Information for a Visual Age

Animated graphs, part I

In Infographics on November 13, 2008 at 4:07 pm

This is the first in a three part series

I happened across this video on the TED.com network. In it, professor Hans Rosling demonstrates a number of good practices in conveying information to an audience in an understandable and innovative fashion.

It’s also quite enjoyable to watch him really interact with his data. The whole video is viewable here. It’s about 20 minutes long but quite worth it. What follows are a series of screenshots that explain some of the highlights of his techniques for information display.

1. This screen shows child survival as a function of GDP per capita. In other words, it answers the question: is there a link between how much money you make and health? The answer, viewable inthe graph below, is a clear yes, indicated by the linear progression of countries up the right hand side of the graph.

This is a clear graph, showing a lot of data in an organized fashion: mortality rates, GDP per capita and country population (the size of the bubble) are all visible. Notice all this data is for one year, 1962.

2. What makes this simulation great, however, is that it progresses from 1962 all the way to the present. It is particularly in the video. Here I show the end state at around year 2000, which shows that many countries have progressed up the wealth and health ladders. (There are also more countries in existence!)

3. Now for a separate graph. This one shows the relationship between life expectancy and fertility rates. Like the graph above, this one shows an amazing amount of data. He does not sacrifice accuracy in the name of trying to make his presentation understandable to the layperson. Instead, he has used good design and a judicious amount of explanation to make the data speak for itself.

Looking at the data, then, compare the situation in the graph from 1977…

4. … with the amazing change in 1999. Prof. Rosling gets very excited at this point, calling it “a completely different world” from 1977. He’s right: nearly every major country has increased it’s life expectancy and decreased it’s fertility rates.

5. Look at how involved Rosling is in his data! He’s interacting with the data, not merely talking about it. By displaying it in easy-to-understand terms, he is able to draw in his audience to interact with the data and think for themselves.

Conclusions?

  • Animated graphs can help show data over multiple time periods — it makes intuitive sense for events that unfold in time to be animated.
  • Do not sacrifice data accuracy or quality in order to make analysis understandable — no matter if you are talking to experts or laypeople. Do not dumb down; instead, lift all up to a higher intellectual level by using smart design. Treat people as smart, and they will be smart.

Join me next week for: Animated graphs, part II

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