« May 2015 | Main | July 2015 »

Taking care of a German pie chart while enjoying German kuchen

I was enjoying this yummy piece of German cake the other day.


I started flipping through the recent issue of Stern magazine, and came across this German pie chart that probably presents results from a poll. In particular, it draws attention to changes between the current and the prior poll, I think.



When a pie chart is used to handle data with more than three or four categories, we frequently encounter objects with a rainbow of colors, and a jumble of text labels. In this case, the order of the labels in the legend doesn't match the order of the pie sectors. 

In addition, such pie charts almost always fail the self-sufficiency test. All of the data are printed on the chart itself, inviting readers to ignore the visual presentation.

A bumps-style chart works well for this type of data. I tried something different here:


The challenge is to elegantly handle the current data plus the change from the last poll.


Highlights from Milan Expo 2015

You may notice how quiet it is on the blog. That's because I was in Milan last week and spent some memorable time at the EXPO. Here are some highlights as well as tips for those who will be attending.

Over two days, I dropped by 15 or so pavilions and had three meals. Of these, the two most impressive presentations are Vietnam and Austria.

Here is the front of the Vietnam pavilion:


This design is not as elaborate and effusive as some others but it serves its purpose: I was sufficiently attracted to step foot into the building. This is quite an accomplishment, considering that about 140 countries have set up presence along the main route known as the Decumano. In two days, I only saw 10 percent of the exhibitions but I'm really glad I picked Vietnam.

Vietnam basically ignored the theme of the EXPO, which is feeding the planet. Unlike others, I don't think every presentation needs to follow the food theme. It gets boring to see one presentation after another about farming, health and so on. Vietnam decided to offer three concerts a day in which the performers play traditional musical instruments that I haven't encountered before. I was amazed how the stone pieces of this xylophone could be struck to make some very pleasant music:


There were four or five other instruments on display. I stayed for two of them and had to get going. I love the Vietnam presentation because I was entertained and I also learned something new.

On the second day, I came back for some Vietnamese food, which is served at the back of the stage. Go for the summer rolls. If you are into fried foods, the spring rolls and the fried shrimp look like safe bets. The rest of the food didn't appeal to me.


The next surprise was Austria. The exterior of Austria's building wasn't that remarkable so it was more of a random choice, perhaps driven by the lack of lines. You may notice a pattern here: I had the best time at the pavilions that are less popular. The most popular ones seem disappointing, and many of them have hour-long waits, even during the day on weekdays, that I did not partake.

The designer of the Austrian presentation noticed the word EAT embedded in BREATHE. They went with a theme about air. They proclaimed that you can live five days without food but only five minutes without air (I don't recall the exact numbers they used but you get the idea). The cynic in me said: nice way to change the subject from food to air! That said, I appreciate that some sites did not find it necessary to follow the theme literally.


They created a world of its own. You are led through a "forest" at the end of which they cool you down with some dry ice. This is a very refreshing experience both mentally and physically. The summer in Milan is hot so you need to cool down once in a while.

In the middle of the route is a small snacks area where they serve traditional Austrian food. My friend and I had some meatballs with deer meat, which is served with some caramelized apple cubes and a creamy celery paste. Those items really did go well together. The apple strudel looked amazing but was a bit overpriced (5 or 6 Euros for a thin slice). If you go to the Austria pavilion, I highly recommend picking up a snack or two.


The organizers must be commended for their simple and effective site design. The entire EXPO is laid out along one long main route called the Decumano. It is supremely easy to navigate. It is simply not possible to get lost. It's approximately a 30-minute fast-paced walk end to end.

Also, the entire route is sheltered. I can't emphasize how important this is to keep out the sun (and if you are so unlucky, the rain).


Some of the other pavilions that left a good impression:

Pavilion Zero: This is the first building you are supposed to visit before going on the Decumano. A very effective opening statement made by the organizers. Also, some of the rooms showcase great projection technology. Getting out of this building is a bit confusing because you are deposited to the side of the main route, and later I discovered that we had also bypassed the booth where they handed out maps. Just find your way to the main route.

Russia: This is another highlight. They have a quality site. Probably more brainy than some of the others. They serve free Russian sodas, and people were lining up for some free caviar. I would stick to the first floor if you are running out of time. The terrace only holds six people at a time, and there is barely any view.


Belgium: Outside the pavilion, they are serving (standard) Belgian beers and food. A nice sitting area. Inside, they have a chocolate maker but only during certain hours of the day. I'm sad I missed it both days.

Holland: They created a mini theme park with little food trucks serving pancakes, and other goodies. I had a fresh fruit popsicle which looked better on the poster than it tasted. I heard this area gets crowded and fun in the evening. Unlike other countries that showcased "starchitecture," Holland has no real structure and a very brief exhibit.


Some of my disappointments:

South Korea: This was one of the most highly-rated sites of the EXPO, along with Japan and Kazakhstan. The other two have hour-long waits, plus they have a staged presentation that takes 45 minutes or so, thus I decided to skip them. Korea is said to have an amazing technological display. I saw a computer-programmed music and lights show. It is only a 20 minute experience which flows nicely so I still recommend it. The disappointment came from too high expectations.


Brazil: Probably our biggest mistake. This pavilion is situated almost near the entrance and has a line always. It looked like a lot of fun.They hung up a massive trampoline and people were walking all over it, elevated. Warning: if you are wearing nice shoes, don't get on it. It turns out that you are walking on a grid of thick ropes with netting underneath it. It was very uncomfortable. They also warn you not to jump. You need hard thick soles and big feet. I don't recommend it.


Qatar: This one also got good reviews. I found a lull in the line and waited only 10 minutes or so. They obviously invested in the pavilion. The highlight of the structure is a Guggenheim-style swirling "staircase" to get back to the ground level, with a a movie showing in the middle. You would have to stand there for 10 minutes to figure out what the movie is saying. Not bad but does not merit the hype.

UK: We were lucky to strike up conversation with an attendant who explained the high-minded concept on display here. They have hung a massive metal structure, that was supposed to look like a beehive. According to the attendant, the structure is connected to a real beehive in Nottingham. Lights would switch on and off in Milan based on what the bees are doing back home. Something like that. Sounds interesting from a technological perspective but they didn't do a good job making it real for the person on the street. Their inspiration is that Britain is "a hive of imagination." My friend was asking me if the UK is famous for its bees or honey. I wasn't sure.



I have decided to split the post into two. Will also add more pavilion reviews, food reviews, tips, and photos later.

If you are wavering about going to the EXPO, I'd say go!  Enjoy yourself and think of this as the world opening up to you. Some adhere to the theme of feeding the world while others don't. But most of something interesting to say.

[6/24/2015: Added more photos]

Mosquito, shoebox, and an ingenious apartment design

First, I saw Alberto tweet his design for the Wall Street Journal (below is the English version):


The yellow space is the size of the smallest "livable" apartment in Hong Kong, known as the "mosquito" apartment. Livability is defined by the real estate developers.

If you've lived in a tropical area like Hong Kong, you'll understand the obsession with mosquitoes. The itching for days! The sneaky little things that suck your blood!

In Manhattan, it seems like we prefer saying the shoebox apartment. By comparison, it's not that scary. It's larger in size too.

The graphic is fantastic as it offers various comparisons of everyday spaces, like a NYC parking space and a basketball court, for which many Americans have some sense of their proportion.


This chart leads me down an unexpected path. I found a set of very powerful photos, commissioned by a humanitarian association in Hong Kong. Overwhelming. Here's one:


Yes, that is the entire living space for this family. All of forty square feet.

This article describes the project, as well as links to a number of other equally astounding photos.

These photos are unfair competition for any graphic designer.


Finally, I came across an inspiring, ingenious design. Gary Chang, who is an architect in Hong Kong, created his own apartment (344 square feet, almost 10 times larger than that in the photo, and twice as large as the mosquito apartment) in this amazing, space-saving design.

Through a series of movable walls, and beds, his apartment can be configured in 24 different ways. This is a small multiples layout!


Here is an article about his achievement, together with a video tour of his home. Not to be missed. It defines making something out of nothing.

Here is a little graphic describing certain transformations:


Here is a different video on Vimeo. And another.

Summer dataviz workshop to start July 1

Registration is open for my dataviz workshop at NYU. (link)

This is a workshop in the sense of a creative writing workshop. Your "writing" are sketches of data visualization based on your selected datasets. In class, we critique all of the work and produce revisions. You will learn to appreciate good dataviz, to offer constructive and insightful commentary on visualization, and be discriminating in receiving feedback.

Last term, half the class worked on datasets that are related to their jobs. The data sources were diverse, ranging from scholarly citation data, World Bank data, commercial sales and market share data, mountaineering accidents data, standardized testing item data, speeches by death row inmates, juvenile convicts, etc.

Students pick their own tools. They used Excel, Powerpoint, Tableau, d3, etc.

Here is a past syllabus.

The course runs from July 1 to Aug 5. Register here.

Forty-eight Hillarys in some order

Boston Globe has an eye-catching full-page poster about Hillary's current endorsements among 115 important New Hampshire people. (link) This is an excerpt of the poster:


Each of the 115 people are represented by a circle, with their names, titles and reasons for importance written below. The circles are colored according to the following legend:


I like the concept behind the chart, identifying the important endorsements and tabulating their current positions.

A tiny addition to the legend would much improve the readability of the whole poster:


I also wonder how the people are ordered on the chart. They are certainly not alphabetical. Is it geographical? By presumed influence? It's not clear.

Explaining the order will improve our comprehension. Let's assume the circles are ordered with the most influential people at the top. This knowledge immediately alters our perception of the chart. We now can see that Hillary has done well pretty evenly across the spectrum while O'Malley's two endorsement are in the bottom half of the ledger.

If this is indeed the ordering criterion, all the chart needs is an annotation to let readers know.


How to tell if your graphic is underpowered?

Some time ago, this chart showed up in a NYT Magazine (it's about sex):


In this composition, the visual element (the circles) has no utility. A self-sufficiency test makes this point clear.

All the data (four numbers) are printed on the original graphic. When removed, the reader loses all ability to understand the data.



Redo_nytm_circles_1Even when the first number is revealed, it is impossible to know the values of the others.

If one knows the second (and largest) pink circle represents 58 percent, it is still impossible to guess that the adjacent circle is 40 percent.

Even both those numbers are provided, it is still impossible to infer the rest without a calculation.

In order to understand this graphic, readers must look at the data labels.




I made a couple of other versions for comparison.

The first uses the pie chart, which is almost readable without the data labels. 


The second uses the bar chart, which requires only an axis.