Information for a Visual Age

Animated graphs, part III

In Infographics on November 26, 2008 at 2:15 pm

This is a continuation of Animated graphs, part II

I’ve talked the last two weeks about a series of animated, interactive graphics used by Hans Rosling to illustrate the differences, and surprising similarities, between the global “haves” and “have nots.” The first week, I showed how a little animation can make great graphs. The second week, I analyzed Rosling’s progression from simple graphs — which give the audience a framework for understanding — to complex, nuanced analysis of reality. Rosling uses animation to build upon his previous graphs for a seamless interaction with the audience

In this final installment, I look at just the following slide, in which Rosling shows not only the child survival rate and GDP per capita for each of 200 countries in the world, but he also displays data by quintiles for five African countries.

The three countries displayed are, from the top, South Africa, Uganda and Niger.

What I like best about this slide is that it builds upon the sequence Rosling has already established. It goes one step further by introducing the spread of data. As Rosling says in the video, “averages can be deceiving.” By introducing this extra layer of data, we are able to deduce many things:

  • Although on average South Africa is a “rich” country, the poorest there are still poorer than the very richest in Niger and Uganda.
  • However, the poorest 20% in South Africa, who make about the same as the richest 20% in Uganda, have the same child survival rate. This is amazing news: somehow, the whole country has better health care, even for those who are not as rich.
  • Even more amazing is the dramatic difference in health (child survival) between those in Niger and South Africa who earn about the same amount of money (the richest in Niger vs. the poorest in South Africa). The survival rate is nearly 10 percentage points higher in South Africa. Again, South Africa and to a lesser extent, Uganda, offer better health care no matter the income.
  • In Niger, notice the slight uptick in child survival rates for the very poorest 20%. Perhaps these very poorest receive attention from international organizations, but they somehow show a survival rate almost equal to the very richest in their country.

And we could infer all of that simply by adding a few lines overlaid on the graph! The conclusion, then, is to not be afraid of adding data. By introducing it slowly, building it up one layer at a time, Rosling is able to inform the audience of some very complex data. he does not sacrifice data accuracy or readability. As a result, he gains a reputation reliable, credible source of information and analysis.


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