Welcome to Arty Charty! A series of videos where Jack, our data visualization designer will deep dive into how he makes, creates and designs data visualizations that not only look cool, look interesting but will actually reach an audience and convey a message about the dataset that you’re trying to communicate.
In this first episode Jack goes through his creation process for The Empires of History, Visualized As Moons Orbiting Earth.
Jack: 00:00 Hello, I’m Jack.
Jack: 00:01 I am the data visualization designer here at Type A Media
Jack: 00:05 and this is the very first episode of a new web series we’re doing,
Jack: 00:09 which is called Arty Charty.
Jack: 00:10 And Arty Charty is a deep dive and a breakdown of how you make,
Jack: 00:15 create and design data visualizations that not only look cool, look interesting,
Jack: 00:21 will actually reach an audience and convey a message about the dataset that you’re trying to communicate.
Jack: 00:33 In this very first episode, we’re going to take a look at a data visualization I made a couple of months ago.
Jack: 00:40 It’s probably going to be on screen right about now.
Jack: 00:43 It’s a breakdown of the sizes of some of the different empires in world history,
Jack: 00:49 and it’s comparing them to the size of planet earth.
Jack: 00:54 And now, this did pretty well actually on social media.
Jack: 00:57 It was on Reddit. It got about 12,000 upvotes.
Jack: 01:01 It got about 500,000 views on Imgur.
Jack: 01:03 In this episode, we’re going to break down some of the finer points that went into creating this graphic.
Jack: 01:09 So, the inspiration for this visual, it came from a book I was reading.
Jack: 01:13 The book was about world history and so there was a specific chapter in the book
Jack: 01:17 which was looking at the impact that different empires had on world history and obviously empires.
Jack: 01:24 The story of history by and large is the story of empires for better and for worse.
Jack: 01:28 I went online, went to Google, did a quick search for the biggest empires of history by landmass.
Jack: 01:35 And one of the very first results was a Wikipedia page,
Jack: 01:40 helpfully titled “List of biggest empires” by landmass, had like 200 in there.
Jack: 01:46 And this, I decided, was the dataset which I wanted to use.
Jack: 01:50 It’s a very simple dataset, actually.
Jack: 01:51 The next stage is to think about how to visualize the dataset.
Jack: 01:56 And again, there are 1,001 ways you can visualize any dataset,
Jack: 02:00 but the first thing I always do is I go on Google and I see what else the community has created,
Jack: 02:05 because you don’t want to create something that’s already been created.
Jack: 02:09 You want to create something new. Did a quick Google search for “Largest empire has a history,”
Jack: 02:13 and one of the first results on Google images was this bar chart which came up,
Jack: 02:18 which again, it was…
Jack: 02:20 I think it was actually a bar chart visualizing the exact same data that the Wikipedia article listed.
Jack: 02:28 Now, the bar chart, again, is totally fine.
Jack: 02:30 It’s does the job.
Jack: 02:31 It gets across the value of the numbers in a visual way that means the user
Jack: 02:36 doesn’t have to go and spend time reading a kind of dry and boring table,
Jack: 02:40 but kind of doubt it would really sort of generate much interest in an audience.
Jack: 02:45 So, I was thinking about a different way to visualize this data.
Jack: 02:48 And I remember back to every stoner’s favor astrophysicist, the one and only Carl Sagan.
Jack: 02:55 He has this one fantastic, maybe even the best, science speech that’s ever been spoken.
Jack: 03:02 It’s called the Pale Blue Dot. It’s a really fantastic talk. You should go listen to it.
Jack: 03:06 But there was this one particular line in it which I remembered, which was…
Speaker 2: 03:09 Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors,
Jack: 03:16 so that in glorious triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Jack: 03:24 And what we’re going to do is we’re going to create a…
Jack: 03:27 Technically, it’s a kind of bubble chart, so it’s visualizing data, not as bars but as circles.
Jack: 03:33 And we’re going to use a kind of visual metaphor of those circles kind of being like planets.
Jack: 03:38 So, if you imagine the surface area of an empire, it could be something like 20-million kilometers squared.
Jack: 03:46 If you imagine that as a sheet of paper, if it was wrapped around a sphere, that would be…
Jack: 03:53 That sphere would be the kind of single data visual that we’re using to communicate that dataset.
Jack: 03:59 Okay, so how would you actually go and create those?
Jack: 04:01 So, we have a list of different empires of the data points.
Jack: 04:05 They are two-dimensional data points, their surface area.
Jack: 04:08 So, they have a length and they have width.
Jack: 04:10 What we actually want to do is convert those two-dimensional data points into a three-dimensional sphere.
Jack: 04:18 So, to do that, we have to use the formula which will find the radius of a sphere
Jack: 04:23 from the surface area of a would be sphere.
Jack: 04:27 Once you’ve found that, you create a Google Sheet, you plug in those two-dimensional values,
Jack: 04:33 you write a formula in which we will do this,
Jack: 04:35 transform them into the radiuses you need to use with Adobe Illustrator.
Jack: 04:40 So, once you’ve opened Illustrator,
Jack: 04:42 you can create the different circles you need with the exact radiuses or
Jack: 04:47 radii that you got from Google Sheets.
Jack: 04:50 You can size them proportionally, add a little 3D effect.
Jack: 04:55 Illustrator has a kind of interesting 3D side to it.
Jack: 04:58 Essentially, it just adds a bit of shadow to those flat circles and kind of makes them feel a bit more tangible,
Jack: 05:06 a bit more like planets.
Jack: 05:08 Then, you kind of want to really push that visual metaphor.
Jack: 05:11 So, you want to make the background black, you want to make it dark,
Jack: 05:13 you will kind of want to make it reflect kind of an empty, dark cosmos.
Jack: 05:20 You want to add the planets and a kind of concentric orbit around the earth,
Jack: 05:25 and the earth as well because we’re always using that fraction of a dot as our inspiration.
Jack: 05:32 We need to visualize the earth as if it were another data point.
Jack: 05:37 And one way to do that, you could just create another circle and
Jack: 05:41 maybe color it green and have that act as the earth.
Jack: 05:44 But why not just use a photo of the earth? And data visualization, again,
Jack: 05:49 if you can use the real thing to stand in for the kind of arbitrary abstracts kind of visual form you’re using,
Jack: 06:00 you might as well actually use that real thing.
Jack: 06:02 So, again, just do a quick Google search for pictures of the earth,
Jack: 06:06 again, with a transparent background.
Jack: 06:09 Once you find that, you can then literally just drop it into the Sheet that you’re creating and make sure it’s,
Jack: 06:15 again, the diameter and the radiuses size proportionally to the planets you’ve already created.
Jack: 06:22 That’s pretty much it. Obviously,
Jack: 06:24 there’s a few more embellishments you can use.
Jack: 06:27 You can have the text as if it’s kind of curving around the orbits of the planets.
Jack: 06:33 Again, it kind of adds to that visual metaphor of the Pale Blue Dot.
Jack: 06:38 I thought one final little interesting point would be to compare the sizes
Jack: 06:42 of those empires almost to the size of the country most associated with the empire.
Jack: 06:51 And again, playing into that visual metaphor of kind of planets orbiting each other,
Jack: 06:55 these are kind of like sub moons orbiting the moons that are orbiting earth,
Jack: 07:01 and that’s pretty much it.
Jack: 07:02 I posted this visual to the subreddit
Jack: 07:07 Data is beautiful, which, again, is fantastic.
Jack: 07:10 It got 12,000 upvotes on there. It was number one on that subreddit for quite a while.
Jack: 07:16 So, yeah. That was the first episode of Arty Charty.
Jack: 07:19 I hope you enjoyed it, and yeah.
Jack: 07:22 I’ll see you in a couple of weeks time.