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.

European Interconnectedness

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Kind of a big deal, right? After the vote, the New York Times put together a piece on just how connected Europe remains. For example, European defence can largely be considered guaranteed through NATO, to which the United Kingdom remains. The screenshot below details which European countries participate in the Schengen Zone and the Eurozone, the former creates a common border the latter a common currency.

I personally dislike the use of squares to represent European countries, with the size determined by the population. Granted the piece opens with a large map labelling every country, but it does require a user to have the ability to abstract the geography of Europe. Adding a degree of interactivity over each square would partially resolve the issue.

Travel and currency connectivity throughout Europe
Travel and currency connectivity throughout Europe

Credit for the piece goes to James Kanter and Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn.

Brexit and Ireland

This week I really wanted to hold off on commenting about Brexit graphics until things settled down—admittedly thinking Remain would win. Now that Thursday has arrived, I think we can all agree that settling down is not happening and the UK really is leaving the EU.

As an Irish American, I grew up with frequent commentary about the Troubles and the general situation in Ireland. So by dint of my heritage, I care about how Brexit impacts Northern Ireland. Unfortunately this graphic from the New York Times on Brexit sentiments entirely omitted Northern Ireland. (It is far from the first time graphics about the UK omit Northern Ireland.)

Where is Northern Ireland?
Where is Northern Ireland?

But, what irritates me in particular about this graphic at this historic time, is what the designers did choose to include. If you look to the north and west of Scotland, you will find the Outer Hebrides and Orkney Islands. From the legend it appears there are no results, accordingly the islands remain—pun intended—grey for, I presume, a classification of not applicable or something similar. (Although, that should also be clarified in the legend.) But, while we are given an inset of Greater London’s results, the entire home nation of Northern Ireland is omitted from the results. (I could then mention how Northern Ireland was not ignored when it came to the Euro 2016 Round of 16 participant results, but I do not understand football enough to comment intelligently.)

And since we mentioned Northern Ireland, we should also mention that Gibraltar is absent from the results map presented here. Gibraltar was once Spanish territory. However, Spain ceded it to the United Kingdom in 1713 as part of the Peace of Utrecht made to end the War of the Spanish Succession. Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to Remain. And as with Scotland and Northern Ireland, it will (likely) be dragged out of the EU against its people’s wishes.

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

Should He Stay or Should He Go: Part 2

He should probably go.

But, how does he go? Well admittedly there are legal questions about whether or not the following process can be kicked off, but presuming it does occur, we have a BBC graphic to explain it. It is a tad long and scrollable, so it does not fit in a single view. Worth heading to the article and checking it out. In short, though, it’ll be a messy time for Labour.

A view on how the preferred voting bit goes
A view on how the preferred voting bit goes

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Should He Stay or Should He Go

He should probably go.

And by he, I am referring to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the (dis)United Kingdom. Why? Well, one word: Brexit. And don’t worry, I intend on coming back to that in more detail later. Once somebody somewhere knows just what is going on. But for now, we can enjoy this piece from the Guardian about the complete collapse of the Labour shadow government.

All the resignations (and the one sacking that started it all)
All the resignations (and the one sacking that started it all)

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Sugary Sweet Donut Charts

I know, I know. You probably expect some sort of climate post given the whole Paris thing. But instead, this morning I came across an article where the supporting chart failed to tell the story. So today we redesign it.

The BBC has an article about MPs backing a tax on sugary drinks. Within the text is a graphic showing the relative importance of sugary drinks in the sugar consumption of various demographics. Except the first thing I see is alcohol—not the focus of the article. Then I focus on a series of numbers spinning around donuts, which are obviously sugary and bad. Eventually I connect the bright yellow to soda. Alas, bright yellow is a very light colour and fails to hold its own on the page. It falls behind everything but milk products.

The BBC likes sugary donuts
The BBC likes sugary donuts

So here is 15 minutes spent on a new version. Gone are the donuts, replaced by a heat map. I kept the sort of the legend for my vertical because it placed soda at the top. I ran the demographic types horizontally. The big difference here is that I am immediately drawn to the top of the chart. So yeah, soda is a problem. But so are cakes and jams, you British senior citizens. Importantly, I am less drawn to alcohol, which in terms of sugars, is not a concern.

My version of sugar is so much sweeter
My version of sugar is so much sweeter

Credit for the original goes to the BBC graphics department. The other one is mine.

English Votes for English Laws

Last week the British government announced plans to solve the West Lothian Question that centres on devolution parity for England. Many legislative powers have been devolved from London and given to the regional parliaments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And on the one hand that is great as the national parliament no longer tells Scottish schools what to do, which is important because of England’s clout in London because England is by far the largest part of the Union. But the on the other hand, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs still get to vote on schools in England. You can begin to see how the English feel that is unfair.

So the BBC put together this graphic trying to explain what was announced, because it is far more complicated than just giving England its own parliament. It’s a tricky and complicated issue that is worth a read. If only because the government apparently did not realise that its plan can be acronymised to EVEL.

It's EVEL I tell you. Pure EVEL.
It’s EVEL I tell you. Pure EVEL.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Queen Elizabeth II—Britain’s Longest Reigning Monarch

As of today, Queen Elizabeth is the longest reigning British monarch. She has surpassed the record of the famous Queen Victoria, Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother at 63 years and seven months. Obviously a lot of things have changed over those 63 years, and in this article the BBC uses a graphic to look at how the world stage has changed.

Queen Elizabeth II's reign
Queen Elizabeth II’s reign

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.