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

From Al-Jazeera, Les Echos, The New-York Times, Le Monde...

This week, in a remarkable consistency of my yet-to-be-acquired knowledge, I ran twice on an unfamiliar name: Ramon Llull.

Llull was a polymath philosopher of the Middle-Ages. The first time I read his name was in Johanna Drucker “Visualization and Interpretation”, her history of visual epistemology. In “Ars Magna”, Llull was one of the first to externalize human knowledge and processing in a visual way:

Volvelles from Ars Magna (Ramon Llull, 1305)

Using circular and rotating pieces of papers, Llull conceived of a generative device to come up with “Proofs of God”. In the end, Llull’s early prototype of an “artificial computer” is the first attempt at a universal language, which would be a major influence on Leibniz and his Dissertatio de arte combinatoria (1690):

Frontispiece “Dissertatio de arte combinatoria” (1690)

Second time Ramon Llull popped up last week was in the Book of Trees, by Manuel Lima:

Arbor Scientiae (Ramon Llull, 1296)

This Tree of Science of actually the table of content of Llull’s Ars Magna, his encyclopedic compilation of knowledge. It has 16 parts, each representing a different aspect of reality, from the elemental to the divine. Each part is also divided into seven levels, from the roots to the fruit.

We often think of Playfair or Nightingale as the earliest pioneers in visualization there can be, but we shouldn’t overlook the initial thinkers of visual representations such as Ramon Llull. This tree representation has spread as a very popular image, and we still talk about “the branches of science”.

Last Week Followup

This week in The New-York Times was this chart on football programs:

It may be the time of the year where lines meet with unparalleled success, such as in this Reuters article on anti-trans laws, which I talked about a few weeks ago:

I had been concerned with reproducing such lines in what appear to be a very general concept of sets and categories, such as in this example on natural integers:

These charts have a number of interesting properties I’d like to explore: they organize information spatially, you can read the length of each categories with the width of the groups formed by the converging lines, the color gradients allow easy comparisons between groups… It’s quite elegant and effective.

A followup on another matter. This week, still in the New-York Times, Nadja Popovitch explanained how electrification became a major tool for fighting climate change:

This is a clever use of a Voronoi diagram to show complex hierarchies and grouping. It’s not the first time I’m impressed by The New-York Times use of Voronoi diagrams though:

The world of energy visualization may be small, for Nadja was credited with the design that inspired Harry Stevens (the Washington Post). This is the chart I’m referring to:

And this is the original inspiration by Popovitch:

This Week in Charts

Al-Jazeera

Six years after the massive exodus of the Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh, Al-Jazeera explores life conditions in the world’s biggest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar:

Where is this data coming from? Behind these “small” charts hide a breadth of data: aerial photo, map contours and coordinates, population census… Who deals with all of that??

If you’re interested to know more on where the data is coming from, I wrote a thorough deep-dive in my French newsletter on Linkedin. The goal was to produce the following charts to get a better grip of the matter (unpolished, but it was more a matter of the sources of the data than produce a final version of a visual):

Area (m2) / person in each camp of Cox’s Bazar

Another Al-Jazeera interesting chart was a streamgraph of nuclear tests:

Les Echos

Tom Février at Les Echos produced a marvelous comparison of Zach Snyder’s Justice League director’s cut with the original version:

There are many widgets for visual comparison, such as this slider (⬆️), a timeline of the dominant colors, or the comparison scene by scene:

Nice work of an impassioned individual!

McKinsey

A cycle chart on math scores in the US, by race:

I do wonder why they didn’t use a slope chart?

SCMP

Le Monde

They’ve already published it and I already mentioned it, but I do find this map about forest fires in Europe quite fascinating:

Burned acres in 2023 compared to the 2006-2022 average

See you next week,

Mathieu

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