About 5wgraphicsblog

Founder and Creative Director of The 5W Velasco Design Group

The Arctic’s ice age problem

We often see maps showing the diminishing extent of sea ice in the Arctic. The issue has big consequences for global warming as well as geopolitical. Ice free areas in the summer mean the Arctic Circle is being ventured more and more by commercial and private entities (oil tankers, fishermen, maritime traders and even cruise ships). And governments are looking at the possibilities for future oil and gas exploitation.

Although the maps we typically see show a decrease in the overall extent of sea ice, the interesting story appears when we look at the age of that ice. We did the graphic below for the Fall 2018 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. The author spent time with the Norwegian Coast Guard, which is having trouble to respond to the emergency situations associated which the much higher activity in the area. The map shows how old is the ice that doesn’t melt. As the caption says

“… not all ice is created equal. It used to be that ice that had been around for more than five years was much slower to melt. These maps show the decline of ice aged 5 and up in September when ice extent is at its minimum. Older Arctic ice should be thicker and thus less likely to melt during the warm summer months. Younger ice breaks up more easily and allows more heat to escape from the ocean to the atmosphere, leading to higher ocean temperatures during the summer.”

So it’s the dramatic decrease in the extent of the older ice what is alarming, much more than the overall extent which is decreasing but doesn’t change that much from one year to the next. A series of simple and nifty maps unveils what is hidden below the surface.

 

 

Infovis conference and workshops in Mexico City

I’ll be in Mexico City next November 8 and 9 to give a talk and a one-day workshop in the second edition of the Infovis International Summit of Visual Communication. This event started last year with a star roster of speakers (Alberto Cairo, Fernando Baptista, Jaime Serra and Alberto Lucas, among others) and was very well received. It’s a venue to show the methods of some of the most relevant professionals in infographics, data visualization, interactive graphics and information architecture. The event is organized by Juan Carlos Ramírez and supported/hosted by UAM (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana) in Cuajimalpa, Mexico City.

This year the invited speakers are Erika Espinosa of Deftly Creative, Lazaro Gamio from Axios, Angel García from Nuestro Diario (Guatemala), Antonio Farach from the Times of Oman, Lauren Tierney from The Washington Post, and myself. There will also be different one-day workshops taught by Angel García, Lazaro Gamio and myself. You can register in this page (prices are in Mexican pesos).

If you follow Infovis in Twitter (@INFOVIS_), it’s a great source for news on infographics and data visualization.

New tools: Data Illustrator and Charticulator

Anyone interested in creating their own data visualizations should be giddy with delight with the quickly growing number of tools available to create them without any need for programming skills, and in most cases for free: Tableau, Flourish, Datawrapper, RawGraphs, Chartbuilder or QGIS (for mapping) are some of the best, and the list goes on and on. I’m convinced in a relatively short time drag and drop tools with be as powerful and flexible as D3.js and other developer tools, making data visualization accesible to everyone.

The exciting news is seeing two software giants entering the field with new web-based tools: Adobe launched Data Illustrator a few months ago in a collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Microsoft Research is behind the just released Charticulator. Both work very intuitively, allowing the author to bind multiple attributes of data to graphical elements. They are indeed powered by D3.js, among other libraries.

Both offer introduction videos in their hope pages. Here is Data Illustrator:

And here is Charticulator:

 

The tools offer tutorial sections and multiple step-by-step videos in their galleries; and they link to the research papers describing the tools, which are worth reading (Data Illustrator, Charticulator).

Creating complex visualizations like the chord diagram below seems ridiculously simple in Charticulator, and the same can be said of Data Illustrator’s visualizations. See the video:

This is not a review as I have just started playing with them, but on first look both tools are impressive. It’s still really early in their development, but if Adobe and Microsoft throw their mighty resources to support and improve them, we can expect great things in the near future. Perhaps one day Data Illustrator could be embedded within Adobe Illustrator, allowing designers to work fluidly and easily between D3 and Illustrator without leaving the graphical interface. And Charticulator could integrate into PowerPoint. Stay tuned!

 

 

The Forbidden City: infographics by The South China Morning Post

The always amazing graphics department of the South China Morning Post has been publishing a series of stories about the Forbidden City of Beijing. It’s one of my favorite project this year. The whole package by the Hong Kong newspaper is a great combination of art, simple and elegant explanatory graphics, and engaging, well researched storytelling. It paints a vivid portrait of life inside the palace complex where 24 emperors of the Ming and Qin dynasties ruled China for nearly 500 years (early 15th century to early 20th century). The combination of rich details in the graphics, a loose hand-made illustration style, and the unusual bold color choices in a historical feature make it a visual feast. Here are a few samples. Click for larger images (˙© The South China Morning Post):

The Illustrated opened are really nice as well

The series was created by Marcelo Duhalde and Marco Hernández, in collaboration with Pablo Robles, Alice Tse, Darren Long, and Tom Eves. It has two main chapters with their own illustrated sub-sections:

  1. The Forbidden City’s Unique Architecture

2. Life inside the Forbidden City

It’s a good example of a well integrated package entirely created within a graphics department. The few interactive or animated elements are used judiciously, only when needed.

I’m hoping the series continues with new chapters, and I would bet the authors have thought of compiling the whole package in a book since the design and topic naturally lend to it.

The Forbidden City has always been a favorite topic ever since I created a National Geographic poster on the topic back in 2008, including researching in situ in Beijing. I researched, designed and wrote it, and the illustrations are by the great Bruce Morser, the most precise pencil illustrator I’ve ever worked with.

Here is a page that compiles many of the best online infographics of the South China Morning Post, and this a remarkable compilation of graphics as they were published in print.

Updated samples in our website

In the last few days we have been busy updating the gallery section of our website with lots of additional samples. It had not been updated in a long time. The new images are a mix of recent and older graphics, including some of the graphics done during my years at National Geographic magazine (For those Nat Geo graphics, sometimes including collaboration with other researchers and artists).

Feel free to navigate to see a range of different types of graphics including charts, diagrams and maps. You can also look by subject or technique, and see examples of branding and graphics style guides from our consulting side. Here are some of the newly uploaded samples, in no particular order (here and on the website, click on any image for a larger version):

We are working on more extensive changes to our website, with a fully responsive and redesigned site coming up before the end of the year. It will include examples of interactive graphics and animations, and this blog will be part of the main site. In the meantime, if you are interested in additional samples or want to get in touch, drop us an email to contact@5wgraphics.com.

How America Uses Its Land

We just came across a really engaging graphics feature by Bloomberg.com. How America Uses Its Land, by Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby. It’s well sourced and nicely designed. As the intro states, “The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures that Americans use to feed themselves, power their economy and extract value for business and pleasure.” There are quite a few surprises for the reader, such as the massive amount of land used as cow pasture/range (see map above). 41 percent of U.S. land in the contiguous states is used as pasture or cropland used to produce feed.

Here is the overall distribution of land uses:

Forest and timberland take another large chuck of the space. Did you know a company called Weyerhauser Co. owns or controls an area of timberland equivalent to the size of West Virginia?

 

 

Data graphics for the Inter-American Development Bank

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is the largest source for development financing for LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) countries. Founded in 1959 and based in Washington DC, IDB produces regular reports on trade, economic integration, poverty and social inequalities reduction, environmental sustainability and other issues.

We recently started collaborating with IDB with some data graphics on trade integration. The LAC countries have extensive trade gaps and missing links (countries or areas without preferential trade agreements). The chart above highlights bilateral trade links between countries missing the advantage of preferential trade agreements. It’s a redesign of the graphic below, an “spaghetti map” which we found hard to follow. We used a more rational geometric design (the real geography doesn’t help here), and different weights/colors depending on the amount of trade to establish hierarchy and visual clarity.

There are multiple, small size trade agreements in the area but the goal is a region-wide Free Trade Agreement (LAC-FTA) that is able to compete in the global scene. The graphic below shows the size of the proposed agreement compared to other large trade agreements in the world, and to the economies or other countries and the world as a whole.

And the graphic below also refers to the lacks of agreements between different regions and countries in the area, this time as a grid. The empty spaces are the focus of interest here.

To know more about the issue, you can download the recent IDB publication here in English, Spanish or Portuguese (this version doesn’t include our graphics):

Connecting the Dots: A Road Map for a Better Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (© 2018 Inter-American Development Bank, Integration and Trade Sector)