[VDS Digest] This Week in Charts | Visual Data Storytelling

This week visual reporting from El Pais, Bloomberg, the NYTimes, Reuters...

Table of Content

  • Chart of the Week: Cleveland dot plot

  • Quote of the Week: Goethe

  • Affective Visualization: Daily Tar Heel, Reuters

  • Global Warming: heat-waves in Spain

  • Maps: birds migration, tropical storms

  • Historical Viz: straight lines Sankey diagram, texture

Chart of the Week

A simple yet effective Cleveland Dot Plot from the NYTimes. Useful to compare categories or evolutions between two dates. Authors here chose to order the data by decreasing width (share 1983-share 2022).

> A Cleveland dot plot (also called dumbbell chart, barbell chart) is a good alternative to stacked bar chart. This plot is an easy way to compare categories in time.

Quote of the Week

Affective Visualization

Daily Tar Heel

Another shooting, and an emotional cover by the Daily Tar Heel.

This technique always creates an impactful effect, for it both overwhelms (text is everywhere) while focusing attention (highlights) to some parts of the image.

See how the same visual technique is used in a very different context:

It's the least to say that these two images have very different purpose. However, both rely on the processing of emotions to address a need.

Notice how in both cases, it's fundamentally about selling things, though in one case you sell anger and sorrow.

Understanding how human cognition processes emotions is fundamental to solve any problem.

Such a principle has been called "affective design" since the 2000s, and it recently gained traction in the visualization research community. An article published this year at IEEEVis indeed explores the design space of such affective visualizations (Affective Visualization Design).

The topic is large and debates in the community around rationality vs emotions have spanned the last decades. However, some potent voices such as Giorgia Lupi with her Data Humanism Manifesto, or authors Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein in the excellent Data Feminism argued for more human, not cold and cruel data.

Let's see how this may apply.

Data Humanism Manifesto, by Giorgia Lupi


I found this chart to be interesting to discuss in this regard:

Undoubtly, this chart is un-emotional. Maybe it's even cold. Would I dare say, cruel?

I am deeply troubled by the phrase "deaths per terawatt hour", though I understand why it exists. Even if it depicts each person with a visual mark (it is a feature of the whole article), the abstract square shapes have a different effect than the original isotypes designed by Otto & Marie Neurath, and Gerd Arntz:

Isotypes from “Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft” (1930)

In a rhetorical way, it is similar to "Era of Active Shooter" by the Washington Post:

This boils down to one of the main debate in the visualization community: rationality vs emotions. In the excellent Data Feminism, authors Catherine D'Ignazio & Lauren F. Klein dedicate an entire chapter on situated knowledge and the myth of rational objectivity.

If there were data visualizations, I would say this one is the sin of rationality.

But sins come in pair, and the one of rationality often has a friend: the sin of objectivity.

Not so much of a sin than editorial choices to be honest.

The anti-nuclear y-axis is reversed, going down, for which traditional values associated are the underworld, the unknown, the darkness.

This choice has a consequence: in 2010, the visual signal (slope) is decreasing while the share is actually increasing. The reader needs to correct their initial understanding. The annotation is actually helpful to alleviate the cognitive burden.

Such choices, nor good or bad but oriented, are indeed the results of a standpoint that has nothing to do with objectivity. Good to remember.

Global Warming

If you live in Europe, you're not estranged to the many heat-waves we've experienced this summer. In France, where I live, a late-August wave took us by surprise ten days ago. In Spain, people have been through as much as four heat waves.

You feel it's happening more and more? It's not just you.

In the three years that we have been in this decade, almost twice as many (586) maximums of 40 degrees or more have been reached than in the entire decade of the eighties.

By plotting every station that recorded an event, the charts gives a sense of the surge thanks to the visual density of red triangles.

Another interesting slicing of the data in the same article:

The groups (= associative) on the x-axis are for months, and the y-axis is the max (red) / min (blue) temperature for the month in the decade.

On this cycle chart, a clear trend is visible: maximum temperatures are getting higher each decade.

> A cycle chart compare small units of time, such as weeks, months, across a multiyear time frame. They are commonly used to display seasonal trends.

Finally, a chart to compare different cities in Spain and how frequently they experience very-hot nights:

In this literal heat-map, each night is represented with a different contrast (white: <20°, light blue <25°C, dark blue >25°C).

These three charts are some among many others. Each of them give you a complementary aspect of the story.


Earthquake Sensors & Russian Bombings

Birds Migration

Tropical Storms

Two storms have been hitting the US: Idalia on the East coast, Hilary on the West.

The Washington Post—Idalia

Tracking path tropical storm


Historical Viz

UK Textile Industry

I very much liked a thorough article by Richard Brath on Arcs vs Beziers Sankey vs Tubemap, in which I found this impressive hand-drawn Sankey diagram:


Texture is a wonderful topic, on which Jacques Bertin was an extensive writer.

Texture in Jacques Bertin Semiology of Graphics

In my opinion, texture has tremendous qualities, such as effectiveness in selection, or being aesthetically original. Design Characterization for Black-and-White Textures in Visualization, published at IEEEVis this year, contains information about the use of textures:

See you next week,


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