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The Sunday Times Does Data Visualisation

A week ago, the following abomination appeared in the Sunday Times.

I’m not referring to the score line, but the infographic.  Honestly, what does this graphic tell me?  And how is my understanding enhanced by the visual elements?

  • Scotland apparently played with greater intensity – the measure here being Dallaglio’s opinion – no actual data or measurement, but a couple of bubbles to make the point all the same
  • Scotland won battles all over the field  - a few thistles of varying sizes placed at random across the pitch, presumably to explain what ‘all over the field’ means
  • The subs ignited England – picture of substitute jerseys with a small flame above each
  • Ashton shut the door on Scotland – diagram of a door in case you don’t know what one is
  • It was an ugly win – complete with checklist of other descriptions that might have been applicable

Seriously?!!!  

The graphic doesn’t aid me in any way.  I would much rather they’d used photographs showing the intensity and the battles.  As it stands, it’s actually harder to read than plain text.

A week later, I decided to explore how infographics and data visualisation are being used by the UK papers in general, starting with the Sunday broadsheets.  I purchased the 4 broadsheets stocked by my local newsagent:  The Times, The Observer, The Telegraph & The Independent (they each contained more than I bargained for, so I’ll split them across a series of posts).

First up, it’s the Sunday Times…

News

Explaining La Nina (sort of)

Other than show me where Australia, the UK and the US are, this hasn’t done much to aid my understanding of La Nina.  A diagram could have been really useful here, but this one’s sadly lacking.  Next.

Avoiding the Flu

The following diagram accompanies an article in which a virologist tells us how to avoid the flu:

Believe it or not, I quite like this.  It does help me picture what is meant exactly by touching elbows and the sanitary sneeze.  It’s a little fun, but I think it’s a reasonable addition to the article.

Anyone for Donuts?

Donuts appear to be a firm favourite at The Times.

I know some people don’t like showing parts of a whole in a bar graph, but it would make the comparisons across all 4 questions much easier.  A stacked bar might have worked nicely here too.  The same could apply below.

The problem could be that circles are just more pleasing to the eye than bars, especially among blocks of text.  So I guess it depends on the purpose of the graphic – is it to make visual comparisons between the 3 options, or are they aiming for a bit of eye candy to lighten up the page?  I suspect the latter.

The Simple Bar Graph

The example below shows how much easier it is to make comparisons using bars rather than donuts.

I like the minimal approach here.  They could even have done away with the dotted line between bars too, but all ‘n’ all, much easier to read than previous entries.

This bar graph (above) is actually one of my favourite entries.  Really easy to read – everything runs horizontally (the chart and the text), and there’s very little chart junk.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Russian Revenge

Oh dear.  Just when things were looking up.  This is like a bad comic strip.  Content aside, this does nothing to tell the story.  The scenes seem pretty disconnected, and don’t even provide useful snapshots.  Next.

The Weather

Ah the weather map.  Not always good news in Britain, but a classic in the field of visualisation – well worthy of a place alongside the periodic table and the tube map.  They could be a bit more generous on the distribution of UK temperatures to make this example more useful, but a pleasing return to something simple and effective.

Money 

Best and Worst Performers

Economics and Finance aren’t my strongest topics, so I may not be well placed to criticise here.  Perhaps The Times Money section knows its audience well, and need not explain this graph any further.  But to me, the category Auto and Parts (presumably as an industry) have risen by 49.4% in some measure.  It’s probably explained in the article, but it would be worth making the chart as self-contained as possible with a good title and/or caption.  Oh, I almost forgot – get rid of the giant arrows – what are they proving?  We know what negative and positive growth rates mean.

The Best Accounts

I think the bubbles in the above chart are the same size (I’m not certain).  If so, this isn’t visualising anything as such, and is simply a decorated table.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s okay.  Yeah, I know – chart junk, chart junk…  But it draws attention, and the design doesn’t do anything too distracting.  I reckon it’s okay.  We don’t want to get too serious all the time, do we?

The FTSE All Share

I really am out my depth with the content here to say whether or not this is sufficiently clear to the audience.  The layout could do with a bit more breathing space though – a ruthless Tufte fan could save them a fair bit of ink here.

Time for some Lines

These could be cleaned up considerably.  Ditch the gradient, and if you’re going to fill in under the line, make it go all the way to the line – don’t leave that awkward gap between the blue shading and the orange line.  The gridlines aren’t really necessary here, nor are all the tick marks.  The bolding on the y-axis seems unnecessary too, and I don’t know what putting the y-axis on the right is achieving – looks a bit odd.  These graphs do serve their purpose well, but they could be a touch more elegant.

Business

Into The Vault

A little more labeling could explain these charts better – I feel they might be saying something quite interesting, the top one at least.  I wasn’t sure about shading under the top line (GDP cumulative change) then having another line plotted on the same chart (New Data).  I haven’t seen this before.  It does highlight the gaps between the 2 charts quite nicely.  If you get rid of the gradient and the white gapes around the lines, I think it might work okay.  The purists might take some convincing though.

A Gift From The Gods?

Wow.  It really is infographic time here.  It starts off with a strong premise – Thorium is meant to be a more efficient form of nuclear power and will produce less waste.  But then starts with the chemical symbol and when it was discovered.  Is that really essential detail and context for the story?  The diagram of the reactor isn’t bad, but could be vastly improved with better (direct) labelling.

The last bit really is left lacking.  I’d love to have seen a visual comparison showing how much waste the different methods create.  That said, with the numbers involved (1 ton to 7m tons) it might not be possible.  But the visuals they’ve opted for are actually doing the story a dis-service here – the green weights make Thorium look nowhere near as efficient (comparatively) as it really is (by these measures).  And if this is the core point, why is it buried at the bottom after a chemistry lesson?

Review

 A Purple Elephant Balancing on a Pin?

“It would take an elephant balanced on a pencil to break a sheet of graphene no thicker than Cellophane” – I don’t know, I’m all for metaphors and comparisons, but I don’t think this will go down as a classic.  I’ll bypass commenting on the rest.  Next.

Stats of the Week

Not much really being visualised here – more of an illustration.

Sport

Rugby Rugby Rugby

This diagram is a very nice addition to the article.  It could be slightly clearer in parts and lose a bit of unnecessary content, but it really does help you appreciate how the try was scored.

I find these kind of graphs quite hard to read.  I can’t really compare the two teams visually, and really end up relying on the numbers themselves.  At least the above keeps the centre point in a consistent position, unlike the example below which makes things even trickier.

Donuts galore again.  They really don’t work too well when there are zeros involved though, do they? (see below)

Why have they tried to attribute the zeros above to some arbitrary part of the circle?  At least they’ve avoided that flaw below:

And then another nice rugby diagram (maybe over-powered by the text a touch)…

Some more back to back bars…

Penalty!


I almost missed the glaring error here first time round.  Each team has won 100% of their matches, but the donuts make it look like they won 50%.  Hey, if you’d stood those bar graphs up the right way, I might have been able to compare the goal differences between the three teams – just a thought.  And how useful are the statistics combining the goals for and against all 3 teams together?  What am I to take from that?

Motoring

Maps are great if you want to show a geographic pattern, but it’s not possible to do that here.  The patterns would have been more visible, if the bar graphs all shared the same base line, or you could have gone for bubbles on a map showing the % increase (or the actual price).  As it stands, your eyes have to do a lot of work to spot any patterns here.  Seems pretty sparse on data too – it’s not really how parking charges have increased across Britain – it’s only ten places, of varying type (a few London boroughs compared with some towns and some cities).

Supplement:  India

Pie Trumps Pyramid


I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the pyramid at the bottom makes me long for a pie or a donut.  It’s nigh on impossible to figure out the comparisons here.  And as for the concentric bubbles at the top, bleh, I don’t know where to start.  Next.

Bubbling with Energy

The top 3 bubbles in this one are basically pull-quote statistics.  I just wish they hadn’t positioned them as if they are meant to be compared.  35% is imported vs 8% which is renewable vs 6.4% – the amount their energy requirements are expected to grow.  What on earth am I meant to do with that?!

The bottom part of the chart above is unfortunately pretty meaningless unless it’s compared to another country.  I have no idea what that’s like as a portfolio of energy sources.  What does the UK use for example?

Population

This really seems like a bunch of stats.  There doesn’t seem to be any point to the diagram, other than ‘look – lots of people live here’.  Oh and there are also lots of airports.

Mobile Phones

The stats in the top part of this are actually quite interesting, but the comparison could have been easier with bars.  Without the numbers, it’s really not easy to see what proportion of the country have mobile phone subscriptions.  And then there’s the mobile-phone-styled-stacked-bar-graph at the bottom.  No comment.

So there you have it.  A quick run through of the Sunday Times’ use of data visualisation this week.  I really had hoped to find better examples being committed to print.  The simple bar graphs and the rugby diagrams stuck out as high points for me.  But what do you think?  Am I being too harsh?  Not harsh enough?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Visualisation in Medicine from Balloon Sinuplasty - Acclarent UK

Visualisation in Medicine

The following infographic looks at the use of visualisation in medicine, in particular how MRI scans work.

The graphic explains how signals containing information about the body are generated, analysed and mapped to provide insightful images.  These visualisations (or visualizations) allow important diagnoses to be made, and ultimately, save lives.

(Click through for larger image)

Visualisation in Medicine from Balloon Sinuplasty - Acclarent UK

Image by  Acclarent UK

>>>

Disclosure:  This is a client infographic for Acclarent UK, a medical device company, specialising in endescopic procedures for chronic sinusitis treatment.

sponge-data-visualisation-1

Data Viz Gets Physical

While many are busy churning out formulaic infographics, it’s great to see others being considerably more creative.  Some endeavour to come up with new forms of visualisation, and others focus on gathering new data or experimenting with design.

The visualisations featured in this post explore the use of different materials for representing data.  I was prompted to write this post by the latest edition of Visualisation Magazine (the handmade volume).

I did see a post criticising one of the visualisations I’ve included here for its lack of scientific accuracy, but I think that was missing the point.  There have been some hot debates on such topics in data visualisation recently, and they are worthwhile conversations.  And if accuracy was the goal of the following pieces, they could justifiably come under scrutiny.  But if the intent was to challenge the way we think about visualisations and capture people’s attention with something new and curious, for my money, they succeeded.

With that said, I hope you enjoy the collection…

Data Visualisation made from Hazard Tape wrapped round a fence

 

Data Visualisation photograph of men wrapped in hazard tape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the entries in this post are by Jose Duarte.  If you visit Jose’s Flickr profile, you might be able to get a free Handmade Visualisation Toolkit from him.

And for more physical visualisations, check out Visualisation Magazine.

UPDATE:  One more example I forgot to include:

AIDS, Homophobia and Wild Tigers [GRAPHS]

The Death Rate from AIDS is Dropping

That was the story of last Friday’s Daily Chart from the Economist.  The chart was a visualisation of rare qualities.  It delivered news of genuine importance, and not only that, but the graph was moving in a positive direction.

The latter characteristic made me smile.  The former reminded me just how trivial many visualisations can be.  But here was some real news being represented for a change (see chart below).

Bar graph showing a decline in deaths from AIDS

And no sooner had I read the article in the Economist than I found another piece of positive news in graphic form.

Attitudes towards gay people in the US are improving…

according to Gallup’s annual Values & Beliefs poll, as shown below.

 

Line Graph from Gallup showing improving attitudes towards gay relationships in the US

via I Love Charts

 

One more chart appeared on my radar last Friday reporting something of genuine importance.  It wasn’t good news this time however.

Wild Tigers Could Be Extinct by 2022

Poster from the WWF with a graph showing Wild Tigers Could Be Extinct by the year 2022

Image via I LoveCharts

 

You can find out more about the WWF’s campaign to Save the Tigers here.

Staying with the charts for a second, it was great to see 3 pieces of real newsworthy content displayed so simply and effectively in graphic form.  With my hopes for visualisation pleasantly renewed, I’ll be keeping my eye out for more.

I’ll report back on my findings.

PS  If you have a moment, please do check out the WWF site about the tigers – SaveTigersNow.org

 

 

 

21 Everyday Visualisations

How do we use visualisation every day?

This post shows 21 common uses of data visualisation – things we possibly use without even thinking of them as visualisation.  It can be really helpful, if you’re visualising data, to notice the ways in which we incorporate meters, charts, tables and graphs into everyday life.

Those that have become so ingrained into everyday life are usually perfect examples of simplicity and effectiveness.

Calendar

Calendar by Katy Warner

Weather Map

Weather Map by Ric James

Barometer

Barometer by Adrian Scottow

Thermometer

Thermometer by Jay Williams

Clock

Clock by blue2likeyou

speedometer

Speedometer by Nik Sibley

Google Map

Map by Google Maps

Traffic Lights

Traffic Lights by AlexNormand

London Bus Map

Bus Routes by bopuc

Green Man Crossing

Pedestrian Crossing by Chris Skoyles

Tube Map

Tube Map by MacKenzie London

Memory Status

Memory Status by jaysun093

Youtube Play Meter

Youtube Play Meter by smil

Rear Car Lights

Rear Lights by Jen Gallardo

Kitchen Scales

Kitchen Scales by Mark Allerton

Oven Gas Knobs

Gas Knobs Ben O’Bryan

Egg Timer

Egg Timer by notanartist

Radio Tuner

Radio Tuner by Anders Ljungberg

Graphic Equaliser

Graphic Equaliser by wblo

Bathroom Scales

Bathroom Scales by davidd

Battery Charging

Battery Charging by Lisa Jacobs

So what did I miss?

If there were any everyday items you would have included in the list, please feel free to let me know in the comments below…

When Function Trumps Form in Infographics

I’m a big fan of the notion of function over form in data visualisation and infographics.  Though often, particularly with regard to usage of the term ‘infographic’, it’s form that’s trumping function online.

This happens when design overwhelms visualisation making it less legible and effective.  Or when visualisation is chosen when there were other more appropriate methods of communication, or indeed, when no form of communication would have been preferable, i.e when there really was no story.  (Silence is often underrated!)

But when you get it right, like a good piece of music, everything has it’s place and complements the other parts.  The design is appealing, the visualisation enhances delivery…

… And Content Remains King!

Take for example, the following speech, which was later transformed into an illustration (underneath)

Watch the first video briefly…

Then watch the animated version…

These two videos were mentioned in a great presentation by Steve Woolgar at a conference called ‘Data Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation’ a couple of weeks ago.  Woolgar pointed out the comments under the Youtube video for the animation are largely focused on the content of the video, not the choice of illustration as a means of communication, or how the illustration is delivered.

Despite the lack of praise for the visualisation or design, on this occasion, these two processes have been executed perfectly.  They work in service of the content.  They are a means, not an end.

The greatest honour for visualisation may not be found in direct praise, but the reflected glory of the content it serves.

It’s a more subtle approach.  It’s like silver service.  When it’s done really well, you might not even notice.

 

Silence is Underrated

I once worked in a bank while I was a student, and as a ‘treat’ for agreeing to work overtime on a Saturday, we were allowed to listen to music while we counted the cash.  However, being mostly filled with young mothers, we had to endure Shania Twain on repeat.

My colleague – one of the few other guys in the team – turned to me at one point and said…

“Don’t you think silence is underrated?”

I laughed.  I’ve always remembered that moment vividly.

This definitely applies to the amount of online noise we are subjected to, and allow ourselves to be subjected to, daily – the vast amount of infographics very much included!

I’ll be doing a post shortly on filtering, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that tuning out for a while can be even more effective.  I could do with remembering that more often!

4 Powerful Social Media Graphs

Line graphs are amazing!  They can tell a powerful story with so little on the page.

Take this for Example…

1.  Facebook Overtakes Google

Line Graph Showing Facebook Overtaking Google in Traffic

This is a perfect example of a newsworthy hook.

There is little in the way of fancy visualisation or design, but the data and the story are very strong.  So much so, the original post on the Hitwise blog was linked to by 566 different websites.  Now, that’s a serious hook!

Next up…

2.  Foursquare Users Double After Facebook Launches Places

Line Graph Showing Foursquare Users Double After The Launch of Facebook Places

Two things stand out for me here.  The first is, I believe(?!) this backs up some basic principles in business.

The first to enter the market is often the one that remains the leader.

When a competitor enters the market, you might think the first company will lose a share of the market, but in fact, the market grows, and both gain business.

I am not an expert on this matter, but for more info, you should definitely check out the amazing (and short) book by Al Ries & Jack Trout – The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Marketing.

The second thing that struck me about this chart was the headline.  Often in infographics, the headline is a kind of lame effort, like ‘The Rise of Foursquare’ or something similar.  And the readers are left to determine what’s interesting about the graph.

But here, like any good journalist, they’ve pulled out the most surprising fact and slapped it right up front.  That’s standard practice in journalism and copywriting, but something infographics and data visualisation specialists might do well to remember.

And so to graph 3…

3.  The Android Effect on HTC

Line Graph Showing The Increase in HTC Profit After The Launch of Android

The main thing I love about this graph is the annotation.  It’s so simple, yet the inclusion of the iconic Android logo is enough to make the point.  And the way the Android is pointing upwards makes me smile too.

Simple but effective design (which is the best kind, right?!)

And finally…

4.  The Utter Collapse of Myspace

Line Graph Showing The Utter Collapse of Myspace

I was a big fan of Myspace when it first came out, and am still kind of fond of it, though I must confess I mostly only venture over there to see if my account’s still active.

What grabbed me about this visualisation is most people have heard that Myspace is plummeting, so this visualisation hardly seems like news.  But I had no idea just how badly they were heading South.  And this graph really drives it home.

So there you have it – 4 powerful stories told by a simple line graph.

Job done.