Traveling in Saudi Arabia a few months ago I couldn’t help to notice there were many people carrying two cell phones around. Typically, one for personal contacts and another one for business. Indeed, Saudis boast a national average of almost two cellular susbcriptions per person. As the chart below shows (find it in our November issue), the U.S. lags most of the world in mobile subscriptions, especially developing countries that simply skipped the land line phase when phones became widespread. For this chart, Senior Graphics Editor Jason Treat used an interesting radial chart format:
I often wonder if readers often stop paying attention to simple charts, or whether they become invisible out of familiarity. This circular form is a pleasing design element and, in this case, a surprising and inviting way to present what otherwise would be a typical bar chart.
The three radial layers in the graphic show the number of mobile subscriptions by year, offering an additional layer of interest. For example, you can see the explosive growth in Africa since 2001 compared to Europe.
For the longest time in our production process, our chart looked mostly like the version shown below. We thought the different colors by continent helped codify and understand the information faster, but not true! Sometimes less is more. The three levels by year and the rainbow of colors were too much to digest in addition to the unfamiliar circular design. Well past our deadline, Jason was able to change the color scheme towards a more monochromatic approach. We also made a series of small edits that emphasized the organizing principle of the chart (the red lines showing the number of subscriptions) and de-emphasized the text notes around the chart, which were secondary content. Small moves like those are often what separate good from great graphics.
This type of radial chart is useful to present long data sets that would otherwise look a bit intimidating in a more conventional chart format. And the unique design allows them to carry the weight of a page as a design element when there are no additional visuals. The biggest shortcoming is that the rotated labels may be harder to read, and that’s something to ponder carefully. What do you think?
Here are two other examples, a couple of years old, by former Senior Graphics Editor Sean McNaughton, always a brilliant designer and editor when large data sets were involved.
COMING SOON To create a graphic about the amazing speed of cheetahs, we had the entire skeleton of a cheetah scanned to create an impressive 3D model. Read it later this week in National Infographic (provided I don’t lose power with the hurricane, which is very likely!)