This post is the result of a conversation with Majo Carrasco, who is going to be a T.A. in my data visualization class next semester. She’s from Quito, Ecuador (which means Equator).

The Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument, near Quito, sits on the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Well, almost. The real position is about 250 yards (229 meters) away at the Intiñan Solar Museum. GPS has provided a more accurate location than the one that was fixed by a French expedition in 1736. The Prime Meridian in Greenwich is also not in the right spot. It’s really 111 yards (102 meters) away from it’s marked location. Below, at the more accurate site. Photograph by C.T.Johansson.

Some differences between the hemispheres:

I thought that the rotation principal also applies to water draining from a sink, but there seems to be considerable disagreement on this assertion: goo.gl/yRzjRr

Night sky The Southern Cross cannot be seen from most of the Northern Hemisphere, and Polaris, the North Star, cannot be seen from almost all of the Southern Hemisphere. But from the Equator, both are visible.
Below, the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere (La Silla Observatory in Chile).

Photograph by ESO/H.Dahle.

D.C. data viz


Six lessons from the experts A few weeks ago, I was in Washington with ten Scripps College of Communication students who are the pioneers of our “Semester in D.C.” program. We visited several top data visualization (and infographic) departments, who were very generous with their time. There were some common (and often encouraging) themes.

The points below are not great relevations to the people who read this blog, but perhaps it’s a good thing for us all to stop and reflect on the way forward for our field. They are skewed somewhat towards news outlets, as those were mainly the places we visited.

1. Mobile first Everyone is seeing their audience steadily migrating to mobile, so that has become a big factor in data design. Simpler, often static, displays with limited interactivity are common. Many of them are controlled by scrolling.

2. Limited interactivity On all platforms, if a tap or click is required it has to deliver something that feels worth it. Obviously, mobile (with it’s limited screen size) can be challenging for this kind of interaction anyway.

3. Design for the intended user 
Crucial when making decisions about the level of complexity, and the type of presentation. Often, displays of data are not well-enough refined for their target audience. For example, Vox aims for general consumption, especially through social media, and takes a more edited and popular approach, while the Pew Research Center provides a more comprehensive (“Fact Tank”) view for people who need more information.

4. Basic chart types are often the most effective The more challenging types of chart forms should be used with caution. Make sure that they are the best way to display the information. Often they look exciting, but are not good in terms of clearly visualizing a particular dataset.

5. Transparency Let your readers download the data that you’ve used. They can then see for themselves if the visualization clearly reflects the dataset. Even chart it themselves with their own preferred software.

6. Sketch out ideas Every department used rough visuals, drawn with pencil and paper (or it’s digital equivalent) to initially explore data presentation ideas. Great news for veteran infographic people like me who are always advocating this (to the point of being really annoying).

(In the order that we visited them). The trends mentioned above are, of course, reflected in these examples.

The Urban Institute https://www.urban.org/data-viz

The New York Times (We visited the Washington Bureau.)
The cost of Hurricane Harvey: goo.gl/ZeJLdR
The UpShot: https://www.nytimes.com/section/upshot
A gallery of last year’s visual stories and graphics: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/28/us/year-in-interactive-graphics.html

5W Infographics (Juan Velasco led a one-day workshop at the National Press Club.) http://www.5wgraphics.com/en/gallery.php

The Washington Post http://postgraphics.tumblr.com

Vox Calories in booze: https://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12251286/calories-alcoholic-drinks-chart
Map projections: https://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/2/13817712/map-projection-mercator-globe

NPR Gun violence: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/06/555861898/gun-violence-how-the-u-s-compares-to-other-countries

The Pew Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org
How voters switched candidates: http://www.people-press.org/interactives/gop-candidate-switching/

National Geographic http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2017/09/cassini-saturn-nasa-3d-grand-tour/

Maze and labyrinth


Classic hedge maze The Longleat Maze in Wiltshire (England) has viewing bridges that give people an overview before they return to the pathways between tall hedges. Photograph by Niki Odolphie.

Definitions A maze has multiple entrances and exits, choices of direction, and dead-ends. A labyrinth has only one way in and one way out.

Garden labyrinth Below, the Edinburgh Labyrinth (Scotland) in George Square Gardens. Photograph by Di Williams.

World’s largest The Guinness Book of Records lists The Maze of Butterfly Lovers in Ningbo, China, as the largest permanent hedge maze, with a total path length of 8.38 km (5.2 miles). It opened in April this year. Designed by Adrian Fisher, it contains the shapes of two butterflies. Adrian has designed hundreds of mazes and puzzles (in various formats) all over the world. Image from Google Maps.

Labyrinth project
As a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground in 2013, Mark Wallinger created a unique enamel labyrinth for every one of the 270 stations. They’re a connection to the system’s history of classic graphic design, and reflect the idea of entering the labyrinth of walkways and tunnels that make up a journey.

Photograph by Jack Gordon.

All of them are photographed here: http://labyrinthtubephoto.tumblr.com

Book cover design


Vintage The beauty of these decorative book covers stands the test of time. Examples from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Graphic animation
Henning M. Lederer has brought motion to some 1950s, 60s, and 70s graphic covers.

There’s a lot more. 55 examples are shown in this video: https://vimeo.com/141891887
And 36 more here: https://vimeo.com/228577316

Examples from 2016 and 2017. Below, design by Oliver Munday.

Design by Jaya Miceli. Art by Valerie Hegarty.

Design by Will Staehle.

Design by Mark Swan.

Data viz reflections


Information upswing Stephen Few succinctly captures the position we’re in. From his book: “Signal.” On Amazon: goo.gl/mAVGLW

The best license plate This stopped me in my tracks as I approached our building. Who owns that gem? I soon had the answer: Eric Duell, who is Vice President, Analytics and Intelligence at The E.W. Scripps Company. The BMW i3 REX is electric with a gas-powered engine to extend it’s range. (Notice that data viz people are eco-conscious.)

Only one person in Ohio can have this plate, and it’s clearly not going to be me.

The sweet spot
In terms of understanding, it’s halfway along the information axis. Jessica Hagy’s blog: http://thisisindexed.com

Data pretzel I see a lot of data viz, and (of course) there’s some brilliant examples, but also a lot of scary stuff. However, there’s plenty of room for optimism. Although data visualization has been around for a very long time, a fundamental component has changed: we now have unprecedented amounts of data. And there’s many new ways to edit and display this information, so let’s give the process time to develop. (Photograph © annete/123rf)



The biohazard symbol was designed in 1966, by Charles Baldwin, an engineer at the Dow Chemical Company.

Below, a set of hazard warning pictograms.

GHS The Globally Harmonized System is a universal set of symbols from the United Nations.

Nuclear waste
How do we warn people of buried toxic waste without words? And stop them from digging it up. We don’t know if mankind, thousands of years in the future, will understand any radiation hazard symbols, or a written warning (in any current language). This clever visual solution, by Nick Shelton, was for a School of Visual Arts infographics project.

A detail.

Mosquito sign
 Maleria is a huge problem in some countries.

Flight ban
The items that you should not take to the airport. (From an American Airlines check-in page.)

Designed at the University of California in 1946. It symbolizes activity radiating out from an atom.

We know to proceed with caution if we see this.



I was driving through Swindon, which is between London and Bristol, and I arrived at the “Magic Roundabout,” which has been described as the most complicated traffic intersection in the world. Five roads meet here, and five small circles feed a large central one. The traffic direction is clockwise on the small roundabouts, and counter-clockwise on the large one.  The easiest track is just to stay on the outer circle, or you can take a shorter route by heading into the central one. I did that (perhaps unintentionally), and went through with no problem. But then again, I wasn’t in the rush hour. Photo by Dickbauch.

Constructed in 1972, it took on it’s current (popular) name in the 1980s. This mega-roundabout has a good safety record, perhaps because traffic moves so slowly through it. Diagram by Hk ing.

From Google Maps.

This is not the Magic Roundabout, but it shows how this type of road feature works.

Not everyone loves this junction. Some drivers’ surveys have chosen “The Magic Roundabout” as being amongst the worst intersections in the United Kingdom.

It’s named after a long-running 1960s and 70s French/British children’s TV program.



Wartime World War II wings.

Bike Historical (and beautiful) bicycle head badges.

Soviet era I bought these enamel badges, pinned to a postcard, from a vendor on a Moscow street.

Police An essential addition to the uniform.

Scouting achievements I was in the scouts, but I didn’t earn anything like this number of merit badges.

I.D. The modern tag is very different from these twentieth-century analog predecessors.

Playing games Children like to be the sheriff etc.

VisCom Our School of Visual Communication (at Ohio University) has a simple “V” badge that we like to wear. There’s also a more detailed enamel version that is given to graduating students.

Photograph by Kate Stone (while a VisCom student): http://www.katestonephoto.com

Place names


58 letters I always thought that this Welsh railway station sign was the world’s longest. It means: “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.”

85 letters Then I came across this New Zealand sign. Translated from the Māori language: “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

One letter This Norwegian village has a difficult name to beat in terms of brevity. It means stream, or small river. There are several other As in Norway, Sweden and elsewhere, and many other one-letter contenders around the world, like Ô in France, and U in Vietnam.

Venn diagram


This brilliant example is by GuyBlank. There’s a t-shirt version here: goo.gl/VGA8nV

Venn diagrams are used to show commonalities and differences, primarily in mathematics, statistics and logic. Named after John Venn, a logician and philosopher, who highlighted them in an 1881 paper. They were developed from Euler diagrams of the 18th Century. By the way, Venn also built a machine that bowled cricket balls.

In the popular sector, they’re mainly used for jokes.

Below, a serious Venn diagram that shows the common uppercase letters of the Greek, Latin and Russian alphabets. (From Wikipedia)

And now back to the jokes…


Mitch Goldstein’s site, “A Helpful Diagram,” highlights the concerns of designers and design students: http://www.ahelpfuldiagram.com