The joys and sorrows of concentric circle graphics

There are not many good examples of concentric circle graphics out there. La Nacion produced one last year about subway strikes, and The Guardian produced an interactive graphic on gay rights in the U.S. Both of these intrigued me because, in my day job, I produce endless variations of graphics dealing with 50-state data. And most of the time, when we look at 50-state data, we draw… you guessed it: maps. Or bar graphs showing quantity or line graphs showing changes and trends over time but no matter what we do, it involves data for the 50 states, most often over time. 50 states multiplied by several years is a lot of lines to draw, bars to fill and state maps to create. So I’ve been thinking about ways to tell the story in different formats–going beyond the map, so to speak. Last Wednesday, we created this concentric circle interactive. Here’s how we did it, and the process we took to decide on the format.

Stateline PCS jobs screenshot

One of the most onerous dimensions to 50-state data is the sheer physical size and length of the data. Our website used to allow for a content well of 500 pixels. Try shoving 50 state labels across 500 pixels and you’ll quickly see why it’s a challenge.

But even with all the real estate in the world, long, horizontal displays are also taxing on the user if there is a comparative aspect to the data. There is simply too much bouncing back and forth from the left to the right. Go long and you lose the comparative advantages of a horizontal layout because users with small screens must scroll vertically and can’t see the entire landscape at once. Of course, layering the data into different views as an interactive can solve that. But sometimes you want to show the data all at once. And for that, a static graphic can work well.

Understandably, a map is often the solution. But maps have their limitations too. There’s only so much that you can infer from a map. If your data consist of more than 4-5 gradations it can be tough to create the at-a-glance, concise overview for which a map is best suited.

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Which brings me to | Up to 50% Off🔥 |. Are You Searching Best pill? ☀☀☀ source ☀☀☀,special reduced price.. Buy Now » concentric charts. They’re not pie charts (if you look up pie charts on wikipedia, you will see that there is a distant cousin to the pie chart called a “ring chart,” also known as a multi-level pie or a radial tree). These appear to be somewhat visually similar to concentric circle graphs but have a different use–they tend to show hierarchy in data–you might see these when your computer shows you how much disc space you have, for example.

Filelight disk usage graphic

This ring chart shows computer hard drive disk space

Cheap Sale Viagra - no prescription needed, order Sildenafil (viagra) with discount 15% - low prices for all ED pills, support 245, A concentric chart, on the other hand, can tell a different story altogether. In a recent post on La Nacion’s subway strike graphic, I mentioned how designer Florencia Abd manages to plot out a time across four nodes (year, month, day and time) as well as another variable–type of incident/strike. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a static graphic. Imagine doing it in other ways and I’m sure you’ll agree.

La Nacion Conflictos Bajo Tierra

Because a circle is, well, round, its shape lends itself quite well to a relationship-based approach. Not so much a pie-chart (where the user sees the parts in their physical relationship to the whole), but rather Travel recommendations. Red Viagra Review Flight discount for IYNCWiN18 participants. Only participants and one companion, using the organic form of a circle to help the user more easily compare complex data. And if you add concentric circles, you take advantage of the hierarchy inherent to those circles to create layers–an intuitive way to order your data–perfect for showing levels or ratings where you use the inner and outer rings to denote the endpoints in a scale (e.g., one thing is stronger, larger or more intense on the outside than it is on the inside) or time, as the subway graphic above shows (the outer ring shows 5 a.m. and the inner ring shows 11 p.m.).

So, what does all this have to do with the U.S. map? As I mentioned, the strength of a map is to show geographic relationships in data. For example, southern states vote “red” (or conservative) in the U.S.; whereas a swath northeastern states might vote “blue” (progressive). For this, a map is helpful because regional differences tell the story and are easy to spot.

But the nice thing about concentric charts is that they, too, can show geography, or any groupings, for that matter. As the Guardian’s example shows, each “slice” of the concentric chart belongs to a state and groups of slices are regions. In the Guardian example, each ring (or level) of the chart denotes a particular right afforded to gay couples.

The Guardian gay rights in the US

My team took this in a different direction. We wanted to show states and regions as well. But we also wanted to show change over time, as well as intensity on a scale. So when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment figures, we had a few choices. We needed to show how changes in employment have affected each state since the recession (from April, 2007 to April, 2012). Because the recession started in December, 2007, we wanted to show how employment looked in each state before the recession, during the recession and how (and which) states were pulling themselves out of the recession.

We could have created an interactive that showed how the same views above changed over time (presumably you’d see a pre-recession view showing states doing well, a recession view showing most states doing poorly, and post-recession years showing mixed results). The most valuable piece of this would be, of course, geographical patterns in the data, if they existed (how did the Rust Belt fare, or the East Coast, for example). You could overlay this with population or any other demographic data to tell an interesting story.

When we looked at the data, we saw that there were not very strong geographic patterns to show. So we decided to create a concentric chart. Why? Because we didn’t have geographic patterns, but we did have temporal patterns (most states did poorly during a particular period of time, which contrasted well with the mixed results that states showed as they were attempting to pull themselves out of the recession, at least in terms of their employment figures). And the fact that we used a circle meant that we didn’t have to create a very long or wide table or chart, and we could stray from the map approach.

We decided to make this a light interactive–by rolling your cursor over each state’s cell you can see a small bar graph showing change in employment over time. This worked for us because our goal wasn’t to show specific numbers (how much employment rose and fell in a particular state), but rather intensity and patterns over time.

The debate continues (check out the comments on Nathan Yau’s post on the Guardian graphic) on whether or not these concentric graphs are merely eye candy when a simple bar or line chart would do just as well. I would opine that, if used correctly, they work well. Let me know if you agree. Here’s a screenshot of our interactive, and you can view the live version here.

Stateline PCS jobs interactive


Staying fit through data visualizations

Better living through data visualizations? A new web app called “Spark” claims to improve your body through data viz. And art. And a gizmo called a fitbit. Whatever you call it, it’s both interesting and scary. If you have the time to spare (and, presumably, the calories), you can purchase the fitbit gizmo to track your every physical movement to help you get a very, very detailed sense of your physical activity throughout the seconds and minutes of your life. Really. People do this.

Okay, enough of that. What’s interesting is the use of data visualization to emotionally inspire people to keep moving, walking, jogging, or whatever people do who don’t have enough sense to ride a bike.

Upload your fitbit data (remember that’s the gizmo you have to purchase and presumably wetwire into the back of your skull) to your computer or tablet, log into “Spark” and you’ll be rewarded with piles of visualizations reflecting your activity level. In real time (using the fitbit API, Raphael and HTML5 Canvas). Please ignore the fact that Spark is hosted on a website with a url that begins with “” Apparently data vis is headed for greener pastures.

Sarcasm aside, Spark provides an interesting example of how data visualization can extend into nontraditional paths. More power to ’em, I say.



Bolivia’s global information and communications technology rankings: 2012

I’m beginning to realize that, for developing countries like Bolivia, technology (by that I mean information and communications technologies ranging from cellphones and internet access, usage and affordability to the use of social media) is a chicken-and-egg dynamic. For Bolivia, both the egg and the chicken seem out of reach, though there are signs that some things might be improving.

The World Economic Forum and INSEAD recently released the 2012 Global Information Technology Report which scores 142 world economies on their use of information and communications technologies. Below is an infographic that I designed detailing how poorly and how well (mostly the former) Bolivia is using technology to improve the lives of its citizens and to become modestly globally competitive in, as the report puts it, “a hyper connected world.”

Don’t get too depressed, there are some bright spots. If you’re interested, read more about how a newspaper in Argentina is using open data to circumvent its government’s lack of open data transparency. And if you’re really interested, e-mail me.

Loving Cheap Hyzaar Medication Garv twattling, his parrandas apocalyptically. Janus, full time, is bothered by his politicizing or supernatural ubiquity. Jerry The good (rankings out of 12 countries in South America):

  • Bolivia’s political and regulatory environment (as it relates to technology) ranks 7th in South America.
  • Although Bolivia ranks last in business and innovation, it does show a relatively high (3rd) availability of venture capital.
  • Overall, the quality of Bolivia’s math and science education, its educational system overall, and its adult literacy rate all rank 7, 7 and 8, respectively.
  • And, though Bolivia’s individual usage of technologies ranked last (12th), its citizen participation measure ranks a promising 6.
  • Additionally, Bolivia’s capacity for innovation rank (5) is highly encouraging, despite another last place ranking for business usage of information and communications technologies overall.

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  • One of the most clear challenges for Bolivia is to increase the affordability, availability and reliability of its Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to its citizens and the businesses that operate within its borders.
  • Bolivia ranks last, or close to last, along almost every index. The country’s overall Network Readiness rank is 12.

Bolivia's Technology Rankings 2012

Data Journalism Awards – whodunits in Spain, business in Brazil and bus subsidies in Argentina

Three solid entries from Spain, Brazil and Argentina are among the 58 nominees featured in the first-ever international competition for data journalism, the Data Journalism awards. The awards, announced by the Global Editors Network, will be announced on May 31. In the meantime, keep your eye on these three nominees:

La trama de la SGAE,” from El Mundo’s Spanish designer David Alameda, covers last year’s “Operation Saga,” an undercover investigation of fraudulent financial activities conducted by the president and other members of Spain’s influential Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE). This piece boils down the complex network of who gave money to whom, how much and when into one of the best examples of interactive flowcharts that I’ve seen. As with the best data visualizations, this interactive avoids the many common mis-steps that could have occurred through the overuse of photos, text, talking heads, etc. Instead, Alameda keeps his focus–and ours–on a tightly scripted interactive that guides the user quickly and efficiently through the web of financial whodunits.

La trama de la SGAE interactive

2011 Brazil State-Level Business Environment Ranking ranks the country’s business environment along eight categories (ranging from the political climate to innovation) and a series of indicators specific to each category. The interface is clean and simple to understand. Navigation, categories and indicators are well-prioritized and intuitive. One of my favorite features is the linked rollover behaviour between all four elements on the screen: a regional map, a deeper state-specific map, a regional bar graph and an overall scoring graph. A lot of information packed into a clean, well-designed interactive.

Brazil State-level business environment ranking

Lastly, Argentina’s La Nación is doing great stuff with open data. By my calculations, given that the country ranks sixth of 12 South American countries (and 92nd out of 142 economies globally, according to the recent Global Information and Technology Report’s Networked Readiness Index), this is a telling example of how Argentina’s relatively advanced use of information and communication technologies seem to be paying off, even if its government doesn’t always play along.

La Nación’s Subsidies for the Bus Transportation System is not so much a data visualization as a series of efforts to use open data to report on how bus subsidies in Argentina are being conducted. Dig a little and you’ll find a few good infographicsinvestigative pieces that detail a government’s efforts to be less than transparent about dollar figures, and an encouraging collaboration between the newspaper and Junar’s open data platform to create a Tableau dashboard that is beginning to circumvent Argentina’s lack of open data infrastructure. Interestingly, the newspaper compares its early efforts to the U.S.’s Freedom of Information Act laws and the American government’s platform. The dashboard presents a snapshot of indicators key to Argentina  (ranging from crime and accident rates to political indicators and legislative data). It’s a promising approach that may help other countries (like Bolivia) with similar challenges (see related article on Bolivia’s recent technology rankings).

La Nación open data dashboard



Etymologically speaking: a world interactive map

This interactive world map, created by Spanish data journalist and developer Chiqui Esteban, is fun, beautiful and informative even if etymology is not your bent. I’m going to spend way, way too much time on this map. Roll your cursor over the map to see a customizable, magnified view of each country’s name, and it’s English translation, ranging from Equalizer, to Chief Smith, to Land of the Enjoyers of Beautiful Things. I’ll let you figure out which those are, and ponder the sad irony of good intentions gone wrong, in many instances.

The World in Plain English - Interactive Map


The popes and football, visualized in Portugal

If I get hit by a bus, I’d like to come back reincarnated as a lab rat in the Universidad Porto’s Laboratorio de Infografía (Portugal). I’m pretty sure I know how the Catholic Church feels about reincarnation. But I wonder how they would feel about this interactive that covers 15 popes from 1900 to 2001. I suspect this is pretty old (it’s Flash) but it’s fun and not very complex. The interface is somewhat clunky–the transitions over the word clouds (of which I am not a fan, but for entertainment, they work) could be much smoother. Nonetheless, if you must use these lazy gems (and I have) this is an interesting use of word clouds and rollovers.

Universidad Porto Papas Flash Interactive

While you’re at it, check out this football transfers data visualization, also from Universidad Porto. It ranks the amounts spent on player transfers in European football clubs (as well as the biggest spenders and how Portuguese clubs fare). The first tab shows the European market (roll over the club names to find total spent (shown as millions of Euros) and where (inside the circle). Unfortunately the donut chart format that is meant to compliment the numeric totals is pretty useless. Totals run along the bottom. Second and third tabs show the four largest Portuguese clubs (incoming and outgoing transfers) and the most expensive players, respectively. Don’t forget to click on the second tab’s player origin/destination link (“ver origem e destine dos jug adores”).

Universidad Porto European transfers


Time travel in Argentina: a new take on interactive timelines

Argentina. Alfajores, Maradona, steak and tango? Yes. A burgeoning data visualization community? Yep. In my occasionally quixotic quest to find out what data viz developers are up to in Latin America, I stumbled across Hacks | Hackers – Buenos Aires.

It seems that they’re drumming up some interesting projects, though nothing concrete to date, though I am looking forward to writing more about their progress. That said, Sandra Crucianelli, a recipient of the noted Knight Foundation fellowship, presented some terrific examples of data visualization projects in Latin America.

One worth mentioning is Proyecto Walsh, an interactive timeline/journalistic experiment which recreates Rodolfo Walsh’s 1956-57 expose on the illegal executions of Peron sympathizers, “Operación Masacre” (Operation Massacre) as an interactive timeline. Well, it’s much more than an interactive timeline but, to me, the timeline is a great hook.

The zoom feature on the interactive timeline, which most of us are more used to seeing in spatial relationships on maps (think: zoom to your house or zoom away to view a city) is used temporally (think: zooming in to a minute; zooming out to a month).

Conceived by journalists Alvaro Liuzzi and Vanina Berghella, this project uses this slick timeline feature as effective navigation through various layers of multimedia, ranging from interactive maps using, of course, Google Maps, to a photo gallery using the Google image search function. It’s fairly complex, and tells the story well. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, it’s worth exploring.

Proyecto Walsh

Proyecto Walsh

An interactive visualization for Chile’s Disappeared

On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet began a 17-year dictatorship in Chile that resulted in thousands of politically-related deaths and hundreds of individuals who mysteriously disappeared with no explanation given by the government. These people are known as Chile’s “disappeared.” An interactive map created by ArchivosChile (loosely translated as ArchivesChile) and developer Gabriel Mérida shows how many of these and other politically-motivated, government-sponsored murders occurred between September and December, 1973, the start of Pinochet’s regime. People are still searching

It is particularly poignant that this map, essentially a data visualization mash-up of GoogleMaps and data from Chile’s “Servicio Medico Legal” (Medical Legal Services office) has as one of its core navigation items a query box where one may search by a victim’s name. As in, people are still searching. One may also search by city.

It’s relatively intuitive (given it’s objective, it has to be). One of the most compelling features is the “play” option that allows you to simply sit back and watch the dramatic and unfortunate escalation of deaths within these four short months.

The interactive is surprisingly text-based, but does the job. The silhouette icons that point to each victim are a bit clunky and obscure the actual numbers when you arrive at the default zoom view–something that a smaller visual (an “x,” a dot, a square) could have avoided. But once you zoom in by city block, they become a powerful reminder of why you are, indeed, interacting with this map. Clicking on each victim displays a pop-up which helpfully displays the victim’s name, cause of death, source, medical examiner and other data.

Puzzlingly, the legend is displayed as a dropdown, which takes away from the intuitiveness of the map. But overall, it gets the grim job done.



Doing Minard one better? Reinventing Tufte’s favorite information graphic

To many, Edward Tufte is best known for his dogged and unwavering promotion of Charles Joseph Minard’s Napoleon’s March to Moscow graphic as the perfect form of information visualization. That, and those swanky flyers that he sends out through the mail. Until I attended Tufte’s seminar a few years ago, I was ashamed to admit that I had never given that graphic more than a cursory glance. Once I did, however, it took me five or ten minutes to really understand it. And I was kind of turned off by that. So I’ll add my voice to the growing chorus of those that disagree with Tufte. But I’ll be less articulate. I just didn’t understand it, plain and simple. That’s actually one of reasons that I started this blog. Is there such a thing as the perfect visualization of information?

Of course there isn’t. And anyone who insists otherwise merely has a strong opinion.

So, if you accept that, then there’s the issue of, for each piece that we create, where is the sweet spot between accuracy and getting our message across? That’s a messy answer, in my opinion. I always want to be accurate, but if it’s at the expense of losing my audience, or making them work too hard to understand what I’m attempting to convey, it’s on me, the designer/developer, to take a step back and either try a different approach or rethink whether the project is worth doing.

So, imagine my delight when I found the site of Michael Friendly, a professor of statistics and noted author on data visualization at York University, who would like to do Minard one better. He issued a challenge to data visualization developers:

Can we re-draw it in some modern programming language? What does this tell us about comparative power and simplicity of various programming languages and environments?

The visualizations that are featured in Friendly’s site are fascinating attempts to recreate and re-imagine this graphic by today’s developers. Cool stuff. Granted, there’s myriad other examples online of others trying to do the same thing. But Friendly’s site had, to me, a great range of what’s out there. Too bad many of the examples cited are in printed books and hard to access. But digging through the examples is worth it. Imagine, for example, Napoleon’s march through a 3D cube which visualizes time and distance through various layers. Or as a trippy, post-apocalypic romp through physical space? My favorite is this Flash re-creation of the whole shebang, from the perspective of… everything. This is what people mean when they say “bells and whistles.” I chuckle to think what the very intense Edward Tufte’s assessment would be. Props to Menno-Jan Kraak for a terrific website cataloging all of these examples.

And, if you are really, really, really into the Minard graphic, go here for more, ranging from atlases to games.

Oh, and there’s even a piechart. But I’ll let you find that one yourself. Here’s the fancy original image from Wikipedia.




Clustering via tree mapping: fantastic data visualization

How do you empirically score the importance of a gazillion science journals, and show the results in 10 seconds?

Here is a fantastic example of clustering via tree mapping (using Flare), produced by and Moritz Stefaner, a noted data visualization designer. The interactive  shows how different scientific journals are scored according to a value called an Eigenfactor score–the relative importance of a journal in its field. The score essentially counts the number of citations tracking back to a particular journal and–more importantly–the significance of those citations. The tree map is interactive and the interface intuitive–clicking on a particular cluster shows the path of incoming and outgoing citations (and their relative importance). Wow. I’m in love.

The tree mapping interactive is one of four very cool data visualizations (built using Flare)  that has developed–all of which attempt to show information flow in science. Citation patterns, change over time and information mapping are the others. I’ll write about these in later posts, but suffice it to say that you can spend hours on these.

Eigenfactor clustering via treemapping