The little of visualisation design: Part 35

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 value of consistent composition and style when using photo-imagery as an encoding or annotation device. The visualisation in focus here comes from the Washington Post and reflects on ‘Trump at 100 days‘.

It might appear to be a relatively simple matter, but gathering and preparing photo-imagery, especially people-based subjects like in the sequence of Presidential head-and-shoulders in this piece, can involve a lot of effort sourcing, editing and compiling each one. It is easy to take the elegance of the final solution for granted, especially in the pressured environment of media/news publishing: it is far more obvious to the eye when this effort has been absent – inconsistent face sizes, a jarring range of different facial expressions, subjects facing different directions, cropped foreheads, lack of care over the original image outlining/cropping.

Look closely at these and if we are being extraordinarily picky, you’d say the JFK (looking slightly upwards) and Eisenhower (facing to the right) images feel slightly inconsistent with the rest and I might have re-sized Clinton’s face a little larger to reduce the impact of his prominent shoulders, but there are always contextual factors to weigh up. Otherwise these look super nice, occupying the circular bubbles really neatly and with a suitable, cohesive overall style.

Other matters also come to the surface: what image would be most representative of Barack Obama, the young fresh-faced ‘yes we can’ guy or the grey-haired sage ‘I need a holiday’ guy? Do I have permission to use this image? The overall point is that this stuff isn’t always straightforward.

(Incidentally, look through the full project, see the ‘Washington DC’ diamond being used, perhaps similar to #LittleVis 33?

The little of visualisation design: Part 34

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 is a somewhat agonising choice, such is the variety of brilliant ‘little’ things on offer to select (a ‘we are not worthy’ Wayne’s World bow to the mini, multiple Marimekko charts), but in the end I decided to focus on the very final feature included in the project. The visualisation work here comes from Periscopic and is a study of the ‘The Emotional Highs and Lows of Donald Trump‘.

The simple thing that just struck a chord with me here – perhaps amplified given the subject matter – is the respect, care and attention given by the creators to equip the audience with comments on the degree of accuracy this data portrays. The data plotted is gathered from emotions as analysed and recorded by the Microsoft Emotion API. It is an inexact science, a technique still developing in its sophistication but nevertheless it is a worthy approach to automate and summarise the detection of emotion through video, as described in the comprehensive descriptive text.

By specifically including the ‘Accuracy’ statement, the folks at Periscopic demonstrated the first principle (in my view) of good visualisation practice: ‘trustworthiness’. This transcends the goal of accuracy in a way because not everything can or will be 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean we can’t still portray this data, rather it means we have a responsibility to be transparent, equipping an audience with confidence and/or an understanding about what data they are seeing, what shortcomings may exist and advising on the amount of ‘pinch of salt’ they need to shape any interpretations or conclusions.

The little of visualisation design: Part 33

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 is a rather subtle matter concerning an example of how to squeeze out an extra final percent of creative design thinking. The project in focus comes from Dutch studio Clever Franke and is a new tool called ‘District Mobility‘, which visualizes the transportation demands in Washington DC and enables people to understand the bigger picture.

The simple matter to comment on here is the repeated utilisation and symbolic consistency in the use of the diamond-like shape of Washington DC. This is such a fantastic shape to work with, in the first instance, as a region for plotting thematic analysis and, secondly, as a visual archetype for different interactive and data mark features across the entire project.

In amongst the urgency and pressures of developing a visualisation solution, the best designers in this field have that extra sixth-sense and presence of mind to spot opportunities like this: to see patterns of form emerging that can be used in a way to bind a project together as a whole. Sometimes these things can prove to offer only gimmicks or represent metaphors that are too stretched and/or cliched, but when they work well they can really enhance a piece.

The little of visualisation design: Part 32

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 judging your maximum axis scale when handling outlier values. The project in focus comes from the New York Times in an article ‘Is Terrorism Getting Worse? In the West, Yes. In the World, No.‘. One of the charts looks at the annual trends of terrorism-related deaths in the USA going back to the 1970s.

Clearly, in this dataset, the 2977 victims of the tragedy of September 11th 2001 stands as a huge outlier compared to the general trend and one may have normally plotted this chart with a maximum range up to ~3000 to accommodate this largest value. However, in this case, the analysis is focused on the framing the underlying trend which supports the view that terrorist atrocities are of relatively lower prevalence in the US compared to other regions of the ‘west’ (the full article provides prior context for this with other analysis).

In support of the main point, the maximum y-axis value is astutely capped to accommodate the second highest value (the 170 victims of the Oklahoma City bombings), which slices the top of the rising peak for 2011. The designer is not remotely seeking to downplay the significance of 9/11 nor diminish the significance of the loss of life of every one of the victims, but the point here is to position this count as outrageously larger compared to the norm. Sometimes cropping large values is justified to position them as (legitimate) non-typical outlier values and to allow a clearer perception of the pattern across the smaller values.

The little of visualisation design: Part 31

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 sensible way of offering ‘help’ to readers of a visualisation. I’m referring to a project developed by Accurat in partnership with the Google News Lab called ‘World Potus’. This work was developed during the US Elections to track the popularity, trends and locations of topics people from outside the US were most interested searching about on Google relating to the Election.

It is often necessary to provide a degree of functional (how to use it) and perceptual (how to read it) guidance with a visualisation and often this involves maybe a ‘i’ or ‘?’ button taking you to a descriptive page of guidance. The problem with approaches like this (hands up, on reflection I’ve done this almost always) is that as a user/reader you are often taken away from the screen of interest. This makes the guidance somewhat detached and relies on your memory.

What I liked about the solution in this project was the way pressing the ‘HELP’ button simply overlayed the guidance on top of the screen you were looking at getting help with. This proximity cemented the instruction. Additionally, with a seamless switch on/switch off (or clicking ‘Got it’) you could quickly bounce between the help view and normal view without too much obstruction or delay.

The little of visualisation design: Part 30

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 inclusion of tangible ‘call to action’ instructions/invitations. For this I’m referring to a project developed by FFunction for the ONE campaign titled ‘Making the connection: How the internet can help end extreme poverty‘. This work, presented as a scrollable visual article, explores the inequalities of world wide access to the Internet, focusing on the fact that ~75% of Africa is offline and, of those who are online, there is a clear gender disparity.

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There are several aspects of design in this project I like but one small component that particularly struck me of interest was the inclusion (after having scrolled through about half the report) of a prominent ‘call to action’ event, initially in the page footer but eventually as the final stop on the scrollable path.

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Not every visualisation has the intent of driving action to change behaviours, to change beliefs or even to directly influence immediate decision-making processes. Many can only, will only and need only aspire to inform, leaving consequential actions down to the capacity and appetite of the reader. However, when your purpose is clearly aimed at trying to motivate action then making clear what this action is through visible, obvious and seamless instructions is clearly clever thinking.

lovd-part30c

Again, your own work may not involve such tangible or simple actions (as in, ‘logging your email address’ simple) like this but, on those occasions when it is relevant, think about not just what you want your readers to learn from your work but also what you want them to do.

The little of visualisation design: Part 29

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 small annotated marks to help draw a reader towards exceptional ‘values’. For the second consecutive #LittleVis piece I’m referring to work from the Financial Times, this time from an article titled ‘How prepared is Britain for extreme weather?‘ written by Oliver Ralph. The graphic is at the bottom of the page and was produced by John Burn-Murdoch. It looks at the patterns of monthly rainfall across Great Britain up to 2014 and going back to 1960. It is tall in dimension so this is just an excerpt from the top.

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With such a dense display formed by 660 individual map panels, there is a lot for the readers’ eyes to process. Even with the known capability of the eye to efficiently scan such displays for the key patterns, it significantly helps the reader to include annotated markings (‘editorial overlays’), in this case colour-coded squares, to quickly emphasise the main periods of significance to this story.

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12 notable US election visualisations

The (nuclear) dust settles at the end of a seismic week in history, as the fallout and angry finger-pointed fall outs continue to dominate the media and social media landscape, with people looking to make some sense of the non-sense by finding that single person or single thing that should be to blame. Pundits, pollsters, polling methods and data modelling techniques are certainly taking lots of heat. Data visualisation may not be directly in the firing line but I suppose there is a guilt by association.

The fact is, of course, that a visual and its underlying data carry a shared responsibility for understanding. A visualisation is only as good as the data it portrays. This principle stands just as important as ever today.

Given the deluge of different visualisations used during the build up, the event itself and now in the post-mortem phase of the election, it is understandable that some people have expressed severe fatigue from seeing so many election-related visuals (I imagine heightened by the outcome, for many). However, I do feel that we should acknowledge some of the excellence that has been produced during this period. After all, this is a 4-yearly event which, for many journalism organisations, represents the biggest platform to mobilise their focus and talents.

I have therefore picked out a collection of twelve projects that I’ve seen from across (some of) the journalism landscape (admittedly I’ve not seen or had access to ALL election graphic work) that I felt demonstrated the best of this art during this event.

I’m not going to provide design commentary for these, it’s more a collection of inspiration. However, the first project listed below does require some further analysis and I will follow up with a piece about the gauge chart specifically. The order of those listed is entirely incidental but loosely grouped around those used during and viewed after the election.

ON-THE-NIGHT

New York Times – Forecast Gauges

nyt-gauge

FiveThirtyEight – Snake Chart

538-snake

The Guardian – Election Dashboard

guardian-dashboard

Financial Times – Weighted Dot Map

(Inspired by The Guardian)

ft-dotmap

AFTERMATH

New York Times – Arrows Map

(Building on their previous work for the 2012 Election)

nyt-arrows

Washington Post – Vote peaks

wapo-peaksdetail

New York Times & Wall Street Journal – Scribble Plots

nyt-scribble

wsj-scribble

Financial Times – Tower Chart

Inspired by this 2000 Election Graphic by NYT

ft-tower

Wall Street Journal – Scatter Plot

wsj-scatter

STORIES

ABC – Story of the Night

abc-story

Financial Times – Video Explainer

ft-video

New York Times – Precint Stories

nyt-mapjourney

The little of visualisation design: Part 28

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 reading guides to help the reader understand how to interpret the meaning of a heatmap display. The project in focus here was produced by the Financial Times and from an article titled ‘Frankfurt vies for UK banking jobs post-Brexit‘ and shows analysis of the presence of different banks across a range of major European cities.

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To some readers, the task of parsing meaning through the colours at the intersection of two categorical variables can be a little tricky. Knowing this, the creators include a small guide above the chart (and therefore, through its placement, intended to be seen before reading) that quickly indicates the interpretation to draw from seeing specific patterns down each column and across each row.

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7 innovative, interactive static visualisations

Hmmm, you’re thinking, this post title smacks of cynical click bait? “You won’t believe the ways people are interacting with static visualisations!” was the first option but I eventually toned it down. Anyway, as the title suggests, this is a small collection of five six seven innovative ways that I’ve seen applied to make static, non-digital visualisations become ‘interactive’ in different ways. I’d love to see other examples you might have seen too.

1. SCRATCH OFF GRAPHS

Developed by Stephanie Evergreen, these charts are printed on thick paper or card and then the category value labels are painted over using a scratch-off paint mix. This allows them to then be scratched off using a coin perhaps as the big reveal associated with asking people to guess the values associated with each bar.

nondiginteractives-scratch

2. THROWING A DART

A well-known piece by the Economist, this printable sheets uses the likelihood of a thrown dart landing in different red regions to represent the statistic of the likelihood of being murdered in different countries during a given year.

nondiginteractives-dart1

nondiginteractives-dart2

3. ASSEMBLABLE 3D STATISTICAL BALL

From the Times of Oman, this frankly incredible concept involves 32 international football team profiles that are printable, foldable and assemblable as truncated pyramids that collectively create the form a ball but individually display statistics about world cup performances that can be paired with other countries to facilitate comparison. It deservedly jointly-won the ‘best in show‘ award at the 2015 Malofiej awards.

1_ON THE BALL COVER 1.indd

4. PRINTED, LIFE-SIZED COMPARATOR

Produced by the Hollywood Reporter, this is a printable, life-sized outline of Donald Trump’s hand so you can overlay your own hand to measure up against the orange one’s apparently tiny paws.

nondiginteractives-trumphands

5. TACTILE WOOD MAP

I profiled these in a post from 2013 but worth including in this collection. The Inuit wood maps provide(d) a hand-held tactile mapped representation of the relief of the coastline of Greenland, allowing the Inuit to appreciate and identify the contours, islands and glaciers (etc.) of the coastline.

nondiginteractives-woodmap

6. DIY DATA COLOURING BOOK

Created by Chelsea Carlson, motivated by the sense of the US election debates causing people to stress out, this project allows you to download a colouring ‘book’ of three different data visualiation templates for you to record your data feelings as while you watch the debate.

nondiginteractives-colouringbook

7. POP-UP INFOGRAPHICS

Created by Elena Turtas, this project about ‘The Four Books of Visualising Sustainability’ covers important data relating to subjects like global warming, emissions, resources, forests, water, energy, food via the form of pop-up infographics that leap from the flat of the page, offering different interactive mechanics to play and customise the experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


It goes beyond just being interactive non-digitals but here’s a super collection of (currently 256) physical visualisations.