FedEx ‘Our Changing World’ visualisation

In a week that has seen a great deal of debate and coverage of the GOOD chloropleth map, another attempt to innovate a map-based visualisation has landed on my desk in the shape of the FedEx ‘Our Changing World’ visualisation.

The concept of this dynamic visualisation is similar to the idea of last year’s Visualisation of Twitter Happiness with the dimensions of the countries of the world smoothly bulging and shrinking according to the encoded value being presented. The image above shows the proportion of TV imports across the world but there are a number of other topics to select such as business growth, world populations and education.

Similar to my conclusions of the Twitter Happiness method, this display is very ineffective at communicating data, with the countries shape and size being constantly distorted and difficult to draw insight from. It requires exceptional perception of the original sizes of countries and their regional proportions to appreciate and interpret the respective magnitude of their revised areas and therefore the underlying values.

Colour is used in the display to differentiate between countries rather than to communicate any data. A better alternative to modifying the sizes of the countries would have been to encode values using colour and accompanying the display with an inset table listing the top 10 values to enhance the potential insights.

The site also provides an opportunity to engage in a 3D experience based on augmented reality – I have not yet tried this, it requires a printed prop and a webcam but I would be interested to see screen shots from anybody who has!

3 Comments

ChristophJanuary 19th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I would simply call this a cartogram http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartogram which can make sense for comparing datasets such as in http://sites.google.com/site/stephabegg/home/projects/cartograms where the distribution of Walmart, McDonald’s and Starbucks in the USA are compared.
The FedEx maps do something similar though they are harder to compare for you do not see the different cartograms simulaneously. But for an overview it is OK if you switch around.
Concerning the colors I would agree with you, Andy. This coloring is misleading and not useful here. Seems as if it had to look colorful ;-)

Richard KurschnerJanuary 19th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I don’t have a problem with the colors, but the shapes are almost impossible to understand: It too me ages to understand why “Africa” was so large. I finally realized that “Southern Africa” was really Iberia. And then of course Benelux is so distorted, I thought one of them was Switzerland and just couldn’t figure out the big green blob… And no, this was not because Americans don’t know geography! The distortion is just terrible!

Andy KirkJanuary 19th, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Thanks Christoph and Richard (again!) for your comments.