The little of visualisation design: Part 16

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns the challenge of composition: how you judge the relative and absolute size and position of all your design assets. I came across this graphic titled ‘Where the Labor Market is Tightening‘ by the Wall Street Journal and was, naturally, drawn to the exceptional nature of the chart in the bottom right corner. As you can see this final chart is the single exception that shows a stark decline in the payroll numbers in the mining and logging industries in contrast to the other industries displayed.

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The cleverness of the ‘LittleVis’ in this work is how the creators have managed to find a common scale size and arrangement of all the charts so that this singular case of a deep negative vertical axis is able to span across two rows of space and still be neatly aligned with the baselines of the bottom row of charts. It is probably hard to appreciate on the surface just how incredibly fiddly this kind of attempted composition can prove to be and just how many tweaks and nudges will have gone in to its various iterations.

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Boom and Bust: The shape of a roller-coaster season

It has been a long time since I had the chance to undertake a self-initiated visualisation project but it was nice to block out a couple of days this week to work on a new graphic to mark the end of the 2015/16 football season.

The project is titled ‘Boom and Bust: The shape of a roller-coaster season’. As a Liverpool fan, the past two seasons have felt relentlessly stressful, with emotional highs frequently offset by crushing lows both across and within matches. Back in January, whilst listening to my podcast of choice, The Anfield Wrap, I was struck by a comment about how refreshing it was to feel relaxed during a recent dominant victory. It was indeed a rarity. It felt like so many games were in the balance for so long you were constantly on the edge of your seat. It drains you.

I therefore decided to investigate the ebb and flows of Liverpool’s matches to see if the shape of the emotions I experienced as a fan would be echoed in the match data. I wasn’t intending on undertaking a delicate qualitative investigation, tracking my feelings across a season of matches, I would just use the instance of a goal being scored as a measure of sensations like delight, despair, happiness, anxiety, frustration and relief.

Whilst there are, of course, many significant contextual emotional nuances attached to any match (expectations, recent form, opposition, history, rivalry) that you would need to truly tell the story of a season, I wanted to keep things as straightforward as possible and use data that would be a ‘good enough’ proxy of my feelings. I therefore just needed to get hold of some simple match data, including fixture information (opposition, home/away, date), the result and the scoring details (goal time and scorer). This was obtainable in different ways from many different places but I chose to use the BBC Sport website as my source.

I got some initial data back in January to start playing with different representation approaches but it was only when the season was finally over (reached on Wednesday 18th May following more crushing disappointment in the Europa League final) that I would have a fixed dataset to work with. Additionally it made sense to do this work as a piece of reflective analysis when the season was complete and, frankly this was also the only window of time I would be able to carve out for myself.

The graphic I have created is ideally intended to be consumed in print form, specifically designed for A2 poster size, which I will be producing for myself to stick up on my office wall. The intended audience is Liverpool fans (primarily) who have experienced this season’s journey and other football/sports fans (secondary) who will be able to understand the nature of the analysis and the subject matter. It is produced to be an exhibitory display of the patterns of data for readers to draw their own interpretation rather than be an example of explanatory work, putting the key insights on a plate for readers. It is also not produced for quick consumption – it takes time to read, requiring effort of the reader to browse around the calendar of match panels.

You can access high resolution versions of the graphic in jpg, png and pdf format via this dropbox link.

The centrepiece of the graphic is a set of 63 small-multiple timelines, showing the ups and downs of the timing of the goals scored or conceded and the duration within each match of the scorelines being.

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Here is a close-up view of a sample match story, showing the chaotic scoring patterns during one of the season’s most intense highs, the thrilling comeback victory over Borussia Dortmund.

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The parade of small multiples is supplemented by a summary panel of headline statistics, breaking down some of the components of success, failure, happiness and disappointment.

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The project title, ‘Boom and Bust’ captures the essence of the roller-coaster of fortunes during the season and also deliberately shoehorns the word ‘Boom‘ as famously voiced during an interview by manager Jürgen Klopp.

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(I will be providing a detailed design process narrative about this project in some upcoming talks, so rather than go in to detail here I will likely share the slides in due course.)

The little of visualisation design: Part 15

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns a similar theme to two previous LittleVis posts (#10, #14) about squeezing more potential from annotated features. In this case it is about a clever little design choice incorporated into a project’s title: the project being ‘Where the population of Europe is growing – and where it’s declining‘ by the team at Berliner Morgenpost.

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As you see in the title, the colour associations are immediately explained through the underlining strokes, indicating the areas where the population is growing (orange) and declining (blue). There is a more detailed colour key provided as well, but given the title is amongst the first places our eyes are directed towards this immediate colour attribute explanation offers a nice ‘quick start’ route into the project below.

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The little of visualisation design: Part 14

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns a clever approach to squeezing more potential out of your colour keys, as demonstrated by the project ‘Rethinking Detroit‘ by the National Geographic, looking at the changing fortunes of Detroit’s neighborhoods block-by-block.

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The colour key shows the degree to which a block of properties has been largely vacated/abandoned (the so-called “Urban prairie” in green) or has preserved its status as a traditional residential area (in brown). Rather than just show a colour scale, the key doubles up as a bar-chart, showing the proportion of the city’s area, in square miles, of each banding.

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The little of visualisation design: Part 13

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design was a hard one to select, such were the range of great features (see here, here, here, here and here) demonstrated by this project by the LA Times graphics team showing ‘Every shot Kobe Bryant ever took. All 30,699 of them.‘. I decided to focus on the matter of orientation assistance, as it is something relevant in my thinking right now.

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When you zoom into the display, using the traditional navigation buttons or double click over the space of interest, you can quickly lose a sense of where you are spatially. Plotting 30,000+ data points gets busy and so to preserve visibility of these points you cannot really afford to incorporate much – if anything – in the way of background colouring or annotation to draw out the court markings.

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The designers of this project therefore provide a useful thumbnail map of the court which provides a highlighted rectangle to indicate the portion of the court you are currently looking at. As you zoom in further the thumbnail pitch position changes so that it is always centred on where you are.

The little of visualisation design: Part 12

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns the use of interactive visual guides to help readers perceive values in a stacked area chart, specifically the classic ‘How Different Groups Spend Their Day‘ produced by the New York Times all the way back in 2009.

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Wherever the user’s cursor is positioned on the chart (it sensibly snaps to only 10 minute intervals), a vertical guide is illustrated to help assist the eye towards the true height of each layer at that position on the chart. It also thickens the stroke width of the line for the specific layer they are focusing on reading.

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This type of annotated chart assistance is helpful because judging the plotted value on an area chart at any given point is open to be misreading – as explained by this nice post.

The little of visualisation design: Part 11

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns colour choices for divergent scales, ie. when you are showing quantitative scales in two directions either side of a pivot/breakpoint (often zero or an average). In this analysis by the Washington Post, we see a choropleth map showing the gender gap in adult employment rates for children of low-income families, based on the county where they grew up.

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The little issue here concerns the respective shade of purple/green used for the extremes – the highest value colour bands – which, inevitably, tend to represent the most interesting insights of such analysis. Whilst the underlying choice of a purple > green colour scheme makes loads of sense (and importantly will be colour-blindness friendly) the darkest shades of the purple and green are very similar upon scanning the map.

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Sure, you *can* distinguish between these shades but it is perhaps more effort for the eye to perform this separation, quickly, than it needs to be. Maybe making the second darkest shade of purple/green representative of the highest value banding would make it a little easier.

The little of visualisation design: Part 10

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns the enhanced role of annotated captions. In the well-known work ‘Gun Crimes‘ by Periscopic, some of the main findings of analysis are provided in captions located beneath the main chart (this exists in both years of analysis, I’m focusing here on the 2010 view).

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The smart feature here is that when you click on the respective captions, this provides a shortcut for the user by automatically applying the necessary criteria in the main chart above to formulate the associated view of the data that supports the finding described.

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All the ‘little of visualisation of design’

This is a collection of the entire, growing series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


Part 1: Duplicate labelling

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Part 2: Axis-scaling

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Part 3: Integrating graphics into text

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Part 4: Data doubts

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Part 5: Axis line fading

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Part 6: Imposed colours

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Part 7: Connecting data points

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Part 8: Chart orientation

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Part 9: Juxtaposing photo-imagery

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Part 10: Enhanced annotations

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Part 11: Divergent colour shades

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Part 12: Visual guides

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Part 13: Orientation assistance

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Part 14: Better Colour Keys

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Part 15: Colour Key Titles

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Part 16: Exceptional Composition

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The little of visualisation design: Part 9

This is part of a series of posts about the ‘little of visualisation design’, respecting the small decisions that make a big difference towards the good and bad of this discipline. In each post I’m going to focus on just one small matter – a singular good or bad design choice – as demonstrated by a sample project. Each project may have many effective and ineffective aspects, but I’m just commenting on one.


The ‘little’ of this next design concerns the juxtaposition of photo-imagery within a chart display. In this analysis by Vox 2,000 voters were surveyed to find out which of the 2016 candidates they were able to correctly recognise. The charts produced show the breakdown of the results and (logically) include a small image showing the faces of each candidate for reference.

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One of the subtle design choices I like here is the deliberate cropping of the least recognised candidates’ images. Due to the smaller ‘correctly recognised’ values, the available space to accommodate the images is already diminished*. Rather than see this as a reason to relocate or perhaps proportionally shrink the images, notice how the faces of Kasich and O’Malley partially disappear below the axis, editorially reinforcing the findings of the analysis.

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(* Incidentally, I probably wouldn’t normally repeat the value label word ‘Correct’ on each bar – once should be enough – and so removing this would create more space in practice).