UK Spring Budget

The British government is delivering its budget statement today. So as a teaser, the Guardian published this article with six charts to help understand where things are at. Chart-wise there is nothing radical or revolutionary here, but I have a soft spot for articles driven by data visualisation.

Quarterly growth
Quarterly growth

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Northern Ireland Assembly Election Results

Friday was election day across Northern Ireland as voters elected their representatives for the assembly at Stormont. The headline results: the Nationalists have gained significant ground on the Unionists. The Guardian captured the tallies in this results page.

An almost even split
An almost even split

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

Declining British Wages

Now for the actual piece for today.

We have a scatterplot from the Financial Times that looks at wage and economic growth across the OECD, focusing on the exception that is the United Kingdom. And that is not an exception in the good sense.

The UK had the rare privilege of experiencing economic growth—that’s good—while simultaneously wages fell—that’s bad. But I wanted to comment on the chart today.

I would have designed this a little bit differently
I would have designed this a little bit differently

Straight off the bat, the salmon-coloured background does not bother me. That is FT’s brand and best to stick to it and make your graphics work around it. Possibly the colours in the plot could use a bit of a push to increase separation, but that is more a design quibble. Instead, I am not too keen on the colour coding here.

Not that the colours need not be applied, but why to the dots? Note how the dots of a colour fall into one of the quadrants. Instead of having people refer to the legend, incorporate the legend into the chart by moving the labels to the plot background. You could colour code the labelling or even colour the quadrants to make it a bit clearer.

Credit for the piece goes to the Financial Times graphics department.

UK By-election Results in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central

Labour’s collapse in Copeland in particular is comically bad, but this Friday indulge me in a non-comedic post. Instead, Thursday night we had the results for the by-elections in Stoke and Copeland, two long-held Labour Party constituencies.

Generally speaking in a by-election, the government of the UK can expect to see its vote share decrease if not altogether lose seats. Consequently Labour, as the party of the opposition, should have been expected to hold its two seats and increase its vote share.

Well Labour did win in Stoke, but its majority shrank by half. That’s not so good. And then in Copeland, the bottom sort of fell out. The charts I put together using AP data show what in Copeland was an historic win for the Tories. I could get into the hows and the whys, but you’re best off to go read a British politics site for that. But…something something Corbyn.

Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?
Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?

Scottish Independence?

I was having a conversation with a mate the other night about what Brexit means for Scottish independence. This mate, however, is an American. Because when American politics are depressing and nonsensical, we turn to British pol—wait, never mind.

Despite the overall UK vote to leave the European Union, Scotland (and London, and Northern Ireland) voted overwhelmingly to remain. But since part of the whole vote no to independence thing was remaining part of the EU thing, shouldn’t Scotland now be well positioned for IndyRef2?

I read this article from the Guardian back in January and meant to share it with you all, but I somehow forgot about it. So at long last, it turns out no, not so much. The whole thing is worth a read; it uses YouGov survey data to break out voters into different camps. And what sort of nails the argument is this graphic.

About that independence…
About that independence…

There are four/five groups of Brexit/IndyRef1 voters that then get sorted into two/three IndyRef2 results (yes, no, maybe I don’t know?). And what you can see is that yes, a significant number of those who voted to Remain in the EU, but voted no to Scottish independence would now vote for independence. But, an almost equal number of those who voted to Remain and also voted for Scottish independence would now vote against Scottish independence. In effect, these two voter movements are cancelling out any potential gains for a future Scottish independence vote.

Credit for the piece goes to the YouGov graphics department.

To Visit or Not to Visit

Well we’re less than a full two weeks into the Trump administration and oh how he has upset people. So much so that after being offered a state visit to the United Kingdom, the people of the UK drafted and are signing a petition to attempt to prevent Trump from visiting the UK.

This map from the Guardian, screenshot below, looks at how the signatures are distributed across the UK.

Who would prefer him not to visit?
Who would prefer him not to visit?

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

Theresa May’s Cabinet

Who said British politics are boring? With David Cameron out and Theresa May in as Prime Minister, it is time to reshuffle the cabinet. And the Guardian is reusing the style they had for the Jeremy Corbyn shadow cabinet mass resignation. Except in this case, the colours reflect the Tory’s position on Brexit.

The cabinet as of this morning
The cabinet as of this morning

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.

Critiquing Brexit Results Designs: Part 1

Well a little under two weeks later and here we are: Brexit. I wanted to take a moment in a slightly longer piece and comment on it. Not the results, because no, that I can leave to a pint at the pub. Instead I wanted to comment on this particular results content from the New York Times that I rather admire.

Overall the piece is not interactive; it features a static choropleth map with annotations and insets, particularly of greater London. On a side note, I would be remiss if I did not point out that similarly to the piece I wrote last week, this map omits a voting district: Gibraltar. Gibraltar, like Northern Ireland, borders the European Union directly via Spain. And despite voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, Gibraltar is omitted from these results.

The large format results
The large format results

In a large layout, the piece makes excellent use of annotation text to indicate the overview stories for the home nations of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, of course, will likely have to deal with the reintegration of border controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a point the piece makes quite clear.

Additionally the map makes use of small elements to draw attention to data points, i.e. geographies, worth noting. London dominates the urban landscape, but other important cities like Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham are circled to show the strength of Leave/Remain. I would be curious to know the rationale behind including some areas, but omitting others, e.g. the strong Remain results in Cambridge or Brighton or the strong Leave results in Boston, require knowing just where cities are located in England.

From a design standpoint, the colours used in the map work really well together in contrast to other palette choices one could make. (We will take a look at that tomorrow.) Additionally, the shape of the United Kingdom allows for contextual elements, e.g. the regional result aggregates, to be placed much closer and nearer to the results. The space also allows for those annotations to be placed near their particular geographies.

But, what makes the piece stand out is when the user consumes it on smaller screens. On a more tablet-sized screen, we see a tweaked layout.

The results on a medium-sized screen
The results on a medium-sized screen

It makes use of the remaining wide-aspect dimensions to move the greater London results into a white space carved out by the peninsula of East Anglia. While the city and home nation labels remain, the regional annotations and results are gone from the graphic. Instead, they have been placed below the map, the main and most important part of the story.

Then for mobile phone or other narrow displays, the piece degrades even further.

The results on a narrow screen
The results on a narrow screen

City labels and circles are gone, with the exception of London. The greater London inset moves from alongside the map to now below the map, in the Channel so to speak. This layout allows for a narrow screen to better view the geographic results and then scroll down into the districts of London that require more space to be displayed. The annotations and stories remain below the graphic.

The design of the overall piece accounts nicely for at least three different screen sizes while keeping the story constant. All the truly changes is the layout of the graphic (and the loss of a few contextual labels at the smallest of sizes). Overall, it makes for a rich and compelling—and well designed—piece on the Brexit results.

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karl Russell.