Just returned home from Malofiej. What a week it has been! I’ll write a more detailed report (in Finnish) next week, but here are some quick thoughts on the event.
First of all: if you mostly work with information graphics, visualization, data journalism etc., you should go to Malofiej, even if you have no works you’d want to enter to the competition. The competition is only a part of it, albeit probably the most famous part. I personally didn’t enter any projects and quite a few other people I talked with were there likewise only, or at least mainly, because of the conference part. Of course the competition is important and the winners are well worth checking out, but for me the presentations by the judges and the networking opportunities were far more important.
(There’s actually a third part besides the conference and the competition: the Show, Don’t Tell! workshop. It is a masterclass type of three-day workshop for infographics professionals to perfect their skills under the guidance of the world’s top experts. I’d really want to take part in the workshop in the future, but this year I simply couldn’t find the time to do so and thus can’t say much about it. Seems it was a success, which is hardly surprising given the caliber of the teachers.)
All in all it was both a very intensive and a very rewarding experience. At first I was somewhat starstruck to be hanging around with all these people whose work I really admire and whose Twitter feeds and blogs I read for inspiration, but practically everybody I talked with seemed to be very down-to-earth and willing to politely listen to the at times incoherent ramblings of yours truly. I made many new friends and was really fascinated to hear informal behind the scenes stories of the daily grind at world class news organizations’ graphics desks. The sheer amount of all the informal goings-on around the main programme combined with some logistic problems (I ended up spending 21 h travelling from Helsinki to Pamplona due to a cancelled connecting flight) meant that I only catched maybe 15 h of sleep between early Tuesday morning when I left home and Saturday evening when I’m writing this post. Add to that the considerable amount of boozing involved, and my hot tip for next year is to rest well before coming to Malofiej and reserve some time after it for recuperation.
As for the conference programme itself, I must really congratulate the organizers for getting together such an interestingly diverse set of judges/speakers. All the presentations were interesting and the best ones were fantastic. Some themes spanning several presentations included the importance of sketching, programming vs. hand-crafting and different narrative formats (linear vs. nonlinear, the role of annotation etc.). More of these in a later post. The works shown were really interesting and showed a wide variety of themes and techniques, which was also great.
To list a few negative things I have to mention keeping schedules and translation. Some of the speakers kept within their alotted time very well, but some were more liberal in their use of time which is a bit unfair towards the other speakers. Basically all the talks were so interesting that they could have filled a longer time slot, but time is a limited resource so if one speaker goes overtime, someone else often needs to cut their presentation shorter. Not nice!
All the talks were either in English or in Spanish (except for one which was half in Spanish and half in Portuguese) and interpreted into the other language. The basic setup with wireless headphones worked reasonably well, but the translators had a hard time at least when translating to English. The impression I got was that something was lost in translation with all the non-English-language presentations. I think a part of the problem may be that the translators (I think there were two) were Spanish native speakers. It probably would work better if Spanish was translated to English by a native speaker and vice versa. At least that’s how they usually do it in organizations like the EU.
I’ll write later more about the actual awards, but to quickly summarize I think all the gold medal winners certainly earned their prize. I’m slightly disappointed that NYTimes’ 512 Paths to White House didn’t win the Best in Show, but at least it got gold and the NYTimes’ sports piece about hurdles is very well worth the prize, too. Awarding the “best online map” to ProPublica’s StateFace font was an interesting move and certain to create a bit of controversy. The first ever medal (bronze) for a Finnish media was awarded to Hannu Kyyriäinen’s map of shrinking Palestine in Suomen Kuvalehti. Finland even beated our eternal arch-rival the Swedish who this time got no medals. (Personally I think SvD’s graphics should have deserved some, but let’s not go there…)
To sum up, I really enjoyed myself, learned a lot and made new friends and professional contacts. Easily worth the money and time spent. I’m definitely going next year (the dates for 2014 were already announced: 23rd to 28th March) and highly recommend everyone to do similarly!
PS. A minor, but to me an imporant point: Being a “pesco-vegetarian” I did occasionally find it a bit challenging to feed my self in Pamplona. Although many a restaurant offered had a great selection of fish and seafood, many seem to put ham in an amazing variety of dishes, including seemingly vegetarian ones. I hear the local ham is really good, but if you’re a vegetarian – or muslim – I’d be careful. And it would be nice if there was a meatless option for the awards dinner next year. ;)
FAIR has an entertaining piece critizising AP’s treatment of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. While I have some serious misgivings about the tendency of some left-leaning writers to skate over the awful human rights record of the Chavéz regime just because he was seen as a counterweight to the United States’ economic and foreign policy, it is certainly true that spending oil revenues on social programs instead of skyskrapers or museums is a sensible choice for a country like Venezuela. However, I take issue with the use of graphics in the FAIR article.
Accompanying the story is a graphic comparing the number of people living in poverty (defined here as a daily income of less than $ 2 at purchasing power parity) in Venezuela and Brazil:
Why is the vertical scale truncated at 10 %? And more importantly, why does the x-axis start at 2003? President Chávez took office in 1999 so wouldn’t that be a more relevant starting point? (I know the short answer to these questions that the graphic is a screenshot from World Bank’s website, but I still think it’s sloppy journalism to cut corners like this when it would have taken 5 minutes to download the relevant data and do the graphic in Excel.)
I downloaded the same World Bank data and did the graphic below, starting from 1998, a year before Chávez took office. I also added the data for Colombia and Mexico. I also added the data about U.S. oil price in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars per barrel as an inverted bar chart on the background to give context.
The World Bank data is somehat patchy, but by connecting the data points we have an interesting picture appears. In 1998 Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela had the same share of population living in poverty at roughly 20 %. In Colombia the share was some 7 percentage points higher. In the newest available data Brazil and Venezuela are roughly on par and Colombia is still trailing the two by the same amount as in 1998, whereas Mexico clearly has broken off the pack. Venezuela’s progress seems to be tracking the oil price curve whereas Mexico and Brazil show steadier, if less dramatic progress towards lower poverty rates.
The moral of the story is that it’s often possible to frame the data so that it supports your claim, whether true or not. Stepping back and showing more gives the audience the chance to judge for themselves. In this case it would seem that Venezuela did indeed make significant progress in reducing poverty during Chávez’s reign, but so did other oil exporting Latin American countries. Venezuela no more looks exceptional when showing a more complete set of data.
The answer is probably: no. But that has not stopped me from creating this tongue-in-cheek analysis of the U.S. presidential election for Basso Magazine.
(Click on the picture to enlarge.)
Using a complicated and very unscientific method I calculated how well gigs played by artists touring the U.S. in the three months leading to the election predicted the result of each state. I scraped the concert data from Eventful.com API and cross-referenced that with the state-level election results, taking into account the margin of votes by which each state was won as well as the total number of concerts played in each state.
The index number for each artist was calculated by dividing the margin of win (in absolute votes, positive if for Obama and negative if for Romney) by total number of gigs in each state and awarding this number for all the artists who played a gig in the state. If an artist had more than one gig in a state, the second gig yielded only half of the index points, the third gig one third etc.
To feature on the final graphic the artist had to play gigs in at least ten states or states in which a total of 50 million votes or more were cast. More than one thousand artists qualified even with this limitation, so in the central part of the graphic only a select 70 artists are shown, chosen by their poplularity in Finland where the magazine is published. The final graphic was created in Nodebox and then finalized in Adobe Illustrator.
The artist who best predicted an Obama win was the reggae band Rebelution, whereas a Romney win was best predicted by a gig by the country singer Don Williams. The artist who least predicted win for either was Chris Isaak, probably best known for his 1990s hit ”Wicked Game”. The map below shows the gigs played by these three artists by state in the three months before the election.
(It should be noted that such apparent correlation is not an indication of the political preferences of the artists in question themselves. For example, a gig by Meat Loaf, who is a Romney supporter did not predict a win for Romney, whereas a gig by Weedeater did.)
What did we learn from all this? Probably not much – except I personally did learn quite a bit about data scraping! It was a fun excercise and I hope our readers know a little bit more about U.S. politics than they did before this. And just sayin’, but Nate Silver should maybe keep his eye on Rebelution and Don Williams in 2016! ;)
Pictorial unit charts, like the ones Isotype made famous, is a nice alternative to conventional bar or area diagrams. However, actually making them if you’re working in Illustrator can require a good deal of handiwork and you might easily end up with the wrong amount of little guys when copying and pasting.
Download unitsymbol-copy_selected.js here.When you first start Scriptographer, you will be presented with a dialogue window asking you to choose a folder for your own scripts. Put unitsymbol-copy_selected.js in that folder, so that Scriptographer can find it. Note that this is a very quickly made tool without much finesse, so feel free to improve! Anyhow, here’s how it works:
1. First you select a shape or symbol that you want to multiply (it also works with groups). I find working with Illustrator’s symbols to be very useful, since then it’s easy to change all individual instances of the same symbol at once when you update your unit figure after making a hundred copies.
2.Choose the script in the Scriptographer panel and press the play button to activate it. If you want to have a look at the code, just double-click the name of the script.
3. A dialog called Parameters appears. Here you set the number of columns and copies of the symbol (the value you will visualize). X- and Y-spacing are measured in points from the top-left corner of the symbol, so if you want squares of 10 pt with 2.5 pt spacing between them you input 12.5 in the X- and Y-spacing fields.
Press create and you’ll see copies of your symbol appear in the top-left corner of the paper. If you’re unhappy with the spacing, just Command-Z, change values and press Create again. (I told you it didn’t have much finesse!).
Todos concerning the usability would at least be to have the script account for the size of the symbol and accept different units for the spacing, and maybe it should also to give a choice of where to place the symbols. If one would want to make it really clever one would make it possible to update the parameters of created charts, but I suspect that might require writing a whole new plugin, so that’ll be something for another day.
In the previous post about the course, I shared a few works by our great students at Aalto University. They were all from the first assignment, Improve Wikipedia!
The second assignment was Visualizing Democracy. Every student would pick a facet of the democratic process or a related phenomenon in his or her home country and produce a visualization. The idea was to go for a deep analysis so that the end result wouldn’t be a simple graphic of a party’s membership roster, for instance. We gave the option to make a poster, animation or an interactive visualization. I won’t show all of the works here due to technical limitations, but here are a few examples of what the students came up with.
(click images to enlarge)
India is a huge country and the scale of misappropriated funds is equally massive. Prashant Coakley made this chart showing the ten biggest scandals by monetary value.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman is a very Nordic public office that deals with citizens’ grievances with officials. This visualization by Unto Helo shows how many of these claims led to action being taken.
Finland has an exceptionally long history of women in politics. In this poster by Irmeli Iivonen, female Members of Parliament are color-coded based on party affiliation.
Emilia Ahonen designed this ambitious timeline of the rulers of Finland, reaching back to the earliest (somewhat) reliable figures. It ended up being too wide for a regular poster, but the scope was so impressive that we didn’t mind.
The population pyramid is a well-established way to demonstrate the age structure of a population. Jutta Joutjärvi uses it in her poster to show how the Parliament and its member parties and parliamentary groups differ from the age structure of Finland itself. I had thought of the Social Democrats as a party of old men, but apparently this is not true (at least for MPs).
The problematic relationship between the two Koreas is illustrated in this set of timelines by Jinhee Kim. The period labeled with yellow was marked by the Sunshine Policy, an effort by the Republic of Korea to seek cooperation with the Juche regime.
(click on the image to start visualization)
Antti Vuorela created this interactive display that maps the ebb and flow of Finnish politics from 1945 to 2011. In addition to changes in the number of Parliament seats, it shows how parties move between the government and the opposition. None of the major ones are truly perpetual cabinet parties. Antti is refining this further, so I’ll update this entry when the next version is done.
Some of our readers know that we run an information design course at Aalto University each year. It’s organized by the graphic design department, but enrollment is open to all Aalto students. We typically have a slight majority of graphic designers and a growing number of technology students participating. I think a mixed group such as this is what Aalto’s founding group had in mind. All we need now are a few business students to participate in the next course and we’ll boast one of the most diverse groups in the whole university.
We see lots of interesting student works on the course each year, but apart from outside guests to the review sessions, very few people ever get to see them. Here are some examples that I split into two separate posts according to the assignment.
Jonatan, Juuso and I have been involved in the Finnish open knowledge community, a budding movement to engage citizens and officials in a drive to open government databases and increase the amount of information that’s freely accessible to the public. The Open Data Kitchen is part of it, but we also take part in other ways.
I was recently made president of Wikimedia Suomi, a small local chapter of the organization that promotes Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. One of its goals is to get experts and advanced students to participate in editing Wiki articles. Getting text contributions is usually no problem, but the quality of information graphics is far behind that of the articles themselves. We thought we’d help by giving the students in our course an assignment to design new visualizations or to redesign existing ones. To narrow the scope a little, all the articles they’d work on would be related to economics.
Showing how the Gross Domestic Product and national population figures line up in European countries. Countries that are relatively poor have population stacks that flow over the GDP bar. Work by Karoliina Liimatainen, Aalto University School of Science and Technology.
A diagram by Anssi Kokkonen illustrating the way money is released into the economy.
Sasa Kerkos designed a simplified diagram of the Atlantic slave trade.
The Big Mac Index is a popular and intuitive tool for many things. For one, it gives you an idea if a currency is over- or undervalued. This visualization shows how many burgers you get if you spend a hundred bucks. Work by Antti Vuorela, Aalto University School of Science and Technology. (click to enlarge)
A simplified map of the legendary Silk Road. Work by Jutta Joutjärvi.
An experimental way to visualize the Gini coefficient (a measure of income disparity) and GDP per capita. Work by Vahid Mortezaei.
In Finnish: Suomennamme tämän artikkelin myöhemmin blogia varten, tässä se on englanninkielisenä siinä muodossa kuin se esitettiin aiemmin tänään PICNIC-festivaalilla.
We were asked to do a short (20 min.) presentation about what visualization is and why it matters for Open Data Breakfast at PICNIC Amsterdam. You can download this presentation as a pdf here, annotated with the text of the presentation as comments, or if you prefer, read the full text below.
I’m writing in English this time around. This week we are at PICNIC Amsterdam festival hosting the “Open Data Kitchen” visualization workshop with Forum Virium Helsinki, We Love Open Data and stadi.TV. We will also be giving a thematic introduction to what visualization is and why it matters at the “Open Data Breakfast” session Friday morning at Hangar B. We’ll be posting some of the visualizations and other stuff we make during the week to the blog later on.edit 28.9.2011: See the Open Data Kitchen blog for more.
The Open Data Kitchen is located at the seafront next to the PICNIC Club and the VIP/Press area. Come say hi if you’re around, and maybe ask some questions we can try to find to answers to!