Visualization as I see it.

Category Archives: infographic vs. launched recently with a great deal of fanfare.  As the promotional video below explains, was “built to showcase great visualizations” and “is a community for exploring, sharing, creating and promoting great visualizations”. has partnered with several organisations, such as National Geographic, Good Magazine, JESS3 and Column Five Media, who routinely produce high quality infographics and visualizations.  So, at launch had a couple of thousand visualizations in its showcase.  As you’d expect provides all the tools you’d expect of a community web-site; you can comment on, like, share and embed any of the visualizations hosted by

However, is not new.  A similar web-site has been in existence for a year or more:  Many of the visualizations hosted by have also been posted on  Although, has been around longer its collection of visualizations is smaller (about 500 by my reckoning).  You can also rate, embed and share visualizations hosted by  A nice feature of is that its visualizations are made available under a Creative Commons license.

Where is streets ahead of is their recently announced Visualizing Player, which is used to embed visualizations hosted by  It supports HTML5, Java, Flash, PDF, video and image formats, which means that dynamic, interactive visualizations can be deployed using the player.  Currently, offers only static images.  This is perhaps why is dominated by static infographics, whereas hosts a much broader range of visualizations. is planning to offer on-line tools for creating visualizations.  The tools are currently under development but Robert Kosara (who is an advisor to was shown a demo and was suitably impressed.  I’ve signed up to be notified when the tools become available, so watch this space…


US Government Debt Visualizations


The image shown below by has been generating quite a bit of interest.  It shows $15 trillion as a stack of $100 bills; one that dwarfs the Statue of Liberty.  Other than reinforcing the idea that $15 trillion, and by association US public debt, is a staggering amount of money, is it actually useful?  Not particularly in my opinion.  Also the choice of $100 bills seems somewhat arbitrary.  The image is one of a series that starts with a single $100 bill – something familiar to most Americans.  A $1 bill is probably even more familiar and would have produced a far bigger stack; a bar of gold bullion, somewhat smaller.

What Crisis?

Joe Weisenthal was particularly scathing in his critique of the WTFNoWay image.  He contrasted the image with charts (see below) showing that the cost of servicing the debt as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total government spending are at historical lows.  However, interest rates are particularly low as well, important context that is absent from Joe’s charts.  Business Insider have published eight more charts that provide additional insight into the current US debt situation.

Who’s to Blame?

The chart below from Wikipedia gives the impression that debt (as a percentage of GDP) has grown under Democrat control of Congress and stabilised or shrunk under Republican control.

However, if we look at total government debt (rather than as a percentage of GDP) then it appears that much is due to spending by the GW Bush administration (although Congress was under Democrat control from 2007) as shown in the following chart published in the New York Times (via a friend).

Finally, Alan Kohler presented a couple of interesting charts during the finance section of the ABC TV news.  The first is similar to the previous two as it shows the growth of the US debt ceiling under previous administrations; Republicans raised it more often than Democrats.  The last two show the gulf between US government tax receipts and public spending both current and historical.

The Big Picture

All of the visualizations paint a different picture of the debt situation: alamism (WTFNoWay); what crisis? (Joe Weisenthal); blame the Democrats’ (Wikipedia); blame the Republicans (Alan Kohler); blame Bush (NYT).  Whether the designers have intended such bias is difficult to know but the above examples illustrate that in isolation, individual charts provide only limited insight into complex phenomena.

Australian Public Opinion Infographic

The Lowy Institute has just published its 11th annual poll surveying Australian public opinion on a range of foreign policy issues.

A friend pointed me to an infographic summarising some of the poll’s key findings.  It was designed by Ben Spraggon for ABC News Online.

The Feelings Towards Other Countries thermometer is similar to the temperature scale chart presented in the original report.  It’s a natural representation of the answers to the survey question:

Please rate your feelings towards some countries, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favourable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling, and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred: the higher the number the more favourable your feelings are toward that country.  If you have no opinion or have never heard of that country, please say so.

Feelings towards 18 countries were canvassed – I’m left wondering why those particular 18 were selected; the report doesn’t say.  The report also indicates that this question has been asked each year since 2006.  I’d like to have seen this historical data charted but perhaps there is too much flux in the set of countries that comprise each year’s question.

The Dealing With Global Warming and Military Involvement in Afghanistan are excellent examples of how to present this kind of historical data.  The line charts Ben uses are reproductions of similar charts in the Lowy Institute report.  You can clearly see a decline in public concern for the seriousness and urgency of global warming and of tackling it as a matter of priority.  Similarly, public support for Australia’s continued military engagement in Afghanistan continues to fall.

I think similar line charts would have provided a better representation of the Concern About Asylum Seekers data.  Ben has chosen a similar treatment to that given in the report with the exception that in the report the bars are aligned such that positive and negative sentiment can be more easily contrasted.

As the infographic was commissioned for ABC News, I guess Ben focussed on the questions that were newsworthy at the time.  There are many more questions covered by the survey, e.g. opinions on nuclear power, terrorism, ANZUS, WikiLeaks and Indonsia, with accompanying charts that visualize the responses and tables holding the raw data.  It makes for interesting reading.

Infographic Introspection

Infographics cop a lot of flak from the data visualization community for such things as their superficiality and contravention of good design principles.

Several designers have taken such criticism on board and responded to it in the only way they know how … as infographics about infographics.

Phyl Gyford got the ball rolling with the infographic shown below:

Think Brilliant’s Dave Fields, then broke every rule in the book with his Intimate Look at Infographics:

Then Tanner Ringerud donned his tinfoil hat and spilled the dirt on The Truth About Infographics with an Infographic Backlash Infographic.  Apparently, the plethora of infographics flooding the Internet were all part of a grand conspiracy to game Digg!

E Factor Media decided to take the matter a more seriously with their Infographic.

Susannah Bandish explored the numbers behind 2010: the Year of the Infographic.

And most recently, Ivan Cash tried to cram every trick in the infographic playbook into his Infographic of Infographics.

If you come across any other infographics on infographics then please point them out to me.

Looking at the Mobile Patent Mess

The web of lawsuits filed for infringement of mobile technology patents grows more tangled with each passing month.  Several infographics have been published to try to help make sense of precisely who is suing whom.

1. Nick Bilton published the graphic below in the New York Times summarising the situation as it stood in March 2010.  The chart shows the various protagonists involved but some of the links correspond to multiple lawsuits, which isn’t represented by this graphic.

2. This was followed in October 2010 by a chart published in The Guardian.  It’s similar to Nick Bilton’s but distinguishes between lawsuits that are in progress vs. concluded.  The choice of colours is garish and kind of unnecessary as they don’t represent anything.  The layout could also be improved to reduce the number of crossed links.

3. Dave McCandless reworked The Guardian’s infographic to produce the following infographic for his Information is Beautiful blog.  Dave uses company logos which improves recognition of the warring parties, scales them according to their revenues and colours them to represent growing or shrinking incomes.  He also annotates the links with information about the lawsuits and their dollar values.

4. Design Language News tried a circular layout to improve clarity.

5. Florian Mueller focussed on the growing number of patent suits ranged against device-makers using the Android operating system.

6. Most recently Harry McCracken published the following “cheat sheet” in Technologizer.

I think Dave McCandless’ infographic is the best of the bunch as it manages to present the most information about the mobile patent wars.  Harry McCracken’s cheat sheet is a good compact representation of the situation – being a symmetric sparse matrix it could probably be compressed even further.

What’s your opinion?  Please leave a comment below.

If you spot any more such charts then please bring them to my attention.

Visual Catalogue of Kepler’s Exoplanet Discoveries

Kepler Transiting Planet Candidates (Saturated Colours)

Jason Rowe has produced this stunning visual summary of every candidate exoplanet host star discovered using the Kepler space telescope.  Each star’s transiting planet is shown in silhouette – note that some stars have multiple planets.  The stars have been scaled according to their size, and coloured according to how they would appear when viewed by eye from outside Earth’s atmosphere (the colours have been saturated for easy viewing).  The largest star is 6.1 times the size of our Sun, which is shown for reference (with Jupiter) on its own in the second row.

More Radiation Exposure

Following up on my earlier post on Radiation Charts – I’ve discovered two more (via Infosthetics).

1. A Radiation Levels chart translated from Japanese to English by Michael Gakuran

2. An interactive Anual Radiation Dose “chart” (more of a web-form) from the American Nuclear Society that allows you to estimate your annual radiation dosage.  Mine is just over 4 milliSieverts per annum.

Radiation Doses: Choose Your Poison

Much media attention has been focused on the events unfolding at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant.  Radiation levels at the plant and surrounding areas accompany almost every report but what do they actually mean?  Several charts have been published recently to help put things into perspective.

1. Randall Munroe, best known for his xkcd webcomic, published a Radiation Dose Chart.


2. Alexandra, a user at posted her Nuclear Radiation infographic.


3. David McCandless of Information is Beautiful published his Radiation Dosage Chart.

They’re all quite useful, demonstrating the enormous range of measurable radiation levels from that to which we’re exposed in daily life up to the lethal doses.  However, I think Alexandra’s infographic is most useful as it also visualizes dose rate.  This additional dimension does make Alexandra’s chart a little more difficult to comprehend but it’s worth the effort.

What do you think?

If you know of any other radiation dose charts then please let me know.

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