Climate Change

So this is the last Friday before the election next Tuesday. Normally I reserve Fridays for less serious topics. And often xkcd does a great job covering that for me. But because of the election, I want today’s to be a bit more serious. Thankfully, we still have xkcd for that.

Recent temperature history
Recent temperature history

The screenshot above gets to the point. But the whole piece is worth a scroll-through and so it goes at the end. Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Earth's global average temperature
Earth’s global average temperature

Putting Things in Perspective

Congratulations, you made it to Friday. So let’s try to put that in perspective. And by that, I mean things like mines and Death Stars. Thanks to my good friend Jonathan Fairman for sharing with me this post on Core77 that uses the power of Kevin Wisbith’s Photoshop skills to compare the sizes of things. And yes, that obviously includes mines and Death Stars. But having lived in Chicago for a number of years, you get the mine photo. Because yeah, that thing must be deep.

The Sears Tower inside the Mir Mine
The Sears Tower inside the Mir Mine

Credit for the original work goes to Kevin Wisbith.

When America Votes by Goat

Last week Twitter went a wee bit crazy when Donald Trump’s son posted an image about how the Republican nominee had gained ground. Except that it turns out the image was from FiveThirtyEight and looked only at a demographic split by gender—it was what the map would look if only men voted. Suffice it to say, yeah, the Twitterverse went a wee bit crazy. Thankfully the BBC put together this really great recap with some of the best of it.

What the map would look like if goats voted
What the map would look like if goats voted

Happy Friday, all.

Credit for the pieces goes to the various original authors and designers.

Genetic Ancestry Results

As I stated earlier this week, I spent the first half of the week in Wisconsin research my family history. And I really will try to get to it next week. But, beyond the vital records and recorded stories, I am also intrigued by how our ethnic histories break down genetically. That gets us to today’s post from xkcd.

Genetic results
Genetic results

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.