Information Design Watch

March 7, 2012, 3:42 pm

The Scientists Sketch

By Henry Woodbury

Data visualization consultant Lee De Cola has assembled a neat cross section of sketches by famous scientists. Here, for example, is a literal back-of-the-envelope sketch by Henri Poincaré:

Henri Poincaré's back-of-the-envelope calculations

Sadly, many of the images are small, or culled of context. Consider them a teaser. Galileo’s sketch of Saturn is a minor doodle compared to the visual storytelling found in this page from his notebook on Jupiter:

Moons of Jupiter, from Galileo's Notebook

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Illustration, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

February 7, 2012, 10:11 am

The Tube as Watershed

By Henry Woodbury

Cartographer Daniel Huffman has taken Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground and applied it to river systems. The results are beautiful and illuminating:

Mississippi River Watershed

Huffman explains:

I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry. The result is more of an abstract network representation than you would find on most maps, but it’s also a lot more fun. The geography is intentionally distorted to clarify relationships. I think it helps translate the sort of visual language of nature into a more engineered one, putting the organic in more constructed terms. Not every line depicted is navigable, but all are important to the hydrological systems shown.

Part of a continuing series:

(Via Greg Pliska, LearnedLeague.)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Information Design, Maps

December 25, 2011, 8:58 pm

World Map Abstracted

By Henry Woodbury

Based on data gathered from Gallup’s World Poll survey the Charities Aid Foundation creates a World Giving Index. The map below shows countries weighted by rank:

World Giving Index

What I find most interesting about this map is the level of abstraction. While the ordered circles offer the same data relationship of area to value as a system like Worldmapper (though the “area” of CAF’s unitless “giving index” is somewhat mysterious), the presentation is simpler and far more flexible.

It is surprising how well the placement of a circle in rough proximity to its neighbors succeeds in providing orientation. Without the need to show contiguous borders, regions can be easily isolated, or even repositioned. It’s an elegant system, within its own parameters.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Maps

December 12, 2011, 10:05 pm

Earthquake Watch

By Henry Woodbury

Earthquakes, too, are measured by a non-linear scale.

Here, the increasing energy of powerful quakes is shown as an animation (the color coding refers to tsunami potential, based on NOAA’s data and key):

Compare the animation to this graph from Matlab Geeks:

Energy Released by Earthquakes by Magnitude each Year from 1900 to 2001

The animation tells a story at the expense of comparison and data density. Even with the zoom out, the animation maps magnitudes to areas, which are notoriously hard for the human mind to compare. Each point on the Richter scale indicates an increase of magnitude of 32 times. Using a screenshot from the animation, I’ve confirmed this ratio:

Richter Scale Ratio

Another visualization that uses areas to show magnitudes is The Hive Group’s interactive Earthquake treemap:

Earthquake Treemap by The Hive Group

This application is a rich data-mining tool, but it doesn’t necessarily negate the animation. The animation tells a story. It is focused on making a dramatic point. The application allows multiple stories to be discovered, in non-dramatic fashion.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

December 7, 2011, 9:41 pm

Mitten State, or the Difference Between a Brand and an Ad Campaign

By Henry Woodbury

Which state is the mitten state? Michigan. Wisconsin is the fun state.

So says Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokeswoman Lisa Marshall.

“We’re not the Mitten State. Michigan, they can own that. We want to be known as the Fun State,” she said. The department used a leaf shaped like Wisconsin for its fall tourism campaign and will move onto something new for spring, but for now, the mitten stays.

For now, Wisconsin looks like this:

Travel Wisconsin Mitten

(via Ann Althouse)

 

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Maps

November 21, 2011, 3:08 pm

A Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand

By Henry Woodbury

I’m not really sure what to make of Randall Munroe’s chart on Money. There’s an enormous amount of data that is almost impossible to read. It needs to be printed whiteboard-sized.

Like Munroe’s Radiation Dose chart, the attempt to show geometric scale through changing units ultimately fails as a visual device. You can work through the Money chart point by point, but to find an overarching message  – other than “that’s a lot of money” — you have to replace visual intuition with a mental scale.

Scale for Converting Thousands to Millions

Corresponding to the scale problem is a comparison problem. Munroe assembles his square building blocks into all manner of shapes, including time-series charts and maps. The mosaic that results thoroughly fills the page while simultaneously making simple comparisons very difficult. Nothing lines up.

Yet the chart repays the effort it takes to meander about with a wealth of facts, some valiant attempts at creating context and broad connections, and numerous humorous asides.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Infographics, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

August 20, 2011, 2:05 pm

“San Francisco Looks Like a Dinosaur”

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s a project where residents of a city draw their mental maps of their neighborhood and the city as a whole.

RACHELLE ANNECHINO HAS SEEN THE CITY AS A DINOSAUR AND CANNOT UNSEE IT.

From the individual’s point of view, a location may have boundaries, barriers, corridors, or an orientation that a street or geographical map doesn’t reveal.

Make sure to look at the project’s PDF presentation for some additional explanation and a series of interesting analytical maps that correspond to the issues listed above.

What does the mental map of your locale look like?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

July 28, 2011, 12:58 pm

Hello Spatial Humanities, We’ve been Waiting for You

By Henry Woodbury

Patricia Cohen at The New York Times has an interesting article on the “spatial humanities,” the idea of using geographic information systems to reveal the physical context of historical or even fictional events:

“Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” said Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It enables you to see patterns and information that are literally invisible.” It adds layers of information to a map that can be added or taken off at will in various combinations; the same location can also be viewed back and forth over time at the click of a mouse.

The real joy of this feature is the portfolio of projects that accompanies the main overview. Here, for example, is a section from Ms. Knowles’ viewshed analysis of what General Robert E. Lee could actually see in the Battle of Gettysburg:

Fragment of Gettysburg Map created by Anne Kelly Knowles, Will Rousch, Caitrin Abshere and others; and National Archives, Maryland

The pale ovals represent areas that historians have previously assumed to be visible to Lee. In Ms. Knowles analysis, all the light areas of the map could have been visible, depending on tree lines.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Diagrams, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

July 24, 2011, 5:56 pm

Herschel and the Orreries

By Henry Woodbury

Self-taught astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus through a series of observations in the winter and spring of 1781. The discovery was widely published the following year. “Instantly,” writes Richard Holmes in his splendid history The Age of Wonder, “all orreries were out of date” (p. 105).

While Dynamic Diagrams’ digital orrery include Uranus (and Neptune), it is inaccurate in a way common to almost all maps of outer space: that of relative distance. Uranus is more than twice the distance from our sun as Saturn. The distance to the stars is ever more impossible to project. While Herschel was one of the first astronomers to conceive of deep space, not even he guessed at its vastness. In a footnote Holmes writes:

No astronomer yet had the least idea of the enormous distances involved, so huge that they cannot be given in terms of conventional ‘length’ measurements at all, but either in terms of the distance covered by a moving pulse of light in one year (‘light years’), or else as a purely mathematical expression based on parallax and now given inelegantly as ‘parsecs.’ One parsec is 3.6 light years, but this does not seem to help much. One interesting psychological side-effect of this is that the universe became less and less easy to imagine visually. (Holmes’ emphasis, p. 88)

Here is a challenge to champions of visual explanation and yet I fear Holmes is right. An example can be drawn from the use of parallax to measure astronomical distances. In another footnote, Holmes writes:

As with road directions, a diagram is a much better way to explain parallax than a written sentence. But it is interesting to try…. Stellar parallax is a calculation which is obtained by measuring the angle of a star from the earth, and then measuring it again after six months. The earth’s movement during that interval provides a long base line in space for triangulation. (p. 90)

Could Pantheon Books not provide Holmes a designer? Let me try a sketch:

Stellar parallax, in concept (left), and reality (right)

The difference in angles A and B allow a simple trigonometric calculation with a baseline of about 300 million kilometers (left). However, astronomical distances are so great, the actual angles are nearly equivalent (right).

William Herschel and other 18th-century astronomers did not have the instruments to measure that difference. It wasn’t until 1832 that Thomas Henderson used parallax to calculate the distance to our closest star, Alpha Centauri. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Edwin Hubble was able to calculate distances between galaxies using the red-shift method (p. 90).

Holmes describes one other picturesque scene, a “human orrery” played by the poet John Keats as a schoolboy:

Keats did not recall the exact details, but one may imagine seven senior boy-planets running round the central sun, while themselves being circled by smaller sprinting moons (perhaps girls), and the whole frequently disrupted by rebel comets and meteors flying across their orbits. (p. 113)

One must assume that like mechanical orreries and the dD Orrery, the position of the planets was calculated in reference to the sun, not to each other.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Maps, Visual Explanation

July 14, 2011, 10:23 pm

Jigsaw Africa

By Henry Woodbury

Scale is a kind of beauty. Here Kai Krause maps out the scale of the continent of Africa in comparison to a selection of the usual suspects:

Selection from True Size Africa

Click through for full-size map, more data, and editorial content (whose thesis I find entirely unconvincing).

I’m more intrigued by the effectiveness of the visualization as an informational device. The juxtaposition is what matters, not the “true size”. If you mapped the true size of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America against the continent of North America the result would be entirely pointless.

What makes Krause’s map intriguing is the contrast between large countries and a continent comprised mostly of small ones. To make a North American map of equivalent interest I would replace the large land masses of Canada, the United States, and Mexico with numerous small countries (to reverse the conceit we could replace Central America with Madagascar — a number of small countries with one large). Thus, we learn about the size of the selected countries as well as the size of the continent.

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Comments (30) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

June 2, 2011, 7:01 pm

Corn and More Corn

By Henry Woodbury

On the day that the USDA unveiled a nonsensical replacement for its hopelessly-compromised food pyramid, it’s important to understand what kinds of foodstuffs the government actually promotes.

Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International has produced this image of what the White House garden would look like “if it were planted to reflect the relative costs of the main crops subsidized by US taxpayers”:

Kitchen Gardeners International White House Garden Comparison

The data is from the Farm Subsidy Database.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

May 10, 2011, 10:31 am

“The Dynamics of Rumor Creation”

By Henry Woodbury

SocialFlow, a Twitter-marketing-optimization company has created a striking visualization on the tweets that broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death:

At SocialFlow we analyzed 14.8 million public Tweets, and bitly links, posted between news about an unplanned presidential address (9:46 p.m. EST) and Obama’s address (11:30 p.m. EST) to see how dynamics of rumor creation played out during those critical hours on Twitter. Out of the dominant information flows observed in the data, we focus on the largest flow, engaging tens of thousands of users, validating speculation around Bin Laden’s death.

Keith Urban Tweet Flow

This jellyfish star chart presents a lot of data, but as best as I can guess, there is no coordinate system. It shows us constellations, not distance nor direction. There is no depth to it.

Still, hubs are interesting. Click through to see zoomed views.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Social Media, Visual Explanation

February 1, 2011, 11:37 am

How Big Really?

By Lisa Agustin

We’ve previously posted on methods others have used to make large numbers understandable, including visualization of the number and making the number more intuitive. Large sizes and long distances offer a similar challenge (toilet paper rolls to the moon, anyone?)  Now comes Dimensions, a map-based tool that allows you to see historical events, ancient civilizations, and great distances super-imposed on a region or address that’s familiar to you.  Built by BERG design consultancy for the BBC, Dimensions is a prototype whose goal is “to bring home the human scale of events and places in history.”  Layering data or current events on a map is nothing new.  But what I like best about this take is both the ease of the user interface (pick an event from one of 9 categories, type in your address and hit GO) and the introduction of ancient history into the mix.  It’s difficult enough to understand the magnitude of current events (e.g., the Gulf Oil Spill) but somehow the added aspect of time makes ancient entities and events like The Colossus of Rhodes and Mount Vesuvius (above) even more difficult to grasp.  Dimensions successfully communicates ancient history by putting it in the context of the user’s here and now.

(via Very Short List)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

December 15, 2010, 9:47 am

Map Meme Goes Manhattan

By Henry Woodbury

Back in September I posted on Bill Rankin’s beautiful maps of census data.

Now the New York Times has turned the idea into a powerful data-driven Flash application. As a Flash application it lacks the resolution and elegance of Rankin’s maps, but it makes up for that in coverage and interactivity. Paradoxically, the lack of resolution is most apparent in the suburbs and rural areas that the application makes available for analysis.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

December 9, 2010, 2:10 pm

The Phone Call as Community

By Henry Woodbury

If we define a community by evidence of social interaction, how well do political and historical boundaries hold up? That question is posed, and answered (in part) by a study of landline phone calls in Great Britain led by Professor Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. Analysis of over 12 billion calls identified point-to-point geographical connections (defined at the sub-regional level to protect individual identity) whose relative strength was derived by the frequency and length of calls.  The result is a map that mostly aligns to familiar regions, but with some unexpected variations.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation

December 5, 2010, 10:18 am

Hello Skullhead

By Henry Woodbury

Cross Blackbeard with Black Sabbath and you might end up with something like Patrick Galbraith’s Map of Metal:

Map of Metal, Key

The map has a method, indicated by the legend above, and a timeline. The latter runs in a diagonal, from the northwest 60s to the southeast 00s.

Aurally, the map offers definitional tracks for each genre. Visually, its delight comes from Galbraith’s emblematic variations on the leather default. Below is his riff on Visual Kei, “a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes….”

Map of Metal, Visual Kei

Hello Kitty.

(via LearnedLeague)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Illustration, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

November 3, 2010, 8:44 am

A Good Year for Maps

By Henry Woodbury

The 2010 U.S. election generated the usual maps (for example, here at CNN and here at the Wall Street Journal), but the New York Times superb multimedia team offers some extras (as well as their own version of the same). In an animated set of maps titled A Historic Shift, they show shifts in voting patterns from 2010, 2008, and 2006. Here are screen shots which capture all of the actual data provided by the animations and allow easier comparison than The Times’ slideshow format:

Almost all congressional districts voted more Republican in this election than in 2008.

The shift reversed the Obama-driven wave of 2008...

... and reversed the movement towards Democrats in 2006 when the Iraq war was a top issue.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

October 31, 2010, 6:52 pm

Maps and Legends

By Tim Roy

No, not a post about the REM song.  But I could not resist a brief mention of Axis Maps who has produced a beautiful mashup of two of our favorite things here at Dynamic Diagrams: maps and typography.  To date, the folks at Axis Maps have produced detailed typographic renderings of two cities: Boston and Chicago, but there are more in the works.

Map drawn using only typography

Detail of the Chicago map

The Boston map

Each map was hand-made, with type carefully overlaid on the existing cartographic structures.  Clearly these were a labor of love and the resulting work shows it.  See more at http://www.axismaps.com/typographic.php

(Thanks to Smashing Magazine for the tweet pointer to this great material)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Typography

September 26, 2010, 7:51 pm

Boundaries Without Boundaries

By Henry Woodbury

Almost by definition, map-based data draws a picture. Rarely is the picture so stark as Bill Rankin’s mapping of U.S. Census data on race and ethnicity to Chicago’s neighborhood boundaries.

Racial / ethnic self-identification in Chicago in the year 2000, by Bill Rankin

Rankin draws attention not to the neighborhoods where his map confirms historical racial and ethnic boundaries, but to those whose gradient would otherwise go unnoticed:

My alternative is to use dot mapping to show three kinds of urban transitions. First, there are indeed areas where changes take place at very precise boundaries — such as between Lawndale and the Little Village, or Austin and Oak Park — and Chicago has more of these stark borders than most cities in the world. But transitions also take place through gradients and gaps as well, especially in the northwest and southeast. Using graphic conventions which allow these other possibilities to appear takes much more data, and requires more nuance in the way we talk about urban geography, but a cartography without boundaries can also make simplistic policy or urban design more difficult — in a good way.

Digital cartographer Eric Fischer takes Rankin’s approach and maps cities across the United States. Everywhere, ethnic and racial divisions present themselves, but there are dramatic differences in degree.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

July 13, 2010, 3:20 pm

Information is Light

By Henry Woodbury

Look down from the sky at a city at night and it falls into two dimensions. In simple dark and light patterns you can see roadways, population centers, and other aspects of urban development.

Inspired by the view from a plane, data visualization engineer Doug McCune decided to use the appearance of city lights at night to present spatial data (just “for fun” he emphasizes). Using publicly available crime and city planning data, McCune has created a number of beautiful visualizations.  For example, the image below shows all the trees planted by the city of San Francisco since 1990:

Trees by the City of San Francisco since 1990 by Doug McCune

Click through to see more examples, all linked to larger versions.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

July 10, 2010, 10:27 am

Boomtown

By Henry Woodbury

At FlowingData, Nathan Yau’s popular visualization on the growth of Walmart recently got an update — “now with 100% more Sam’s Club” he titles it, tongue in cheek. The growth map shows the number of new store openings for Walmart — and Sam’s Club — from 1962 through 2010. The data is just for the United States. The animation reveals both a pattern and rate of growth as Walmart starts at a single location, becomes a regional chain, then expands to the U.S.’s Northeastern and Western population corridors. Zoom out (the plus/minus in the bottom left corner are zoom controls) and you will see the firm’s entry into Puerto Rico in the early ’70s and to Alaska and Hawaii in the late ’90s.

The data does not include store closings, a point that comes out in the comments of the first link. Designer-statisticians can only work with the data they have.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

June 3, 2010, 11:08 am

Visual Bias at Work

By Henry Woodbury

Last week I blogged about a Harvard Business Review article on the inherent biases in visualization. Visual information makes people overconfident of outcomes.

Today the New York Times offers a perfect example. In the debate around U.S. health care overhaul, the president’s budget director Peter Orszag argued that savings could be found by reforming the current system:

Mr Orszag displayed maps produced by Dartmouth researchers that appeared to show where the waste in the system could be found. Beige meant hospitals and regions that offered good, efficient care; chocolate meant bad and inefficient.

The maps made reform seem relatively easy to many in Congress, some of whom demanded the administration simply trim the money Medicare pays to hospitals and doctors in the brown zones. The administration promised to seriously consider doing just that. [my emphasis]

Unfortunately, the maps don’t show what they seem to show. While they show cost of care (a very specific kind of care it should be noted), they don’t show quality of care. Nor do the maps show anything about the demographics of the patients being cared for.

The Times compares the Dartmouth map (on the left) to Medicare’s own analysis of hospital quality (on the right) to show the disconnect. However, the Medicare map raises questions of its own. To start with, it shows a suspicious correspondence to U.S. population density.

Health Care Cost vs.  Quality (New York Times)

Perhaps quality of care relates to the proposition that higher population density creates demand for more specialists which leads to better diagnoses. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. Before anyone draws another map, let’s work on better analysis.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

May 11, 2010, 10:46 am

Using Twitter to Keep Up With H1N1

By Lisa Agustin

Whenever a new disease emerges, web sites for the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) become the go-to for the latest on epidemiology and the global implications of a given threat. But “informal surveillance sources” like Internet news sites and direct reports from individuals are becoming increasingly important for identifying early outbreaks of diseases, according to a report in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.  Such is the case with HealthMap (shown above), an interactive disease-tracker created as part of the Journal’s H1N1 Influenza Center.  So far, the site has collected 87,000 reports (both formal and informal) to monitor the spread of the H1N1 virus.  The wealth of data collected through HealthMap enabled researchers to follow the pandemic’s spread both geographically and across a given timeframe, while enabling new areas of investigation.  For example, the report’s authors compared a country’s lag time between identifying suspected and confirmed cases with its 2007 national gross domestic product.  (A side note: Crowdsourcing for the greater good isn’t new; the Ushahidi platform was initially developed to map both formal and informal reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008, and has since been used to monitor federal elections in Mexico, the spread of H1N1, and relief activity in post-earthquake Haiti.)

There are both pros and cons to using informal sources.  In the case of emerging outbreaks, the advantages relate to the speed with which news reports are broadcast (unusual outbreaks receive intense coverage), and the ability of individual health professionals to pick up weak signals of disease transmission across borders.   However, the difficulty in confirming diagnosis “presents challenges for validation, filtering, and public health interpretation.”  Validating individual sources of information will become a bigger issue with the next version of HealthMap.  While the current version uses individual reports from “reliable” sources (e.g., International Society for Disease Surveillance), work is underway to draw from blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.   As the ability to post and share reports from the ground becomes easier, verification processes will need to be more rigorous without compromising the delivery of timely information.  The maps that solve this challenge will become indispensible.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Technology

April 14, 2010, 8:38 am

“Just because it’s graphical, it doesn’t mean it’s useful”

By Henry Woodbury

Phyl Gyford graphs the “infographics” that give infographics a bad name. For example:

Map from Phyl Gyford's 'Infographic'

Click through to see the whole thing.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Infographics, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

February 17, 2010, 3:33 pm

Next Steps for Augmented-Reality Maps

By Lisa Agustin

Fresh from the TED2010 conference: an amazing talk by Blaise Aguera y Arcas, an architect at Microsoft Live Labs, in which he demonstrates how Photosynth software is transforming cartography into a user experience: first by stitching static photos together to create zoomable, navigatable spaces, then with superimposed video for a swear-you-are-there experience.  Not to be missed.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Maps, Technology, User Experience

January 30, 2010, 9:23 pm

Real-Time Bus Location

By Henry Woodbury

LMA Shuttle Map

Using GPS and Google Maps, MASCO — the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc., of Boston, Massachusetts — offers this elegant real-time bus map for its shuttle service. The map shows buses in service, their location, and their direction of travel.

For folks waiting at the bus stop, the service is accessible via web-enabled phone at http://shuttles.masco.org/m.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

November 18, 2009, 11:37 am

Geography Awareness Week: November 15-21

By Lisa Agustin

wyoming-map

To kick off this year’s Geography Awareness Week, National Geographic invited all 100 U.S. Senators to draw a map of their home state from memory and to label at least three important places.  Visit the online gallery to see who was up to the challenge (pictured above: map of Wyoming by Sen. Michael Enzi (R)–who knew it was so square?).

For more to do, also check out NG’s My Wonderful World, an online resource for promoting global literacy.  The site includes a number of map-based features, including  Google Earth geo-tours, a blog with a global perspective, and a survey to test your global IQ.

(via Cranston Style)

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps

November 9, 2009, 3:40 pm

Maps: Fighting Disease and Skewing Borders

By Lisa Agustin

inglehart-weizel-cultural-map

The Freakonomics blog features a short Q/A with Strange Maps creator Frank Jacobs.  His perspective on maps ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre is the subject of the new book Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. Pictured above: The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World, which plots “how countries relate to each other on a double axis of values.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Maps

November 6, 2009, 10:35 am

The Final Frontier

By Henry Woodbury

Sean McNaughton of National Geographic and Samuel Velasco of 5W Infographics have produced a majestic map of the nearly 200 lunar, solar, and interplanetary space missions over the past 50 years.

At the National Geographic, the map is presented in a “Zoomify” Flash object.

Better is the full size image placed by Adam Crowe on Flickr.

What I really need is a wall-sized print.

Fifty Years of Exploration

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Illustration, Maps, Visual Explanation

October 16, 2009, 10:10 am

Infographics for Web Workers

By Lisa Agustin

xkcd-map-of-online-communities

Web Design Ledger offers a collection of infographics of special interest to web workers, including process flows, data driven visualizations, and musings (like xkcd.com’s Map of Online Communities, above).  Enjoy.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation

September 25, 2009, 3:32 pm

Data in the Round

By Henry Woodbury

An interesting, but flawed chart at O&G Next Generation shows how much oil the United States imports from other countries:

Oil Imports to the United States

There are several big problems with this chart. First, U.S. oil imports per day by country is linear data. When one-dimensional values are presented as two-dimensional areas, proportional differences between values are rarely perceived correctly. This problem is compounded by the placement of the data blobs on the global map. It is good to attach each blob to a country, but not good to scatter them both vertically and horizontally. With a little design attention the values could be presented as bars and aligned along a single x-axis in the tropics.

Another problem is that several important data points aren’t shown. Most importantly we need a figure for the United State’s domestic production. This is vital for context. Upon investigation, we find that the bar chart on the bottom left is either not accurate or not tracking the same petroleum product as the map. If you subtract Total Imports from U.S. Consumption for 2008 you get a ballpark figure of around 6,000 thousand barrels per day. This is far off the mark. The real number for 2008 is 4,921 thousand barrels per day, a little bit less than total U.S. crude produced since a small amount of U.S. crude is exported. In June 2009, domestically produced minus exported crude is 5,126 thousand barrels per day.

Another missing figure is the total of oil imports from all countries after the top 10. Once we can look up the June 2009 total for all countries — 9,172 thousand barrels per day — we can easily calculate the sum of all countries after the top 10. The long tail total turns out to be 1,613 thousand barrels per day which is greater than all but Canada. The 9,172 total and various subtotals also allow us to validate the 82% percentage on the far right and update the 2007 ratio of 60% to the actual June 2009 ratio of 64%.

If we add circles to show the oil consumed by the United States from its own production and the “Rest of World” total identified above, the chart looks something like this:

Oil Imports to the United States Compared to Domestic Production

It is even more difficult to read. But that’s not a problem with the data. The data needs to be shown. The problem is with the presentation. The chart still shows linear values with areas, it still doesn’t show totals, it still uses an out-of-date figure from 2007 on the far right, it still has questionable, out-of-date data on the bottom left, and it still has a jumble of factoids on the bottom right that don’t relate the data above. Alas, I am out of time.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Infographics, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

September 8, 2009, 1:02 pm

The Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex

By Lisa Agustin

The current health care reform debate has presented plenty of opportunities for visual thinkers (and aspiring ones) to clarify the issues and explain possible solutions.  My current favorites have been Dan Roam’s “back of the napkin” series on fixing health care and the flow chart prepared by the office of Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) showing the Democrats’ health care proposal. (Should we assume that the awfulness is on purpose?).

But subtler visualizations grab my attention more for what they imply.  Consider “The Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex,” which was developed by the Sunlight Foundation, a group whose goal is to “use the power of the Internet to shine a light on the interplay of money, lobbying, influence and government in Washington in ways never before possible.”  The Max Baucus visualization is named for Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who heads the Senate Finance Committee, which has been singled out by advocates and news organizations as the toughest obstacle for the President’s health care priorities.  The visualization shows the connections from Baucus to five of his staffers-turned-lobbyists to their health care sector clients, which, in some cases, overlap.  Most of the organizations are directly involved in the health care or insurance industries.

baucus-viz-large1

According to the Foundation:

In his many years on the committee, Baucus has amassed a wealth of connections to the health care and insurance industries, often through his ties to former staffers turned lobbyists.  These connections expose how close the many organizations seeking influence on health care reform are to one of the most powerful players in Washington.

Data for the visualization was provided by OpenSecrets.org.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

July 28, 2009, 12:16 pm

“Both stayed close to the mound where the Eagle set down, except for Armstrong’s quick jaunt over to the rim of East Crater to shoot some photos of the outfield.”

By Henry Woodbury

To provide context for the first walks on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, NASA provides us with a map of the Sea of Tranquility superimposed over a baseball diamond. The Lunar Module is situated on the pitchers mound with the activity of the astronauts indicated as tan paths. This shows a blob of extensive activity around the module and a number of longer walks by each astronaut.

Apollo 11 Traverse Map on Baseball Diamond

Created by Thomas Schwagmeier from a suggestion by Eric Jones, the map is part of the NASA Apollo 11 Image Library. To really appreciate the details (including a legible key), click through to the full size version.

What looks like the original for the overlay is Schwagmeier’s elegant rendition of the “Traverse Map” — Figure 3-16 from the Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report. The two maps are shown side-by-side below. As with the baseball overlay, click through to the full size versions to see all the detail.

Apollo 11 Traverse Map by Thomas Schwagmeier Apollo 11 Travers Map, Scientific Report

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Current Events, Infographics, Information Design, Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation

June 29, 2009, 2:08 pm

Sunny Days Over 3D Cities

By Henry Woodbury

The Chinese firm Edushi (“E-city”) has created 3D models of over 40 Chinese cities, including Hong Kong:

Edushi Hong Kong

Google Map-like pan, zoom, and search features make it easy to explore these candy landscapes, until one reaches the edge of the model and the world either fades or flattens — as in the screen capture of Guangzhou below.

edushi-guangzhou

Oddly, the Edushi artists generally point North 45 degrees off vertical (counterclockwise). This means that the 3D maps don’t align with common roadmap or satellite views.

(via PopSci.com)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Illustration, Maps, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

February 24, 2009, 12:40 pm

Global Problems Demand Good Maps

By Henry Woodbury

The study of climate change is a global endeavor which means that  data is often plotted to continental or world maps. As such, many of the challenges of good map making reappear as problems in presenting climate change data. Two researchers at the University of Idaho, Jean McKendry and Gary Machlis, point out that a key map from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers (PDF, p. 10), fails in both intelligibility and accuracy:

One of the most common ways in which climate maps can be misleading is to fail to take account of the map’s projection. “All map projections have distortions (distance, area, direction, and/or shape). For example, if temperature is displayed using coloured squares of equal size across the map, but the map projection does not minimize areal distortion, the squares appear to but do not represent equal areas on the Earth,” McKendry told environmentalresearchweb.

Other problems include overlapping data points, a multi-colored data scale, and unclear labels.

The map is reproduced below in all of its orange glory:

Changes in physical and biological systems, 1970-2004

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Color, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

December 17, 2008, 11:03 am

Rivermap Visualization by Kerr | Noble

By Lisa Agustin

Rivermap

The recently announced breakup of design studio Kerr | Noble prompted me to revisit some of their work, including “Rivermap” from 1999, in which the meandering contours of the River Thames are depicted using the John Banck’s poem from 1783, “A Description of London.”  The map uses the Caslon font, which was designed at the same time that the poem was written.  Lovely.

See the London Design Museum’s site for an interview with the duo, including samples of their work.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

September 4, 2008, 10:31 am

There Will Be Visualizations

By Lisa Agustin

Arctic Gold Rush Oil MapGiven the impact of rising fuel prices on, well, nearly everything, it’s not a surprise to see some oil-related visualizations cropping up online.

Portfolio magazine offers a starting point, with an interactive map of gas prices around the world. View the spectrum of prices worldwide, or zoom into a given region to see how individual countries rank (good for putting gas-pump gripes into perspective — I’m glad I don’t live in Turkey).

Other visualizations focus on mapping sources of oil.  The Sierra Club’s campaign to discourage new off-shore drilling includes a map of existing leases in the U.S. The map is a good start, but it could be improved by showing the gap between what’s been drilled and what’s leased but remains untouched (68 million acres, according to SC). Science Daily reported on Durham University’s mapping of disputed Arctic territories and who may lay claim to untapped oil resources (see left).  Showing how the Arctic cap might be divided is no easy task, thanks to a combination of international law and geography.  Take Russian claims (in green), for example:

“Russian demands relate to a complex area of law covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). Under that law, any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles (nm) from their shoreline (Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ) and exploit the natural resources within that zone. Some coastal states have rights that extend beyond EEZ due to their continental shelf,…the part of a country’s landmass that extends into the sea before dropping into the deep ocean. Under UNCLOS, if a state can prove its rights, it can exploit the resources of the sea and the seabed within its territory. Russia claims that its continental shelf extends along a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic, known as the Lomonosov Ridge. Theoretically, if this was the case, Russia might be able to claim a vast area of territory.”

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

August 20, 2008, 9:33 am

Pop vs. Soda

By Henry Woodbury

My brother sent me a link to the “The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy” along with this comment:

When I got to BYU I found it funny that one of my Rocky Mountain friends referred to Soda as Pop.  I said, “Pop is what you call your dad!”  He said, “Soda is a cracker.” Apparently some folks mapped out the colloquial use of Soda vs. Pop and it proves that both my friend and I were right!

The Pop vs. Soda site includes an interactive version of the map below, as well as a more sophisticated rendering of the data by county. You can also submit your own data. The most recent map on the site dates back to 2003, but a stats table appears to be updated daily.

Pop vs. Soda

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Language, Maps, Visual Explanation

August 6, 2008, 11:38 am

Housing by the Numbers

By Henry Woodbury

Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com), directs attention to a new site that culls public government data to map neighborhoods, cities, and states by real-estate values, demographics, income and other indices:

PolicyMap was created by The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based organization that finances urban development. The group found that it needed mapping tools to help it choose neighborhoods for investment, and also to help investors track their projects in the context of neighborhood characteristics rather than through unenlightening pie charts. [my emphasis]

The result is a Google-Maps-like tool that easily maps geographically-based information using mostly public data (additional data sets and projections of public data are available to subscribers). For example, the sample below shows household income in our home city of Providence, Rhode Island (USA) in some of the neighborhoods around Brown University.

Sample PolicyMap output, Providence, Rhode Island

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

June 17, 2008, 2:38 pm

Because All Politics is Local Politics

By Lisa Agustin

Patchwork Nation US MapIn recent U.S. elections, classifying voter opinion has been reduced to describing a state as “red” (voting Republican) or “blue” (voting Democratic). While this approach gives the final outcome at the state level, it says little about the factors influencing voter decision. The Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation Project explores what voters care about most during this year’s presidential campaign by slicing the American populace into eleven distinct voter communities (e.g., Monied ‘Burbs vs. Evangelical Epicenters) and examining how each community’s issues may affect residents’ votes. Visitors can follow the campaign in real time through blog posts by local community writers, public messageboards, and an interactive visualization that tracks how many times candidates visited each type of community (a particularly interesting feature when it came to following the Democratic primaries).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

May 2, 2008, 10:02 am

A New (Old) Subway Map

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times City Room blog reports that Men’s Vogue will publish an updated version of Massimo Vignelli’s iconic 1972 subway map:

With its 45- and 90-degree angles and one color per subway line, the 1972 subway map by Massimo Vignelli was divorced from the cityscape, devoid of street or neighborhood names. It was criticized because its water was not blue and its parks were not green. Paul Goldberger called it “a stunningly handsome abstraction” that “bears little relation to the city itself.”

New:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Revised

Old:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Original

Part of a continuing series:

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Current Events, Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

April 2, 2008, 8:58 am

Where the Singles Are

By Henry Woodbury

Author and researcher Richard Florida tells us where single men and women outnumber each other with a map and accompanying essay (originally published in The Boston Globe). The blog reprint gives commenters a chance to get into the discussion.

Tom kicks off the comment thread with a decisive point:

I think this map would be more informative if it was based on percentages rather than raw numbers.

One hopes Florida will respond. As he chatters on about the extreme cases of “greater New York” and “greater Los Angeles” I look at his map and wonder about Memphis and Miami. Why does greater Memphis, with a population around one million, have a greater singles-gender imbalance than Miami-Ft. Lauderdale with a population about five times that?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

September 26, 2007, 12:34 pm

Map of Endangered Languages

By Lisa Agustin

Enduring Voices Map A joint effort between the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, the Enduring Voices Project “strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots — the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages — and documenting the languages and cultures within them.”

The narrative on the National Geographic site provides some statistics to describe the gravity of the situation (“Every 14 days a language dies”), but it’s the project’s interactive map that is particularly engaging. The map offers two levels of exploring the extinction threat levels. A bird’s eye view of the Earth shows the four levels of hot spots globally, while clicking on an individual location provides more detail into the history and uniqueness of the language and the specific nature of the threat.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

September 5, 2007, 10:21 am

Maps, Labels, Politics

By Henry Woodbury

The disputed territory of KashmirThe Economist‘s Asia section offers a cautionary tale in the drawing of maps:

Almost any cartographic representation of the continent [Asia] is bound to upset some individual reader or government. Alas, we use maps not to portray the world as it ought to be, or even as we would like it to be, but as it is.

Cartographers, like information designers, seek to visualize accurate data. But what if the data is contentious? Read to the end to find the easy way out.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps

July 27, 2007, 10:32 am

Map Markup

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times takes note of internet mapping tools, highlighting the non-expert angle:

“It is a revolution,” said Matthew H. Edney, director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “Now with all sorts of really very accessible, very straightforward tools, anybody can make maps. They can select data, they can add data, they can communicate it with others. It truly has moved the power of map production into a completely new arena.”

Most of the sample maps linked by the article are better described than seen, for the actual visual product is a cookie-cutter hodge-podge — often just a Google or Microsoft Map overlaid with clunky icons. While this is a new way to serve up data, it is not really a new approach to mapmaking. Many local, printed trail guides, for example, benefit from the contributions of non-experts, hikers who annotate U.S. Geological Survey Maps with descriptions of trail markers and landmarks. I remember my dad planning cross-country vacations with end-to-end road maps and highlighters. Anyone always could — and did — make maps, they just couldn’t share them as easily.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation

June 21, 2007, 9:05 am

The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

By Henry Woodbury

Driving across country never looked so easy (courtesy of the addictive Strange Maps blog).

Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, Simplified

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

April 20, 2007, 12:32 pm

The Walmart Projection

By Henry Woodbury

On a Mercator grid, artist Benjamin Edwards presents a Walmart projection: a world map that sizes nations by the number of goods they sell in Walmart.

The data was compiled in 2001 using a simple methodology:

Go to the nearest Wal-Mart from your present location. Inside each store, count as many objects as possible while noting their countries of origin.

To represent this data, Edwards roughly scales each country by percentage of the total product count, removes countries with zero results and places those remaining in approximate orientation. The result is crude but graphically effective.

But if you approach the map neutrally (elide the word “Walmart” from your brain), what does it mean? Compare the Walmart map to WorldMapper’s Total Population map.

Benjamin Edwards' Walmart Map fo the World Worldmapper Total Population Map

Now my question is not “why is China so big?” but “why is India so small?” (And, “why Italy instead of France, Germany or Spain?”)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Cognitive Bias, Maps, Visual Explanation

April 16, 2007, 2:15 pm

On Tufte and Napoleon’s March

By Mac McBurney

Napoleon's MarchIn February, the Dynamic Diagrams staff made a field trip (some might say pilgrimage) to Edward Tufte’s day-long seminar, “Presenting Data and Information.” If you’ve ever heard of Edward Tufte, you have probably seen Napoleon’s March to Moscow, Charles Josef Minard’s visual explanation of Napoleon’s disastrous attempt to conquer Russia in 1812.

Tufte says, “it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” The graphic appears repeatedly in Tufte’s books, posters and brochures. At the recent seminar, I realized that the image has become a defacto corporate logo of Tufte and Graphics Press. At the seminar, the graphic was used in a sign directing participants from the hotel lobby to the upstairs lecture hall. It worked: Napoleon’s March quickly caught my eye and confirmed I was headed in the right direction.

Conventional wisdom v. six-variable masterpiece of information design

Because Napoleon’s March is so innovative, so lauded, so pervasive in Edwardtufteland and so emblematic of Tufte’s teachings, it was (I’m chagrined to admit) not easy for me to see that it undermines, rather than supports, the conventional view of the historical events. (Thanks to Piotr, creative director at d/D, for leading the way.)

Minard created his map to show the horrors of war. Tufte uses it to explain grand principles of data display. Both are succeessful, but Tufte misses an opportunity to emphasize just how powerful Minard’s graphic is. Tufte repeats the popular belief that “General Winter” defeated Napoleon’s army. I haven’t studied the history since high school, but this fits the image that sticks in my head: soldiers freezing to death.

In fact, according to Minard’s map, nearly three times as many French soldiers were lost (never mind the Russians) before the retreat and before the coldest weather. 90,000 died on the retreat–horrible to be sure — but 250,000 were lost before that. Only because the map follows Tufte’s grand principle number one, show the data, are we able to really question the conventional wisdom, ask useful questions and formulate alternate narratives. Now that I’m re-thinking my own understanding, I wonder why Tufte even mentions General Winter as the moral of the story.

Recency bias

In addition to temperature itself and the impending threat of winter, I suspect another factor strengthens the prevailing interpretation: recency bias. Only ten thousand French soldiers lived to tell the tale. They had just endured three months of immense suffering and witnessed the deaths of 90,000 comrades (90% of the retreating force). It’s hard to imagine their state of mind, but the previous summer was probably a distant memory.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Maps, Marketing, Visual Explanation

February 9, 2007, 10:31 am

Strange Maps

By Lisa Agustin

Forget about Google Maps and G.P.S.  Here’s one for history and cartography buffs: Strange Maps is a blog covering fictional, hypothetical, and just plain odd maps found online. Image sources run the gamut from the U.S. Library of Congress (for Johananes Vingboons’ “Island of California” map from 1693, below) to the official site of author Stephen King. Besides being a visually-rich collection of approaches to mapmaking, each represents its creator’s view of an alternate reality, whether whimsical (a rendering of the Land of Oz), thought-provoking (the Armed Forces Journal’s re-drawing of the Middle-East), or somewhere in the middle (the world as seen from New York City’s 9th Ave). A bonus: each map comes with a detailed commentary on its background, history, and the occasional factoid for interesting reading.

Island of California

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

January 23, 2007, 6:29 pm

Politically Convenient Misunderstanding

By Mac McBurney

Aircraft noise in your neighborhood could increase by almost 1000 percent! Are you scared yet?

Before: decibels. After: sones.Call it the politics of ear.

Late last year, a map of suburban Philadelphia — using data from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — became a hot topic among citizens and candidates for local office. The map estimates how “noise levels” would change if the FAA approves new flight patterns in the area. Zip Code areas are color-coded on a scale from negative 56% to 925% increase. Not surprisingly, citizens were concerned and politicians made much of the dramatic statistic. What does 925% more noise sound like? Perish the thought!

No one questions the underlying FAA data change in decibels. The issue here is not accuracy, but validity. It turns out that the decibel is not a valid measure of the sensation you or I would call noise. Noisiness is mostly in your head, as much a function of perception as physics.

The student newspaper at Swarthmore College makes the confusion clear:

While the decibel is used to measure the relative difference in power or intensity, the sone is the unit of loudness as perceived by a person with normal hearing. Some people who examined the maps provided by the Delaware County Planning Department erroneously interpreted the projected increase in decibels as equivalent to a linear increase in noise level.

A Swarthmore engineering professor brought the misinterpretation to light a few weeks before election day, but the sensational misinterpretation had already spread far and wide. Plus, “1000 percent” just sounds so much more electable than, well, the truth. When did the map makers finally correct the error? Two days after the county election.

Local parent and partisan Daddy Democrat gives it the sniff test:

Given that [candidate] Tom Gannon had essentially staked his entire re-election bid on his stance on the FAA…he needed that data to be overwhelmingly bad. Rep. Gannon continued to claim that the potential noise increase would be upwards of 1000% — even in the final days before the election. Even though the error had been pointed out weeks before. It just doesn’t get people worked up into sufficient lather if you say that there might be 10-90% increases in noise levels. 90% is not 1000%, even though it may be damned loud.

I don’t want more planes flying over my head. And I expect my representatives to protect our local interests to the fullest extent possible. But I also don’t like flouting the truth about data.

Check out the revised maps on the Delaware County site. If the decibels and sones maps don’t quench your thirst for confusing information design, don’t miss the one called “Percentage Increase/Decrease in Population Already Highly Annoyed by Aircraft Noise.”

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

November 8, 2006, 10:49 am

A Pair of U.S. Mid-Term Election Maps

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s CNN’s take on the Virginia Senate Race:

CNN's map of the 2006 Virginia Senate Race

What’s interesting: Color gradation makes it easy to see each candidate’s regional strengths. In effect, since “Other” did not make a showing, the full gradation is from saturated blue (DEM) through white (tie) to saturated red (GOP). The key could be redesigned to demonstrate this.

What’s missing: Names of cities. Ability to compare the separate “Webb Strength” and “Allen Strength” maps in tandem.

Here’s the New York Times take on the House of Representative races, nation-wide:

New York Times map of the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives races

What’s interesting: The geographical map first displayed morphs to present each congressional district as an equal unit. Click on any state to see the district numbers.

What’s missing: Ability to toggle back to a geographical view.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

October 4, 2006, 3:53 pm

Visual History

By Henry Woodbury

The Maps of War Web site currently features an animated map of the Middle East that asks and answers the question “Who has conquered the Middle East over the course of world events? See 5,000 years of history in 90 seconds…”

Roman Empire replacing Greek and Macedonian Empire

In its final sequence, the entire history is replayed in very fast time with the cities of Jerusalem and Baghdad as anchor points. The replay evokes a theme: impermanence, instability, an unknown future.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

April 20, 2006, 3:00 pm

Media, Money, and Demographics

By Henry Woodbury

Based on the principle that democracy requires a knowledgeable citizenry, the Carter Center, FOCAL (Canadian Foundation for the Americas), and the University of Calgary have created Mapping The Media, a visual mapping tool that combines demographic data with information about media ownership and political financing:

The map, which will be ‘virtually’ housed and easily accessible on the Internet, also will illustrate connections between media ownership and the networks to which they belong, making evident at a glance if some portions of the country are served by only one media owner or news network or are served by multiple media outlets with the same political affiliation.

Unfortunately the application is astonishingly difficult to use. Compared to Google Maps, the zoom and pan interface is clunky and slow to respond. If you show more than one or two layers of data, the jarring combination of colors, patterns, and icons turns the map into a visual cryptogram.

Part of the problem is the ambition of the project. By differentiating so many separate data layers, only an experienced user will know which ones relate. Data that deserves per-capita presentation, such as campaign dollars, is given in gross figures. The fact that population density is offered as its own layer doesn’t help. The result is likely to encourage misreading of data, confusion between coorelating and unrelated factors, and casual invention of causal relationships.

Completed maps include Canada, Peru, and Guatemala.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

April 20, 2006, 2:47 pm

A Cartogram Portfolio

By Henry Woodbury

Using a population diffusion algorithm, a team at the University of Sheffield, along with Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, have been creating a compelling series of data-driven cartograms. Each shows a world map with territories reshaped to represent a different data set. The math is complex, but apparently highly versatile:

A recent development by Mark Newman and Michael Gastner (described in their paper Gastner and Newman 2004 [http://aps.arxiv.org/abs/physics/0401102/]) has led to the creation of this website; they recognised that the process is essentially one of allowing population to flow-out from high-density to lower-density areas, and hence borrowed the linear diffusion method from elementary physics which describes this process. The algorithm used to create the maps on Worldmapper is a variant of the Gastner and Newman one.

The site contains several dozen cartograms and hopefully more are on the way. Good design decisions, such as using similar colors for regional groups of territories, help with interpretation of the most distorted maps, such as this map of Net Out-Tourism.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

February 10, 2006, 10:02 am

Locating Last Names

By d/D

Recently we’ve come across two sites that use U.S. census data and other sources to shown the distribution of last names on a map. The results suggest patterns of emigration and influence, though you have to bring your own outside knowledge to intepreting them. Both tools have two major weaknesses. First is the lack of meta-data. For example, we don’t know the sample sizes for different states, a real handicap in interpreting the 1800s displays. Another weakness is the inability of the interface to allow comparisons, either by showing multiple maps at once, or by allowing quick transitions from name to name or date to date.

The geneological software maker, My Family, Inc., has data for both U.S. and England on its Ancestry.com Web site for the years 1840, 1880, and 1920:

http://www.ancestry.com/learn/facts/default.aspx

Hamrick Software provides a similar interface, only for the U.S., which includes data from 1990:

http://www.hamrick.com/names/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

November 10, 2005, 10:43 am

Mapping the City-States of America

By d/D

The CommonCensus Map Project presents U.S. Maps redrawn to show the spheres of influence of different cities. The underlying data comes from a short Web survey filled out by anyone who chooses to take to the time to do so.

“This information will finally settle the question over where disputed cultural boundaries lie (like between New York City and Upstate New York), contribute to the national debate over Congressional redistricting and gerrymandering, and educate people everywhere as to the true layout of the American people that they’ve never seen on any map before.”

http://www.commoncensus.org/index.php

The Maps page is here:

http://www.commoncensus.org/maps.php

The concept is reasonably apolitical, which hopefully makes vote-spamming unlikely. However it does represent a missed opportunity. By declining to draw more information from visitors (except for favorite sports teams!), the map of influence can’t be indexed against other data.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

August 11, 2005, 12:38 pm

Measuring Google Maps

By d/D

One “remix” that didn’t make the BusinessWeek Online article mentioned here is a cool Google Maps Pedometer that allows you to overlay points on a Google Map and see the distance they mark. Developer Paul Degnan explains his inspiration for the idea:

“As a runner training for a marathon for the first time, I found myself wishing I had an easy way to know the exact distance a certain course is, without having to drag a GPS or pedometer around on my runs. Looking at Google Maps, and knowing there was a vibrant community of geeks hacking it, I knew there had to be a way. So here it is.”

http://www.sueandpaul.com/gmapPedometer/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Implementation, Maps, Web Interface Design

July 11, 2005, 1:00 pm

Now You CAN be the Center of the Universe

By d/D

Within reason, of course. The Personal World Map Flash application lets you pick a starting point, then see the bounds of the world in terms of time and budget. The two are not the same:

“The main purpose of the Personal World Map is to give awareness of the user’s actual position in the world in relation to other places by taking into account the ‘effort’ needed to get to a certain destination. Because the Personal World Map is based on flight data, this effort is defined not only by time (travel time) but also by money (ticket fares).”

The quote above is from the “About” page linked at the bottom of the application. For developers, the “Data” and “Details” pages (linked from the “About” page menu) offer a nice overview of how the application is built.

http://www.personalworldmap.org/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

May 11, 2005, 1:26 pm

Election Maps, BBC Version

By d/D

The BBC visualizes the recent parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom with this interactive map:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2005/flash_map/html/map05.stm

One elegant feature of this tool is its ability to pan and zoom to a constituency by name as well as geography. What it lacks is a separate layer for indexing the results to demographic data or past results.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

February 11, 2005, 2:12 pm

Google Adds Maps

By d/D

Google has just rolled out a roadmap feature (in beta). Appropriately, Google has taken a different approach from established map providers like Yahoo and Mapquest. Instead of querying for an address first, then refreshing the screen whenever a user changes the location, Google’s application “stitches” map images together, allowing users to pan by dragging the mouse.

http://maps.google.com/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Implementation, Maps, Visual Explanation

November 10, 2004, 3:08 pm

Election Wrap

By d/D

Following up on our link to Professor Sam Wang’s U.S. Electoral College map in our October 13 issue, here is a set of interesting post-election maps. Created by Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, each geographical map of state or county results is paired with a map that is distorted to reflect population:

“…on such a map, the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.1 million inhabitants, would appear about twice the size of Wyoming, which has half a million, even though Wyoming has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island.”

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/

One map that Gastner, Shalizi and Newman manipulate is Princeton Unversity Professor Robert Vanderbei’s “purple” map that shows the full continuum of percentage-based results. The patterns that result indicate interesting correlations between geography and demographics as well as a more complex view of the vote:

http://www.princeton.edu/%7Ervdb/JAVA/election2004/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

October 10, 2004, 3:26 pm

Political Geography

By d/D

In recognition of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, we link to the Electoral College map on Princeton University Professor Sam Wang’s Electoral College Meta-Analysis Web site. The map resizes each U.S. state to correspond to its share of electoral votes; it is arguably “truer” to its data than geographically-based projections. The map is also interactive; individual states can be assigned to one of the two candidates (or neither) to show different possible electoral outcomes.

http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/pollcalc.html#EVmap (click on static map to see interactive map in a popup window)

The University of Virginia Library offers a collection of more traditional electoral maps (1860 to 1996):

http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/elections/maps/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Maps, Visual Explanation

September 16, 2004, 3:32 pm

Mapping Census Data

By d/D

One rich body of publicly-available data is the U.S. Census. The Census Bureau itself publishes many reports based on this data. Filled with tables, charts and maps, these are interesting for their information design practice as well as their analysis.

As an example of how simple adjustments can clarify the display of data, we modified the “Differences in 2-Year Average Uninsured Rates by State” map on p. 24 of the report linked below. In our version, the three gradations of color on the map are matched to the negative to zero to positive range of the numbers in the data, making the extremes easier to distinguish.

The original report:

Current Population Report P60-226 (PDF, 792K)

The original “Uninsured Rates” map (first page) and our version (second page):

Differences in 2-Year Average Uninsured Rates by State Map (PDF, 386K)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

August 12, 2004, 3:40 pm

Update: The Tube as Template

By d/D

We recently came across another example of the London Underground map as design template. In this case it is repurposed as “A subway map of cancer pathways”:

http://www.nature.com/nrc/poster/subpathways/index.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing

July 9, 2004, 3:46 pm

The Tube as Template

By d/D

U.K. designer Martin Kay has taken the Harry Beck map of the London Underground and turned it into a template for process diagramming:

“The standard box, circle and arrow style of flowchart is the main style of process map used in business, but these are often poorly produced and even with good ones, you do not get the users saying ‘I want one’. The tube-map style creates really good process awareness because people just like looking at them. Adhere to the design principles and you create familiarity even if the process itself is unfamiliar to the user — especially if they are someone who uses the London tube to get to work!”

It’s a quirky idea that brings up some interesting points. Successful visual explanations often build upon a viewer’s experience with such visual tools as maps, graphs, and charts. Reusing a well known visual model can be an efficient way to present data with a similar structure and may reveal unexpected possibilities as the model is tailored to the task at hand. Other data sets demand a completely new approach. When this happens, the challenge is developing a visual system that still triggers a viewer’s intuitive understanding.

http://www.kaywebs.co.uk/process_maps.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps

July 9, 2004, 3:44 pm

A Map of Languages

By d/D

Using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, the Modern Language Association has created an application that ties the number of speakers of different languages to an interactive map of the United States.

Unfortunately, by visualizing absolute instead of per capita numbers, the map often highlights population density more than language concentration. At the national scale, the most definitive results come from choosing a regional language such as French Creole. For other languages, the most interesting results can come from focusing on a single city or region, with data mapped to zip code.

Beyond a per capita presentation, the map would most benefit from a visual methodology for multivariate display. This would make it easier to compare multiple languages in a specific region (the current application shows two maps side by side). It would also create the potential for language data to be indexed to other types of census data, such as income, family size, median age, and so forth.

http://www.mla.org/census_main

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

January 8, 2004, 9:43 am

Looking at the Real Underground

By d/D

Transportation for London provides a simple Flash movie on its Web site that shows three versions of the London Tube map: the classic 1933 Harry Beck map (shown below), the current map, and the current map as it would look if it matched actual geography.

At http://tube.tfl.gov.uk/content/tubemap/default.asp, click on “The Real Underground (Flash Movie)”.

The map’s schematic treatment of geography and scale is one of its most compelling aspects. The relative placement of stations along the lines, and the lines to the river (the only surface feature shown) provide users of the Tube all the orientation they need.

A more detailed geographically-aligned version of the map can be found at http://www.kordy.dircon.co.uk/misc/lul.gif. A history of London Tube Maps can be found at http://clives.members.easyspace.com/tube/tube.html (site loads very slowly).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps