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

From The Pudding, The New-York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN...

Golden Buzzer: The Invisible Pandemic

The Invisible Epidemic, by Alvin Chang for The Pudding, is this week most talked-about piece of visual journalism. Exploring data from the American Time Use Survey, Chang skillfully explores how the USA is being shaped by loneliness, and what it means to mental health.

It would be hard to talk about such topics with only dots, squares or lines, right?

The main visual metaphor for the article is an interactive grid of 60 individuals and their day schedule. Highlighted in orange is the time spent with other people—friends, family, lovers—as the day goes by.

Each activity is illustrated with a specific animation:

The story is alternating between the particular and the general, between people's schedule and general analyses.

Chang does not fall in the aggregation trap. Each individual is represented and their schedule displayed, minute by minute.

This is a wealth of data. This could have been cluttered. This could have feel impersonal. But it’s an intimate and informational piece. Very nice work and an instant favorite of mine.

Happier people spend less time alone


This story makes a heavy use of silhouettes thumbnails to personify the individuals of the story. Such a technique comes from a long tradition since the isotypes of Otto & Marie Neurath, illustrated by Gerd Arntz:

Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft (1930)

For example, a one-dimension example published recently in the Wall Street Journal:

Or the opening illustration for a mass shooting story last week in CNN:

Although this illustration is much more anecdotal, it's reminiscent of The New-York Times at the height of the pandemic (May 2020) (can you believe it’s been three years?):

For designers, empathy is the Holy Grail. It creates deeper connections, and as such is much more able to elicit a concrete reaction. The design space of "anthropographics" has been explored by Luiz Morais et al.:

In / Out?

Boundaries are one the most fundamental concept in visualization.

In "The Invisible Epidemic", Chang uses a sort of planetary model, with our relatives gravitating around us—the closest ones at the center:

Whenever a story has a clear protagonist, a circular layout may be suited for it has a meaningful "center", and it's been so since the oldest known map where Babylonia is at the center of the Universe:

Babylonian clay tablet world map, 600 B.C.

For example, this story by The New-York Times a few months ago is entirely based on a circular metaphor to explore the war allies of Ukraine and Russia:

A rather metaphorical boundary between war allies: The West Tried to Isolate Russia. It Didn’t Work. (feb 2023)

Do you notice anything particular with the semantics of the colors used in this article?

Or this week, a research paper on the crossing of six out of the nine planetary boundaries:

Images from Azote for Stockholm Resilience Centre, based on analysis in Richardson et al. 2023

Circular models are better used when something can be considered to be at the center: you, Ukraine, the Earth... Otherwise, you can use the simplest shape to draw a boundary between a country and the sea, two countries, or geological: the line.

Earthquake intensity in Morocco (Le Monde)





USA Facts (seen on X (ex-Twitter))

❓ I'm asking YOU!

What would you rather read around here:

  • A coherent article organized around a single idea, using today’s and yesterday’s press as illustrations?

  • Or a charts potpourri, with many examples but no clear connection between them?

I'd love to hear your opinions on that, as I may be trying a few things in the future. Let me know!

See you next week,

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

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