Graphic embellishments that add value

A very quick post just to share this graphic from the WSJ that was published a couple of days ago. I adore it.

I’m profiling it on here because I think this is a perfect example of an infographic that includes worthwhile and justifiable visual embellishments: useful chartjunk, if we want to go there.

KitKatChart

The use of the KitKat sticks to represent the bars does not distort the data but adds an extra layer of subject immediacy and attraction. The bitten off chunks are presented where the lengths/values should be (at least they look like they are). The backdrop of the carefully unfolded silver foil wrapper, the inclusion of the fragments of crumbs: we don’t NEED these devices but they are inoffensive, non-gratuitous and ramp up the aesthetic appeal.

Crumbs

Some might term it gimmickry but for me it entirely transforms the appeal of this analysis that would have otherwise formed around largely utilitarian charts packaged up in a quite non-affecting style. There’s nothing wrong with that of course but, personally, I wouldn’t have taken a second glance at it. By contrast, I still want to eat this chart, and in my thinking that is a measure of success.

Bloomberg visualisation tracks America’s big issues

Really like this piece of visual journalism by Alex Tribou and Keith Collins of the Bloomberg Visual Team who have looked at ‘How Fast America Changes Its Mind‘ over some of the biggest social issues. Given the imminent possibility that the Supreme Court will consider arguments for an extension of the right for same-sex couples to marry nationwide, what is the history of pace of change across other significant issues: interracial marriage, prohibition, women’s suffrage, abortion, same-sex marriage, and recreational marijuana.

The first piece of analysis is a short animated display that maps the number of states that had removed a ban (or, for Prohibition, enacted the ban) since 1781 for each of the 6 big issues. You can see the very different rates of progress between, for example, the rights regarding interracial and same-sex marriage. In 3 (and possibly 4) of the 6 issues there seems to be a tipping point when around two-thirds of states are accepting of positive social change.

ChangeOfMindAll

Below this you have an individual breakdown for each of the 6 issues tracking in more detail the individual stories state by state.

ChangeOfMindProhibition

Finally, there is an alternative view which considers the speed of federal action following a major trigger point brought an issue to what I imagine was a mainstream, nationwide consciousness.

ChangeOfMindSpeed

This work follows (in some part) a similar analytical narrative approach to a piece of work I previously profiled, namely the Peyton Manning touchdown pass record published by The Upshot. That begins with a similar overview across history showing cumulative change over time for the subject categories (in that case Quarterbacks). It then explores the individual stories for significant ‘categories’ (previous record holders) before finally considering an alternative perspective based on setting everyone’s starting point at the same zero to compare the rate of change (in their touchdown passing totals).

Stereotropes explores gender and ‘tropes’

Stereotropes is an interactive experiment, developed by the Data Visualisation team at Bocoup, which examines the use of a range of common tropes in TV and movies and how they reflect, shape or counter against gender stereotypes in society.

TropesHome

As the description on the site explains, it is a really fascinating exploration in to the use of language and connotation, asking the ‘chicken or egg’ question about how tv and film reflects society:

Some of the greatest reflections on society take place in film, through complex characters, often falling into familiar patterns called “Tropes”. Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can rely on as being present in the audience’s minds.

JerkJock

The tropes are authored by the community on tvtropes.org and have been selected and categorised based on when they are always associated with males (such as ‘Jerk Jock’ above) or females (such as ‘The Chick’ below).

TheChick

There are 4 different entry points into the project: tropes, films, adjectives, and gender.

The first part on the site let’s you explore individual tropes, initially providing a short description of their representation and a timeline history of their use in TV and film. It then delves in to more detail, based on the full description from tvtropes.com, about the use of language, specifically the adjectives, used to describe this trope and whether those are strongly associated with this particular trope or more generic. You can also view other tropes that share the same adjectives in their descriptions. Note that the triangles are essentially an arrow between the text label and the marker on the axis, apart from their colour, they don’t encode any data through their shape, size or direction.

Adjectives

Next up, the films give you a way to interrogate the tropes used in over a hundred years of individual movies.

Film

A chord diagram offers a way to view the quantities and connections between all the adjectives used in the trope descriptions and an overview of all the male and female tropes that use that term.

AdjectivesWheel

Finally, there is another slice of analysis that considers usage of adjectives and the strength of association with the male of female gender, based on dominance of reference.

Gender

There is an excellent detailed overview of the workings that went on behind the scenes for this project on the about page.

As a movie fan I’m instantly on board with this project through subject alone but I really love the focused slice of analysis the team have applied to this large topic, providing an excellent tool to investigate the way gender and character is portrayed on screen.

MapWheel: Visualise your treasured locations

MapWheel is a new product from Waypoint Ventures, a Sydney based start-up founded by Russell Bolden and Jesse Little, which offers the means to create a customised ‘toposcope‘ plaque showing the exact direction and distance to treasured locations around the world relative to your specified ‘home’ location.

Mapwheel1

As Russell explains, the online MapWheel generator enables you create “a tangible connection to special people and places in your world. MapWheels are intended to be personal, sentimental and fun.”

The process involves you assigning a ‘home’ location and then building up a series of uniquely personal locations around the world. The online generator offers you the chance to customise the material used for the final product, the font, messages and pattern design. As you build it, it gives you a preview of the final rendering.

Prices begin at $AUD 88 and they deliver from their Sydney base to many international destinations. Give it a go!

Dear Data: Pen pals in a data age

A quick profile of Dear Data, a lovely ‘artisan visualisation’ concept from the brains and pens of Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. It has had plenty of coverage on other sites and on social media this week but I wanted to briefly mention it for anybody else out there yet to come across it.

DearData

The essence of Dear Data is “how two girls who switched continents get to know each other through a collection of handmade postcards: small data-driven self-portraits they draw and send across the pond each week”.

DearDataFeatured

Each week they pick a new theme about their lives, small events or interactions, record the data over the coming week and then find uniquely individual ways to represent this data. Using postcards as their canvas, they hand draw their visual stories and then exchange them via post. It is an entirely contemporary form of being pen pals.

DearData3

They are currently working through week 28, with week 8 the latest delivery shared on their site portraying ‘phone addiction’. Such a super idea that so beautifully emphasises the personal, unique perspectives we all bring to data and to visualisation.

New visual package for Chicago planning agency

There’s a smart new project from the team at Clever Franke who have created a digital package of visual content around the topics of ‘Mobility, Economy and Livability’ for CMAP, the regional planning agency for metropolitan Chicago.

Congestion

The overall aim was to develop innovative approaches to data visualisation and information content. The project comprises a series of micro-sites discussing the past, present and future of Chicago’s plans around roads, transit, freight and how all this will move forward.

The micro-sites serve the primary purpose to educate and influence various stakeholders ranging from political decision makers, news media and business leaders. Of equal importance is the general publics’ need to access engaging content that relates to their everyday lives without requiring them to be professional planners. The micro-sites are an integral aspect of the agency’s commitment to transparency and to engaging the public.

As with many other long form/multi-faceted digital projects of recent years this work demonstrates a really rich blend of textual content, embedded movies, photo-imagery and interactive work structured around these 4 key chapters.

Bridge

I really like the approach they have taken to visualise a number of selectable mapping layers in relation to ‘The Access to Transit’ index, which offers echoes of Moritz Stefaner’s Stadtbuilder and Zeit Online’s ‘A Nation Divided‘ as well as generally rocking a Roy Lichtenstein vibe (incidentally, check out the wonderfully gratuitous CF team profiles!).

Access

Each chapter has the same structure with a short intro, followed by a central interactive piece, a text-narrated video and then a final simple chart displaying the relevant statistical indicator.

Ridership

Aside from the neat visualisation work, I think this project highlights the increasing importance of good photo and video imagery: obtaining high-quality and permission-granted images can not always be taken for granted. Furthermore, the way such media are deployed and integrated into a digital work involves some fairly critical design choices. As technology continues to blur the boundaries between visualisation, infographics and digital content I feel there will be more need for us to understand the best practices around communication ‘beyond the chart’.

Forward

There is a great process description with loads more screenshots about Clever Franke’s design work here.

Columbia University Library’s collection visualised

Might be a little late to this but I have been exploring the absorbing ‘The Library Project’, a collaboration between the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University, led by Laura Kurgan, and visualisation design/developers Annelie Berner, Jen Lowe and Derek Watkins. The motivation for the project is framed around a desire to create a way of ‘comprehending the immensity, character and value of the collection’. As more data about the library’s collection becomes digitised, these tools enable a novel means of exploring the shape, dynamics and relationships that exist amongst the vast collection.

The project, split into two displays, visualises the Columbia Libraries collection in one interactive interface and then explore connections between the books based on subject connections in the other.

Catalog, ‘a visualization of the Columbia Library’s holdings, circulation and activity’, is the first of these displays, presenting a radial tree structure of the taxonomy of book subjects. On the inside are the major categories, moving towards the outside gets into more specific topics. The size of the circles indicate one of three quantitative metrics: total books held, total circulation and then a relative ratio of the two for context.

Catalog

Crossing Disciplines, ‘a digital library tool for multidisciplinary exploration’, is the second display, offering a tool to explore the “books in the Columbia University Libraries that are at the intersection of two or more disciplines”.

Crossing

This has a bit more interactivity going on with the ability to select two or more subjects around the ring of the top 25 most interdisciplinary subjects in the library and then use the mouse wheel to zoom in or out of the display.

There are a couple of really nice design features here. One is the way the display gives you a short preview of the connections that exist but without cluttering the entire display.

ConnectionPreview

Secondly, there is a guiding tutorial to take you through the intricacies of the interactive one feature at a time. Really useful to ensure users get the most out of interrogating it.

Guide

Visualisation shoots from all angles

Earlier this week I published my slides from a talk I gave last week in San Francisco. One of the key things I discussed was the importance of carefully considering your editorial focus and I equated some of the ideas to the world of photojournalism. This is not a unique concept – it was brilliantly articulated by Moritz Stefaner in his article ‘Worlds, not stories‘ – but it is an approach to thinking about the subjectivity, the filtering, the focus, the sequence and the angles involved in selecting the slices of your analysis you will pursue. Yesterday the Washington Post published a graphic ‘The Wizards’ Shooting Stars‘ by Todd Lindeman and Lazaro Gamio that I think nicely demonstrates these ideas in practice.

Graphic1

The graphic explored some of the efficiencies and inefficiencies of the Washington Wizards’ shooting (by the way, we’re talking about basketball, should have said earlier) and how a few improvements could really help them realise their potential.

Firstly, we are greeted with the big picture of the main focus of the story: a general overview of point scoring based on the distance from where shots are taken. We can’t read the individual lines, we just get a gist of the patterns at this stage to form an introductory understanding. This begins the sequence of the storyboard, from the general overview initially towards a more deep understanding of the fine details.

Next up we get an interactive panel of small multiples allowing us to interrogate the data from the different filtered angles of each player. Even as a non-basketball aficionado you can see the patterns of players who score closer the hoop and those who are aiming to score from further away (ie. to get the precious 3 pointers).

Graphic2

Having selected an individual player we can then explore in greater depth and detail their point scoring attributes. As well as the side-on view showing the distance and arcs of their points scored we now get a helicopter view to show the spatial pattern around the court as well as an array of more detailed statistics.

Graphic3

At the bottom we then have a more aggregated perspective of their scoring-distance patterns, moving away from the figurative nature of the individual shooting arcs towards a more statistical visual treatment.

Graphic4

This is a great piece of work. It has focus based on a clear initial trigger point of curiosity about the Wizards’ shooting performance. It has an array of different angles to allow us to look at the data from the most relevant different angles. It filters: not showing everything, but just what is need to support this slice of analysis. It has sequence, a starting point to frame the article followed by a journey into the more statistical depths of the subject. A really nice demonstration of the importance of editorial focus.

The BBC’s ‘Your life on earth’ project

Earlier this year I profiled the success of participative visualisations, visual projects that go beyond interactive interrogation to invite the user to put themselves at the heart of the subject’s data. This piece primarily focused on the amazing impact of the New York Times’ dialect map/quiz but I also referred to some of the projects the BBC have worked on over the past few years, such as the Olympic athlete body match app. Today they have published another interesting participatory project titled ‘Your Life on Earth‘.

BBCEarth1

Developed by the team at David McCandless’ IIBStudio, this work puts your life on Earth into numerical context displaying how you and the world have changed since you were born.

BBCEarth2

The project is presented in 4 sections: ‘How you have changed’, ‘How the world has changed’, ‘How have we changed the world’ and ‘How the BBC captured it all’. It includes analysis such as how many times your heart has beaten, and how far you have travelled through space, the number of earthquakes and volcanoes that have erupted in your lifetime and how many species we’ve discovered and endangered.

Small multiple goodness: What would you do next?

Doing the rounds on social media today is an intriguing graphic by Greg Shirah of the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio. It presents 414 images of the North Pole sea ice extent arranged in a grid of 36 years (1979 to 2014) in the horizontal and the 12 months in the vertical.

LargeArctic

Regular readers and/or followers of my general musings will already know that I am a fully paid-up member of the small multiples fan club: if I could create small multiples for every dataset I worked with, I would. With this many components maybe we could label them micro-multiples or nano-multiples?

The timing of seeing this work was quite coincidental having discussed the merits of small multiples with this many components with delegates at a training workshop yesterday. The point I was making then, which is entirely applicable here, is that as readers we have to relax into the view, not being uptight about not necessarily being able to see pixel level detail but instead accepting the bigger picture patterns that form. Even shrunk down to just 200px wide you can still detect the shrinking patterns of the late summer period in the vertical, and the subtle but observable reduction over the 35 years left-to-right. There is also a striking gap in the imagery for the months Dec ’87/Jan ’88.

MiniArctic

What else would you do with it?

What also struck me was thinking about what more could be done. This is not any form of criticism, simply a fascination with how much further you could take this work.

I remember fondly a couple of years ago Visualizing.org ran a visualisation ‘sprint’. This involved providing a starting visualisation and then inviting the community to develop it collaboratively in all sorts of different ways to help improve it towards an enhanced solution. More recently, Jon Schwabish launched HelpMeViz with the idea of gathering suggestions for requested improvements to sample works.

I’ve not yet incorporated this but I have been working on some new exercises in my training workshops and one of the challenges I’ve been designing involves taking a static graphic and asking groups to consider creative ways they might enhance and develop the implied starting version. The conditions are set to an ideal world context in order to get them to think creatively about different possible pathways.

For example, one thing I might do is take the shape of the largest area of arctic ice and add it to the background of each frame, probably using a subtle grayscale colour, in order to reference and compare the shrinkage in each month. This could work in the existing static form or might be better as a toggled option.

What would you do? There are plenty of folks out there with good ideas to share so, given the opportunity, what further design iterations would you incorporate? Would you change the colours? Add more annotated detail? Add layers of interactivity? Maybe create an animation? Use a fisheye zoom to see the detail of each month?

I’d be interested in hearing your ideas so drop in your comments below and let’s see the variety of creative ideas that come up!

Incidentally, here’s the high-resolution version.