I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? Well, they asked me not to say. But to be clear, this blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of…my employers. I think what I can say is that given my interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I have become an amateur genealogist and family historian. You will sometimes see that area of work bleed into my posts.
For many years I worked in retail and food service, and for a subset of those years I worked the Christmas shopping season. Black Fridays were indeed awful. And so this graphic that I alluded to last week from Indexed felt appropriate to share. I have no idea how busy in-person retail work will be this year as we begin to near the light at the end of this Covid tunnel, but just keep those in retail and other service industries in mind.
Unfortunately, I don’t subscribe to Business Insider, but I saw this graphic on the Twitter and felt the need to share it. Primarily because baseball will almost certainly stop at midnight when the owners of the teams will impose a lockout (as opposed to players going on strike). And with that baseball will be on hold until the two parties resolve their current labour issues.
And at present that seems like it could take quite some time.
So on the eve of the lockout Bradford William Davis tweeted a link to an article he wrote, alas no subscription as aforementioned, but he did share one of the graphics therein.
We have a basic dot plot charting the weight of the centre of baseballs, sorted by the month of game from which they were pulled.
The designer made a few interesting choices here. First, typographically, we have a few decisions around the type. I would have loved to have seen a bit of editing or design to eliminate the widow at the end of the graphic’s subtitle, that bit that just says “(blue)”. Do the descriptors in parentheses even need to be there when the designer included a legend immediately below? I find that one word incredibly distracting.
On the other hand, the designer chose to use a thin white outline around the text on the plot. Normally I’d really like this choice, because it can reduce some of the issues around legibility when lines intersect text, especially when they are the same colour. Here, however, the backgrounds are not white. I would have tried, for the top, using that light blue instead of white as the stroke for the outside of the letters. And on the bottom I would have tried the light pink. That would probably achieve the presumed desired effect of reducing the visual interference unintentionally created by the white. I also would have moved the top label up so it didn’t sit overlay the top dot.
As far as the dot plot itself goes, that works fine. I wonder if some transparency in the dots would have emphasised how many dots sit atop each other. Or maybe they could have clustered, but when overlapping moved horizontally off the vertical axis.
Overall this was a really nice graphic with which to end this half of the baseball off season. Hopefully the lockout doesn’t last too long.
If you didn’t know, climate change is real and it threatens much of our current way of life. I don’t go so far as to say it threatens the extinction of mankind, because there are nearly seven billion of us and to wipe out every living soul would be a tall order. But, it could wipe out parts of our history.
If you didn’t know, the city of Washington in the District of Columbia was built on a swamp. Except, actually, it wasn’t. Most of the city was built on higher ground along the riverbank of the Potomac. True, there are low-lying areas affected by the tides and high water, such as the National Mall, but places like the Capitol were purposefully placed on high ground.
And that gets us to this article in the Washington Post. It takes a look at the impact of rising waters and flash flooding on the National Mall, home to some of the preeminent American museums. The article uses a map to show just how the museums are threatened by extreme weather events that will only increase in frequency as climate change ramps up.
The designer used colour to denote museums by their risk of flooding, and sadly there are several. But as the article describes, there are few short-term fixes that we can undertake to mitigate the risk of damage to the collections.
One of the pieces I flagged a month or so ago around the time of my trip to the Berkshires was this one by Indexed. There was a time in my life when I would receive notifications for e-mail, particularly work e-mail, on my mobile. As a manager, I tend to think that’s…not great. There becomes no separation between work and personal life and for many, if not most, people that separation is critical to maintaining a healthy balance of both.
Consequently on my trip I barely even checked my personal e-mail, because I wanted to disconnect nearly entirely from that part of my life. And so this graphic made a lot of sense. Even if I was far from being “off the grid” I was very much “off the clock”.
And for my American friends, it’s time to go off the clock as the Thanksgiving holiday begins for many of us this afternoon or evening. But just remember that many will still be working and serving. More on that next week.
When I was in the Berkshires, one thing I noticed was signs about bears. Bear crossing. Don’t feed the bears. Be beary careful. Okay, not so much the latter. But it was nonetheless odd to a city dweller like myself where I just need to be wary of giant rats.
Less than a month later, I read an article in the Boston Globe about how the black bear population in Massachusetts is expanding from the western and central portions of the state to those in the east.
The graphic in the article actually comes from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, so credit goes to them, but it shows the existing range and the black bears’ new range.
I understand the inclusion of the highways in red, green, and black, but I wish they had some even simple labelling. In the article they mention a few highways, but my familiarity with the highway system in Massachusetts is not great. Also, because the designer used thin black lines to demarcate the towns, one could think that the black lines, especially out west, represent counties or other larger political geography units.
Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Housekeeping first, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been publishing as much lately. That’s because I’ve been on holiday. After a tremendously busy year, I need to use up all the time I didn’t spend on holiday. Consequently, I’m only going to be posting a handful or so more times before the end of the year. The plan is to return in early January to my regular posting schedule. For this week that means the next few days before I’m off for American Thanksgiving.
But on with the show.
One of the things I haven’t been doing too much of is travelling. There are many reasons for this, but one is that air travel in the United States has, of late, been, shall we say unreliable. Hundreds if not thousands of flight cancellations, sometimes with no obvious cause. And in one notorious case, Southwest claimed inclement weather cancelled flights in Florida, but it was the only airline to cancel significant numbers of flights. In other words, it wasn’t the weather.
The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article that explored the issue, doing so via a great example. It followed the literal path of one Southwest aircraft over one long holiday weekend. The screenshot below captures two of the graphics with a wee bit of text between.
What’s nice about the graphics’ design is how they use small multiples and consistent colours. The intended route is always on the left and what actually happened is on the right. Red and blue colours depict those throughout.
The only thing I quibble with is the embedded HTML text. Sometimes the page loads fine for me, other times it looks like it did this morning for this screenshot. Note how for some city labels the final letters get dropped to a second line, e.g. the “o” in Chicago or the “e” in Baltimore.
This is far from a deal breaker on this being a good graphic, but I find it mildly annoying, especially when in situations like the bottom left Orlando, there’s no obvious reason as to why, because the little airplane departure icon sits atop the final letter.
I understand the idea behind using native HTML text in graphics, but when things like this happen, I wonder if it wouldn’t simply be better to include the text as part of the graphic and avoid these potential mishaps altogether.
First, a brief housekeeping thing for my regular readers. It is that time of year, as I alluded to last week, where I’ll be taking quite a bit of holiday. This week that includes yesterday and Friday, so no posts. After that, unless I have the entire week off—and I do on a few occasions—it’s looking like three days’ worth of posts, Monday through Wednesday. Then I’m enjoying a number of four day weekends.
But to start this week, we have Game 6 of the World Series tonight between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros. That should the Braves vs. the Red Sox, but whatever. If you want your bats to fall asleep, you deserve to lose. Anyways, rest in peace, RemDawg.
Yesterday the BBC posted an article about baseball, which is first weird because baseball is far more an American sport that’s played in relatively few countries. Here’s looking at you Japanese gold medal for the sport earlier this year. Nevertheless I fully enjoyed having a baseball article on the BBC homepage. But beyond that, it also combined baseball with history and with data and its visualisation.
You might say they hit the sweet spot of the bat.
There really isn’t much in the way of graphics, because we’re talking about work from the 1910s. So I recommend reading the piece, it’s fascinating. Overall it describes how Hugh Fullerton, a sportswriter, determined that the 1919 White Sox had thrown the World Series.
Fullerton, long story short, loved baseball and he loved data. He went to games well before the era of Statcast and recorded everything from pitches to hits and locations of batted balls. He used this to create mathematical models that helped him forecast winners and losers. And he was often right.
For the purposes of our blog post, he explained in 1910 how his system of notations worked and what it allowed him to see in terms of how games were won and lost. Below we have this screen capture of the only relevant graphic for our purposes.
In it we see the areas where the batter is like safe or out depending upon where the ball is hit. Along the first and third base foul lines we thin strips of what all baseball fans fear: doubles or triples down the line. If you look closely you can see the dark lines become small blobs near home plate. We’ve all seen those little tappers off the end of the bat that die, effectively a bunt.
Then in the outfield we have the two power alleys in right- and left-centre. When your favourite power hitter hits a blast deep to the outfield for a home run, it’s usually in one of those two areas.
We also have some light grey lines, which are more where batted balls are going to get through the infielders. We are talking ground balls up the middle and between the middle infielders and the corners. Of course this was baseball in the early 20th century. And while, yes, shifting was a thing, it was nowhere near as prevalent. Consequently defenders were usually lined up in regular positions. These correspond to those defensive alignments.
Finally the vast majority of the infield is coloured another dark grey, representing how infielders can usually soak up any groundball and make the play.
The whole article is well worth the read, but I loved this graphic from 1910 that explains (unshifted) baseball in the 21st century.
We are at that point in the year where I begin to use up my holiday time for work. I just returned from two weeks away, but I am out again tomorrow, so no post. Ergo, this Thursday is my Friday. And so I’ll leave you with a post from xkcd that talks vexillology, or the study of flags.
On the last day of my trip I took some time to visit two Gilded Age mansions, called “cottages”, though they are anything but the image the word cottage conjures in my mind. Ventfort Hall, the subject of today’s post, was the cottage of Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan. Yeah, that J.P. Morgan. So already “not a stereotypical cottage” should be flashing in your mind.
From an information design standpoint, one of the really neat things was seeing the floor plans and grounds of the home, which had significantly deteriorated since it 19th century construction and necessitated significant restorative work.
First we have a map of the grounds, originally over 26 acres, since reduced to just under 12.
These kind of maps help you appreciate just how much has been lost in the century-plus since its construction. In particular greenhouses and other mansions’ farms made the estates partially self-sustaining. The butlers weren’t doing Whole Foods runs, except they did have to go to town to get the specialties and the meats.
In addition to the landscape architecture we also have the floor plans for two of the four floors of the mansion. This is the ground floor, or first floor. Most of this is open to the public as part of the restored summer home, though some parts are closed for staff and volunteers. Some parts remain original, though significant damage has meant that other parts are wholly new, but to the best reconstruction of what was.
The first floor, or the second floor in American parlance, held most of the bedrooms, including the two masters, his and hers.
This floor has two rooms, Caroline’s Suite and the Honeysuckle Room, that are presently off limits to visitors. But you can peer in through the open doorway to see what the original conditions were like before the restoration, spoiler, not good.
Also not accessible to visitors are the floor above, which contained mostly servants quarters and a few additional guest bedrooms, in particular two directly over the master bedrooms.
Finally the basement is also not accessible, but is where the kitchen, boilers, &c. were all housed. You can peak in through the outside windows and catch a glimpse of the kitchen. But hopefully it’s restored and opened someday, because apparently beneath the veranda was an entire bowling alley. Because don’t all great homes have bowling alleys?
It’s funny because I’ve always enjoyed architecture, so much so that I thought I wanted to be an architect growing up. Then I realised I’d have to do maths and I said nah. Now I work with data. Go figure. Also, whenever I’ve looked at apartments or places to live, whilst photos are super helpful, I’ve always valued floor plans more. They help me appreciate the true dimensions and thus visualise myself and my stuff in the spaces. And that’s why these sort of displays are super neat when visiting famous homes.
It’s also funny because my present one-bedroom flat could almost fit entirely within the billiards room. Oh, the Gilded Age.
Credit for the piece, as in the design, goes to Arthur Rotch.
Yesterday I referenced a photo of a sign along the drive to the summit of Massachusetts’ Mt Greylock. When I finally arrived at the summit, well, there were quite a few people as the day was very pleasant. But walking about the summit I also found a few more signs. One that impressed me was the following.
Yesterday I had mentioned how glaciers carved the geography we see today. But just how big were these glaciers? Massive. This graphic shows how high the glaciers would have been over the summit, already nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.
Naturally the silhouettes of both the Memorial Tower and Empire State Building help given additional context of just how large these glaciers were. This sign isn’t far from the tower, which just reinforces the mental image the sign creates.
But the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago, and since then nature has reclaimed the summit. One of the things that impressed upon me was how the whole summit smelled. I grew up in a house where we frequently burned balsam fir incense and candles scented the same. Opening the car door I immediately was hit by that very same smell.
It turns out that the elevation is sufficiently high that the summit of Mt Greylock supports a sub-alpine environment, including a boreal forest, which you’d typically find near the Arctic Circle. And those kinds of forest are full of those kinds of evergreens and balsam firs. This sign detailed just that.
Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) designers.