The Saudi Assassination Squad

Yesterday we looked at the importance of arms deals from the US and UK to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the brutal murder and assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who sometimes wrote critically of the Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) regime. But what about the actual murder itself? What do we know?

Well at some point today, President Erdogan of Turkey will give a speech, just prior to the opening of the big Saudi conference the Saudis have branded the Davos of the Desert. In Erdogan’s speech, he is expected to reveal even more of the details of the murder as collected by Turkish intelligence services. But as this story has been unfolding, the Washington Post has been collecting the details about the alleged 15-person assassination squad.

The entire piece is worth reading. It provides great detail and walks the reader through how the story was pieced together. And relevant to my blog it makes use of some nice data visualisation and design elements, including this graphic.

A few too many coincidences in this story…
A few too many coincidences in this story…

It captures some of the arrivals and departures of six of the men identified. The graphic also notes that sometimes people will not be documented because they arrive on diplomatic flights instead of commercial flights.

As for the rest, the Post used photographic evidence to show how one of the individuals was likely a bodyguard or in the security services for MBS. Phone records and the photographic records of Turkish border control were also used. Taken together, it paints a damning portrait of the supposedly modernising MBS regime.

Of course now we can only wait to see what Erdogan has to say this morning.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron C. Davis, Aaron Williams and Jason Bernert.

The New Longest Flight

You might recall that back in March I wrote about the use of spherical maps to show great circles. This helps illustrate the actual routes that aircraft take in flight. (Yes, actual flight plans deviate based on routes, weather, traffic, &c.) At the time I wrote about how there was a soon-to-be Singapore–New York route. Ta da.

That's just a long time in one aircraft.
That’s just a long time in one aircraft.

Nothing fancy here in this graphic from the Economist. It probably is just a reuse of the original but with the additional routes removed. But, I still love these kinds of maps. From a design manager standpoint, in a way this is great efficiency in that an element from a graphic made once can now, with minimal effort, be used in a second piece. And not in a meaningless, throw-in way, but this graphic does very much help to illustrate the actual route and long across the globe it travels.

In a second note, not related to the graphic itself, I want to point out a subtle change made by the Economist. This is the first online graphic to use an updated chrome, which is the branding elements that surround the actual content of the piece.

Slight changes
Slight changes

The biggest change is a new or modified typeface for the graphic header. I have not seen anything about design changes at the Economist, but I will look into it. But the changes are, again, subtle. The best example in these two comparisons (new on the left, old on the right) is the shape of the letter e.

E, as in Economist
E, as in Economist

You can see how the terminal, or the part of the letter hooking and swinging out at the bottom, used to come to an end at an angle. Now it ends with a vertical chop. I haven’t looked too extensively at the typeface, but given the letter e, it appears to be a little bit wider of a face.

The other change, not quite as subtle, is the positioning of the iconic red rectangle around which so much of the Economist’s brand hangs. Bringing back the above graphic, you can see where I drew a black line to indicate the edge of the original graphic.

Slight changes

The box is now orientated horizontally (again, new is on the left), which actually brings it closer to the actual Economist logo. But, and probably more importantly, it allows the graphic’s edge to go to the, well, edge. And since their site uses generous whitespace around their graphics, they don’t necessarily need margins within the graphic.

They have also chosen to raise the level at which the header starts, i.e. there is less space between the red rule at the top of the graphic and the start of the words. This, however, appears to have been possible in the original design.

As more graphics roll out, I am going to be curious to see if there are other changes. Or even just to see how these subtle changes affect the rest of the graphics.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

First Florence, Now Michael

You may recall a few weeks ago there was a hurricane named Florence that slammed into the Carolina before stalling and dumping voluminous amounts of rain that inundated inland communities in addition to the damage by the storm surge in the coastal communities. At the time I wrote about a New York Times piece that explored housing density in coastal areas, specifically around the Florence impact area.

Well today the New York Times has a print graphic about something similar. It uses the same colours and styles, but swaps in a different data set and then uses a small multiple setup to include the Florida Panhandle. Of course the Florida Panhandle was just struck by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall.

Of course that track for Michael also brought significant rainfall to the areas recovering from Florence for a double whammy
Of course that track for Michael also brought significant rainfall to the areas recovering from Florence for a double whammy

This one instead looks at median income per zip code to highlight the disparity between those living directly on the coast and those inland. In these two most recent landfall areas, the reader can clearly see that the zip codes along the coast have far greater incomes and, by proxy, wealth than those just a few zip codes further inland.

The problem is that rebuilding lives, communities, and infrastructure not only takes time, but also money. And with lower incomes, some of the hardest hit areas over the past several weeks could have a very difficult time recovering.

Regardless, the recoveries on the continental mainlands of the Carolinas and Florida will likely be far quicker and more comprehensive than they have been thus far for Puerto Rico.

The only downside with this graphic is the registration shift, which is why the graphic appears fuzzy as colours are ever so slightly offset whereas the single ink black text in the upper right looks clear and crisp.

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

Europe is More than the Big States

First, I want to start with a housekeeping note. Your author will be travelling for work and then a short autumn holiday. And so while I may be able to sneak a post or two in, I generally would not expect anything until next Friday, 12 October.

But let’s end this string of posts with a map. It is a choropleth, so in one sense there is nothing crazy going on here. The map comes from the Economist, which published an article on life expectancy throughout Europe and the big takeaway is that it is lower in the east than the west.

Apparently life is pretty good in northern Spain
Apparently life is pretty good in northern Spain

The great part of the map, however, is that we get to see a more granular level of detail. Usually we just get a view of the European states, which presents them as an even tone of one shade or one colour. Here we can see the variety of life expectancy in the UK, France, and Belgium, and then still compare that to eastern Europe.

Of course creating a map like this demands data to drive it. Do data sets exist for the sub-national geographic units of EU or European states? Sometimes not. And in those cases, if you need a map, the European state choropleth is the choice you have to make. I just hope that we get to see more data sets like this with more granular data to present a more complex and patterned map.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

The Carolinas and Florence

As you all probably know, Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas this past weekend. And while I was on holiday, I did see a few articles about the storm and its impact. This one from the New York Times captured my attention because of its use of—surprise, surprise—maps.

Hurricanes are just not fun
Hurricanes are just not fun

In particular, as the user scrolls through the experience, he or she sees the change in population density of the region from 1990 to 2010. Spoiler, a lot more people now live near the coast.

In terms of the graphic, however, I wonder if a simpler approach could have communicated that part of the story more clearly. Could the map have simply shown the change in density instead of visually transforming from one number to the next? Or maybe a summary map could have followed those transitions?

Credit for the piece goes to Stephen M. Strader and Stuart A. Thompson.

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.

The Sinking City of Jakarta

Everyone is probably familiar with Venice, slowly sinking below the Adriatic. But, did you know the city of Jakarta, Indonesia is also sinking?

The BBC published an informative article about the city’s looming problem and the piece includes several nice graphics. The screenshot below is an interactive timeline of the amount of subsidence, or sinking, in the the Jakarta region. It’s been notably worst along the coast. But the striking part are the forecasts for 2025 and 2050 that place the city in danger.

The coastline at the north has experienced the worst of it
The coastline at the north has experienced the worst of it

Photography of the scale of the subsidence feature throughout the story. And about halfway through is a nice motion graphic piece that attempts to explain the sinking. I am not certain it is the best graphic, after all it references two US NBA stars and I wonder how well known they are. (Whereas everyone clearly knows who David Ortiz is.)

I was aware of Jakarta’s peril, but until reading this article, I had not realised just how imperiled the city really is.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

T Minus 12 Weeks

Today is Tuesday, 14 August. We are now 12 weeks away from the 2018 midterms. That is just three months away. Coverage will only intensify in the weeks to come, and you can be certain that if there are pieces worth noting, I will do that. But to mark the date I went with this choropleth map from the New York Times.

The nation will turns its eyes to you…in 12 weeks
The nation will turns its eyes to you…in 12 weeks

Nothing too crazy here. Likelihood of results colour the districts. The darker the blue, the more solid the Democratic seat. The darker the red, the more solid the Republican one. But what this map does really well is it excludes the likely’s and the solids and sets them to a light, neutral grey. You can still hover over a district if you are curious about where it falls, but, in general those have been excluded from the consideration set because they are not the districts of the most national attention.

Secondly, note the state labels. States like Wyoming that have no competitive seats have no label. After all, why are we labelling things that have no impact on this story, again, the competitive races. Fewer labels means fewer distracting elements in the graphic.

Finally, the piece includes the ability to zoom into a region. After all, for those of us living in urban areas, our districts are geographically tiny compared to the at-large or state-wide seats like in Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Alaska. Otherwise, good luck trying to find the Illinois 5th or Pennsylvania 3rd.

Credit for the piece goes to Jasmine C. Lee.

Global Warming and Harder Living

The weather in Philly the past week has been just gross. It reminds of Florida in that it has been hot, steamy, storms and downpours pop up out of nowhere then disappear, and just, generally, gross. I do not understand how people live in Florida year round. Anyway, that got me thinking about this piece from a month ago in the New York Times. It looked at the impact of climate change and living conditions in South Asia. Why is South Asia important? Well, it is home to nearly a billion people, a large number of whom are poor and demanding resources, and oh yeah, has a few countries that have fought several wars against each other and are armed with nuclear weapons. South Asia is important.

I ain't moving to Nagpur, India. That's for sure.
I ain’t moving to Nagpur, India. That’s for sure.

The map from the piece—it also features a nice set of small multiples of rising temperatures in six countries—shows starkly how moderate emissions and the high projection of emissions will impact the region. Spoiler: not well. It notes how cities like Karachi, for example, will be impacted as hotter temperatures mean lower labour productivity means worse public health means lower standard of living. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how things like demand for water in desert or arid areas could spark a conflict between Pakistan and India. Although, to be very clear, the article does not go there.

As to the design of the graphic, I wonder about the use of white for no impact and grey for no data. Should they have been reversed? As it is, the use of white for no impact makes the regions of impact, most notably central India, stand out all the more clearly. But it then also highlights the regions of no data.

Credit for the piece goes to Somini Sengupta and Nadja Popovich.

The Decline of the Media

Everybody loves maps. Unfortunately this is not a map to love. The Economist looked at the global status of the free press and its decline around the world.

If only it were a larger map
If only it were a larger map

The graphic is a neat little package of a map to anchor the narrative and a few callout countries with their general declines—or in Tunisia’s case the reversal thereof—highlighted. But I do have a few issues with the piece.

Do the lines need to be curved? Some certainly make sense, e.g. how do you get from the Turkey box to the outline of Turkey? But then for Afghanistan, a straight line through Balochistan, Pakistan would mean the line would not have to cover Pakistan, India, curve around Sri Lanka, and then finally reach the box.

In the little boxes, I also wonder if the lines need to be as thick as they are. Could a lighter stroke weight improve the legibility of the charts?

And to be super picky, I wonder if the stroke outlines of the countries are complete. My trained eye fails to register an outline of both the European part of Turkey and of the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.