Expensive Wines

Another Monday, another week, another post. But this week we will try to get by without any more Brexit coverage. So what better way to cure a hangover than with more booze? So let’s start with some fancy wine.

I meant to post this piece a little while back, but yeah that unmentionable thing occurred. Now we have the time to digest as we sip and not slam our beverage of choice—the Sun’s over the yardarm somewhere I figure. FiveThirtyEight took a look at expensive wines. It compares the pricing at various vintages for France, California, and other wine-producing regions. On the balance, a very smart piece with some great graphics.

But since I had to pick just one, since this isn’t a full-on critique, I opted for this set of small multiples. It compares the price vs. vintage for a number of California red wines. (One of which I had this weekend.)

California reds
California reds

Credit for the piece goes to Oliver Roeder.

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.

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.

Fact Checking Trump’s Small Multiples

Today marks the end of primary season for the US presidential election. By all accounts, at night’s end Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, but Bernie Sanders, while unlikely to win, could make California interesting tonight. And then there is Donald Trump. He is the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee and man, can that guy tweet.

Thursday he retweeted a set of small multiple charts arguing that President Obama’s legacy is an absolute disaster.

Trump's retweeted charts
Trump’s retweeted charts

Friday the Washington Post went through all nine points and fact-checked the charts, this being the refutation of the Food Stamps chart.

Food stamps are actually going back down
Food stamps are actually going back down

The whole thing is worth a quick read.

Credit for the piece goes to Philip Bump.

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.

World Income

Over the weekend I found myself curious about the notion of a growing global middle class. So I dug up some data from the Pew Research Center and did some analysis. The linked piece here details that analysis.

The growth in middle income populations
The growth in middle income populations

I go into more detail than just a map. Hopefully you enjoy the piece and find the analysis informative if not useful.

Credit goes to myself on this one.

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.

The Decline of the Middle Class in America

Last week the New York Times published a great piece on the shrinking middle class and they used a series of small multiples to tell the story. They broke the story up into several sections, based on the trends in the data, e.g. in the screenshot below the designer sorted by areas where the middle class fell but upper class rose.

A wide view of the graphic
A wide view of the graphic

From the responsive design side of things, the piece works well on narrower screens too, because the design choice of small multiple tiles permits the piece to stack and rearrange tiles.

A narrow view of the graphic
A narrow view of the graphic

Credit for the piece goes to Quoctrung Bui.

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.