The little of visualisation design: Part 22

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 interactively handling outlier values or series. The project in focus here is the latest ‘2016 Election Polls‘ by Wilson Andrews and Josh Katz, plotting the ebb and flow of national polling averages for the presidential nominees over time.

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With T***p and Clinton dominating the election narrative, it is easy to forget (especially for non-US people like myself) that there are other independent candidates in the race, albeit with a significantly lower share of the polling numbers. That’s where the ‘Show Gary Johnson’ button comes in.

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It makes sense to editorialise this project and just present analysis (in its default state at least) relating to the two main nominees. The chart’s y-axis scales are therefore designed to best fit these higher value series. However, by offering the ‘Show Gary Johnson’ button, readers can reveal the polling data for Johnson at which point the chart is reconfigured with the y-axis origin set to zero in order to reveal these lower value trends.

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I love this feature so much I will do my utmost to ensure ‘Show Gary Johnson’ becomes permanently woven into the lexicon of this field.

The little of visualisation design: Part 21

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 relates to the possibility of offering a different emphasis on presented data through a small change in a chart’s composition. The chart in question is some analysis (only source I can find is here) by Robert Mann titled ‘Who Lies More: A Comparison’ about the degree of truthfulness or otherwise (as per PolitiFact’s independent ratings) of 50+ statements made since 2007 from each of the array of presidential candidate.

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Given the focus of the analysis as a reader is largely about seeing the overall polarity of truthfulness, I would probably have pivoted the stacks either side of a centrally positioned baseline, with the ‘falser’ three categories (Pants on Fire, False, Mostly False) to the left, maintaining the connotation of being negative) and the ‘truer’ three categories (Half True, Mostly True, True) to the right. You could argue for ‘half true’ to be on either side, I would say in this era of politics it is probably true enough to be seen as a positive. This layout would still facilitate readability of the component sizes, just as as before, but it would also provide a more immediate overall view of the general balance of the integrity in these peoples’ statements.

(This is something John Nelson has written about previously, check out his article from 2011 and *update* Jon Peltier discusses how to make the proposed redesign of this chart).

The little of visualisation design: Part 20

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 involves criticism of my own work (“About time”, you say) and concerns the matter of design thoroughness. In my book, this is something I position as being part of the pursuit of elegance in your design execution. The graphic in question is one I quickly compiled and tweeted out yesterday morning, looking at analysis of Matt Damon’s roles in the the Jason Bourne movies, to mark the release of the latest movie in this series.

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The issue I want to highlight here is the simple failure to be consistent in my use of a colon following the ‘Release date’ label in the captions below each movie poster. I missed two colons. A small matter you might think and you would be right but ever since publishing the graphic I’ve been agonising over this mistake. Remember, this is the ‘little of visualisation design’ and these type of errors (left in through a failure to thoroughly check work) demonstrate a failure to either find time or care enough to pay attention to the smallest of details. These are building blocks of quality visualisation design so care over every last detail.

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The little of visualisation design: Part 19

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 colour to emphasise the primary editorial focus of a display rather than to represent different categorical associations. The analysis titled ‘How Far Is Europe Swinging to the Right?‘, by the New York Times, offers a political-persuasion breakdown of the voting patterns across the six most recent national elections for a selection of 20 European countries.

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Typically, in most countries, each political party would have some established association with a given colour. Had this analysis being displayed using the party categorical colours then you would see a rather overwhelming technicolor extravaganza but a project that was editorially flat. However, the focus of this analysis is on the emergence of ‘right-wing populist and far-right parties’ and so colour (red) is only used to emphasise the constituent party stacks that are affiliated with the hard right. The categorical sorting of the stacks within further aids the sense of editorial orientation for the reader.

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The little of visualisation design: Part 18

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 sensible positioning of categorical labels. This Daily Chart, by the Economist’s data team, offers a view of the identified political persuasion of people living in selected swing states of America. The chart is a variation of the connected dot plot, with a separate row for each state.

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Typically, charts like this would have categorical value labels right-aligned to the left of the vertical axis. However, in this case, the labels are positioned with immediate proximity just to the right of the highest value – which is the value used to order the categories vertically. This approach aids readability, making it just that little bit more efficient to perceive the values and their associated categories.

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New project: Filmographics

I am really happy to be able to launch a new visualisation project called ‘Filmographics‘. It is a project that I have had in gestation for quite a while but is finally possible to release now that my book has been printed/published and the digital companion site is also openly accessible to all (as of today). Filmographics is driven by a curiosity to explore the shape of success across the careers of movie stars displaying the ebb and flow of the fortunes for a selection of 60 prominent actors and directors across the decades.

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This project has been primarily developed to offer a case-study demonstration to run alongside the book’s release. Over on the digital companion site you can find a comprehensive account of each major stage of the design process. Originally intended for the print version of the book, this detailed narrative had to be taken out due to space limitations. You will find ‘case study’ sections from Chapters 2 through to 10 describing all the ideas, challenges and choices made during the creation of this work.

On the filmographics project site itself you will find more information about how to use and read the project as well as a short description of where the data is from and how it was handled. Many thanks to Matt Knott, Andrew Lim and Rob Barker for their respective contributions to this project.

The little of visualisation design: Part 17

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 referencing of spatial information. This graphic, by the Bloomberg Visual Data team, shows trends of the growing number of unfracked wells across the different basins of the US. When one has quantitative data associated with geographic locations there is always a temptation to pursue ways of creating a thematic map display, representing the data onto and within a map structure.

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However, thematically mapping data is only of value if the most interesting qualities of the subject lie in the potential patterns across and relationships between the regions in question. In this instance, the interesting angle is more about the comparison of quantities over time across all the different ‘categories’ of basin locations NOT the comparison between basin locations themselves. Therefore, the line charts are the most appropriate way to represent the data and the role of the map switches to being a visual reference for the basin locations, from which the respective charts branch off

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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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