Over time I’ve come to value the power of repetition. It works in speeches – for example, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech began eight successive sentences with the words which became the title for the speech. It works in poetry – Edgar Allen Poe’s famous “The Bells” repeats the word “bells” 62 times, causing the timbre of the poem to sound somewhat like the tolling of bells. I think it helps with memory … I remember the whole of rhymes such as “There was an old woman” and “For want of a nail, a horse was lost” mainly because of the repetition. It’s not surprising to me at all then that repetition also works in data visualisation, for emphasis, for ease of memory, for clarity of message.
The power of wee things
This month I watched an interesting presentation on the ways in which small things can be used in data visualisation, often capitalising on the “smallness” to allow for repetition. Lena Groeger, the speaker, refers regularly to the children’s game “Where’s Wally?” where repetition creates obscurity by hiding Wally’s red stripes amongst lots of other red stripes.
She also demonstrates how red stripes are obviously striking if they are the only red stripes in a repeated picture – the eye being naturally drawn to the difference.
Labour force participation
The proportion of males and females working in 177 countries in a choice of 12 years is shown very nicely with a repeated set of charts which can be ordered according to gender gap or increasing / decreasing proportions for either gender. These charts are incredibly rich and (for me) fascinating in the variety of questions that can be answered.
As of 2013, Afghanistan had the largest gap between the proportion of males and females in the working population and Togo had the smallest. Of the two, the change over time in Togo is more interesting. By this measure, the UK is more than a third of the way down the list at #63. By proportion of males in work, we are well into the bottom half of the list at #132 and by proportion of females closer to the top at #73.
Features of the US
My next selection is a set of maps of America, all showing different features with simple highlights. You can buy these as prints and I can see why someone would. It’s data made beautiful.
This example shows the rivers and lakes in the US, so you can see the desert across the mid-west.
Towards the bottom of this web-page there is a selection of charts which summarise the tree-map at the top. These show how, over time, the proportion of consumer spending has changed (or not changed) over the past 30 years.
The interactive tree-maps are, for me at least, a data visualisation with lots of scope for exploration and I like how they are summarised with small multiples at the end.
Legalisation of gay marriage
And finally, another set of small maps, this time showing the progressive legalisation of gay marriage across the United States. I like how each state is given equal weighting within the gridded map format and how the small map sequence makes the speed of change immediately obvious.