OpenText Data Digest Dec 4: Data Is Beautiful

This week we look at the 2015 winners of the “Information Is Beautiful” Awards, including Red vs Blue politics, a World of languages, and Working for a living.

The end of the year is approaching, which means that for many of us, it’s time to take stock: “Biggest News Stories of 2015,” “10 Beloved Celebrities We Lost This Year,” and the like. In our line of work—analytics—it’s a good opportunity to survey some of the best data visualization examples of the past 12 months.

So this week we’re sharing with you some of the 2015 winners of the Kantar Information Is Beautiful Awards, an annual contest organized by independent data journalist David McCandless (@infobeautiful), author of “Knowledge Is Beautiful” and “Information is Beautiful.”

Winners were selected by a public vote from among an impressive long list of candidates. Their topics ranged from weather to politics to the growth of an unborn baby during pregnancy. Find yourself a comfortable seat and settle in for browsing—you’ll find a lot of great things to look at. Enjoy!

Red vs Blue:

red v blue

If you live in the United States and feel, judging by the tone of political coverage, that politics has gotten more ruthlessly partisan in recent years, you’re not wrong.  When political scientists crunched the numbers on the voting behavior of U.S. Representatives since the end of World War II, they found that across-the-aisle cooperation between members of different parties has dropped steadily in the last 40 years.

The reasons for this increasing polarization are complex—Congressional districts designed to favor one party or the other, an increasingly mobile population more likely to elect candidates by party rather than their stance on purely local issues, big money, politicians flying home on weekends to be with constituents rather than staying in Washington, D.C. to build relationships, and more.

The authors of the underlying paper documented their findings in a table of statistics. That’s fine, but what really sells this story is the visualization drawn up by Mauro Martino, an Italian designer who leads the Cognitive Visualization Lab for IBM’s Watson group. His network diagrams show how, year by year, the blue dots representing Democrats and the red ones for Republicans pull further apart. The images are hauntingly beautiful – they could be galaxies colliding or cells dividing. Yet they are telling a story of increasing division, bitterness, and gridlock.

Hello world/ Bonjour, le monde! / Nǐ hǎo, shìjiè!


Silver medalist in the Information is Beautiful Awards’ data visualization category is “A World of Languages” by Alberto Lucas López (@aLucasLopez), graphics director at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

López’s diagram ingeniously carves up a circle representing the Earth into sectors for each of the major languages, and within them the countries where each language is spoken. He supplements his eye-catching image with smaller charts showing language distributions by country (curiously, Papua New Guinea is far ahead of the rest, with 839 separate languages spoken) and the most popular languages to learn. (No surprise to anybody that English far outstrips the rest, with 1.5 billion people learning it – nor that Chinese and two former colonial languages still spoken in many countries, French and Spanish, are next.  But it says something about cultural influence, from Goethe to manga, that German, Italian, and Japanese are the runners-up.)

Working for a Living:

job data tracker

Job recruiters and economists are keenly aware of rises and falls in national unemployment rates and which industries or sectors are growing, but most businesses can derive value of this information too. The Wall Street Journal team of graphics editor Renee Lightner (@lightnerrenee) and data journalist Andrew Van Dam (@andrewvandam) created an interactive dashboard of unemployment and job gain/loss statistics in the U.S. that conveys an amazing amount of data from the past 10 years (and going back to 1950 in some views).

This job data tracker only tied for a bronze medal in the category of Interactive Data Visualization – which says something about the level of competition in this field.

Because of the tracker’s thoughtful design, it can answer a wide range of questions.  How about: What sectors of the economy have shown the most sustained growth? Health care and social services, followed by professional services and then restaurants—probably a sign that the economic recovery means people have more to spend on a dinner out. Most sustained losses? Manufacturing, government, and construction—even though construction also shows up on the dot-matrix chart as having frequent peaks as well. (Construction jobs went up .83% in Feb. 2006—something we now recognize as a symptom of the housing bubble.) Meanwhile, “Unemployment rate, overall” vividly charts the recessions of the past 60 years in a colorful mosaic that could easily be featured in an upscale décor magazine.

This is just a small sampling of the ingenious ways some of our best thinkers and designers have come up with to analyze and display data patterns. We share our favorites every Friday here. If you have a favorite you’d like to share, please comment below.