1. Infographics at work

    Posted November 26, 2008 in media, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Last night I watched IOUSA on the BBC iPlayer (unfortunately this was over cable TV – I can’t find it on the web iPlayer). It’s a film made by the former US Comptroller General, David Walker, which attempts to convince the viewer of the seriousness of America’s national debt problem.

    …and it worked on me. The most effective aspect of the film was its use of infographics to convey a sense of historical scale. At its core was a recurring animated graphic showing the national debt from America’s inception through to the end of the George W Bush era in 2008.


    Early on in the film you see the rises in the national debt from $0 in 1835 (the only point in history when it hit zero) up until the start of World War One. After that the graphic has to keep zooming out to fit in the subsequent growth. The Great Depression sees a quite unnerving hike – but as the World War Two period looms into view, it looks like a sheer cliff face. This is a shot of the graphic running up until 1988:

    US national debt through to 1988

    In the Clinton era the debt comes down, but then Bush takes charge in 2000 and things go through the roof, rocketing past WW2’s peak. The final sequence involving this graphic displays a projection for debt growth through to 2040. Baby boomers are set to retire en masse shortly and the effect on Social Security and Medicare spending will not be good. The effect this has on the infographic – the drastic zoom needed to chart the debt up to 2040 – almost gave me a sense of vertigo. It paints a pretty dystopian vision of the future.

    Pie chart

    Even though the film is unlikely to contain any new information for someone with more than an advanced lay knowledge of the current economic situation, I’d strongly recommend watching it. As well as the extremely well designed and animated graphics, it does a remarkably effective job of communicating the seriousness of the situation even to viewers who are already aware of most of the facts.

  2. The 2008 US box office visualised

    Posted August 29, 2008 in visualisation  |  1 Comment so far

    A nice week-by-week visualisation of the US box office takings throughout 2008. It gives you a good sense of how quickly many films drop off the radar, and also of the size of the gap between successful movies and (comparative) flops.


    As you scroll along to the right, for example, you’ll find yourself thinking that Iron Man looks pretty impressive. Then you’ll get to The Dark Knight…

  3. Pubs, epidemiology and geo-mashups

    Posted July 23, 2008 in visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    I recommend reading this blog post from Jeffrey Veen, author of “The Art & Science of Web Design”.

    You may be familiar with Dr John Snow as the man who successfully traced the source of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak. A pub on Broadwick Street in Soho is named after him, and the water-pump that started it all is preserved outside as a monument.

    This post discusses the way the in which Dr Snow helped to ‘sell’ the results of his research, adapting an existing visualisation to create an overlaid map which communicated, in a far more immediate way than raw data or polemic might have done, the central thrust of his argument.

    It’s an interesting and early example of how well-designed data visualisations can quickly convey information which could otherwise be comprehensible only to experts and adepts.