Many years ago I spent a summer in Florida working for the Naples Daily News website. One of my jobs was to keep the hurricane section up to date – so I scoured state, county and federal government sources and wire stories to find every informative map that I could get my hands on. What we had available on the web back then pales in comparison to the information rich interface at Stormpulse.com.
The screenshot above is from the site, tracking Hurricane Gustav as it climbs up Louisiana, just missing New Orleans. It doesn’t take an information design expert to tell you that weather and disaster news can be expressed very effectively with maps. Stormpulse does a particularly good job, pulling together data from various sources including satellite cloud cover maps, ocean buoy data, and a large number of forecast models.
The site also keeps some historical data on file, which was something I’ve found particularly perplexing when checking out storm maps in the past (I admit I’m a bit of a weather geek too). Especially back in the days of pre-rendered maps, why wouldn’t you store everything and make it available to users? Hurricanes might seem like very time-bound events, but they can cause profound changes in people’s lives that resonate for decades to come, and historical data can be useful in predicting future storms.
Another interesting thing to note is that they are not using the Google Maps API, which seems to be the go-to API for many web mapping efforts. In fact they offer and API of their own, although it’s limited to embedding self-contained maps.
I’m a bit of a map geek and a big fan of using maps to convey information geographic and otherwise, so I’m starting a new series of posts – Map App of the Day. I’ll highlight either a mapping web application or an application of mapping in information design that’s interesting, innovative, or just plain strange.
The New York Times had a brief article about a new study of genetic relationships between peoples in Europe. The paper, by Lao et al., looked at genotype data from more than 2000 individuals spread throughout Europe. The map on the right shows the normal geographic map of Europe, while the one on the left maps the genetic relationships between countries.
Here’s a link to a larger version on Current Biology’s web site.
The genetic map is a great example of why you should always consider mapping to illustrate data with a geographic component, and why you should always consider breaking the rules a bit to get a good representation (most maps don’t show countries overlapping, for example).
This is also a great illustration of how permeable and impermanent national borders really are. It would be interesting to see the same analysis done with distinctive populations like the Basque in Spain and the Sami in Finland added.
This also brings up with two non-mapping issues about journalism and research. First off, the NYT article didn’t bother to actually link to the journal article, the researcher’s websites at their respective institutions, or any of the other places that readers would need to go to follow up on this paper or get more detailed information. Why not?
Second, when I searched for Current Biology I was delighted to see that the journal publishes everything online, available via regular Google search, rather than hiding behind some expensive and proprietary publication database. Open access is very cool.
I recently ran across a couple of really great examples of how information can be conveyed dramatically with infromation graphics and one example of how to fix graphics that aren’t so good.
First, from the Radical Cartography project, a map of all nuclear explosions since 1945. This map encodes a lot of information fairly simply – we can see where nuclear tests have taken place, countries are indicated by color, and blast yield is indicated by size. Click on the image to see the full version.
Next, from the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Outlook report, you can see a great illustration of how little of the world’s water is freshwater and how little of that is readily available in rivers and lakes. Click on the image to see the full-sized version.
Why point out good example of information design? Because even the professionals get it very wrong a lot of the time. Bob Nystrom wrote a great post about how little information is presented in CNN’s chart of the delegate totals for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Here’s their version:
Without looking at the numbers, can you tell who’s in the lead? Can you tell how close the race is to the end? Do you read the bars left-to-right or up-and-down? Here’s Nystrom’s improvement:
Everything becomes clearer.
Got any good (or bad) examples? Post them in the comments below.