One of the fun parts of Makeover Monday is getting to pick a dataset and topic each week. It’s no big secret that I love food and I figured that lots of people do, because we all eat food every day.
The topic for this week was ‘How thirsty is your food’ with a dataset about the water footprint of common food categories, such as different types of meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables, pulses and nuts. The original viz was published on Statista and compared the different categories on their overall water footprint.
I was curious to see what our community would come up with and really liked many of the vizzes coming out of this week’s challenge.
I noticed a few really positive trends, such as:
MAKING THE VIZ RELEVANT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL
The original viz had a thought provoking title but didn’t really make me think about my food choices. Other vizzes did, however, with the authors using the topic to really put it into people’s faces that their daily actions and what’s at the end of their forks has a significant impact on our planet and that it is within their power to make changes simply by choosing lower impact foods.
I haven’t seen such a collection of ‘actionable’ vizzes in the past, but the work this week was really well done and I hope people can see how such an action-focused approach can be adopted in their business environment and transferred to the analysis and reporting they do at work.
Let’s check out a couple of examples:
Aleksandra Vangelova created a simple viz about the total water footprint of your meal, with results driven by the calories consumed.
VIZZES THAT MAKE YOU THINK
Okay, not everyone may be ready for change and to take drastic actions. An impactful viz that tells a compelling story through cold, hard facts can be very effective and here are a couple which I really liked. From the design and the story you can clearly tell that the authors took their time to research the topic, analyse the data and create a message for their audience that feels like someone shaking you awake.
Joel Gluck calls out Animal Agriculture for being a destructive industry
We’re used to cheeky vizzes from Matt Francis and this week he manages to bring humor to a serious topic to ignite his audience’s curiosity while taking us step by step through his calculations.
INFOGRAPHICS THAT SPELL IT ALL OUT FOR US
A great addition to the thought-provoking and confronting vizzes were the many infographic style dashboards that went deeper into the topic and provided a comprehensive overview. While we don’t expect our community to take apart every subject matter and dive into the detail, we love seeing how eager people are to learn more about new topics. The resulting visualizations are informative and often could easily be printed as posters for campaigns.
It’s also a great way to create a story where all the data components are connected with text and design elements. The creativity we’ve seen has been inspiring, so here are a couple of very good examples from this week’s challenge.
Adolfo Hernandez created a water footprint fact sheet in the format of a nutritional information label. He focuses on the water footprint of beef and relates his analysis back to that point throughout.
We all know Pablo Gomez for his impactful and well-designed vizzes and this week’s waterfall design is another great example of his skills. BANs, minimal but effective use of colour and great interactivity – it’s all in there.
Sarah Bartlett created a long-form dashboard with background on and definitions of a water footprint and its components. This leads into the actual data viz finishing with a call to action, which I think is a great way to answer the question of ‘so what?’
Following on from the examples above, there are a few lessons we can all take onboard to ensure our vizzes are impactful and effective in communicating our story. Especially when we want to not just inform people but also drive change. Your viz could change one person’s opinion or the direction of your department. Maybe it could also change the world…?
LESSON 1: KEEP IT SIMPLE
We probably make this point every couple of weeks but it’s always worth repeating to remind everyone and ourselves that simplicity is key.
It’s easy to be tempted by a topic to go a bit overboard on colours, icons, lines and symbols. This week was no exception and I can understand why. The elements on a viz or dashboard should all enhance the story by making it clearer, more engaging or impactful. Unfortunately when we use too many colours, an array of icons and a bunch of different fonts, we risk our message getting lost in the busy-ness of the viz.
- Use colours only when necessary and meaningful. If you just want to highlight a single issue, e.g. bovine meat, let it stand out with one colour and keep all remaining food items in a single, subtle colour, e.g. grey
- Use icons sparingly or not at all. Does your viz need them? Will a single icon suffice to engage your audience without distracting them and cluttering up your viz? And if you’re using icons, do they make sense and convey meaning quickly (which is what their purpose is in the first place)? By asking yourself these questions and being critical with your work you can identify ways of simplifying your message and making it easier for your audience to understand they key points of your story.
- Avoid ‘decorative’ elements where possible. Using lines to break up the viz can be a good idea, but don’t add dotted lines and arrows, boxes etc. unless they assist in containing information, grouping items together and making the key information in your viz stand out. If you’re interested, read up on the principles of grouping to give you some ideas of how you can make your viz layout speak for itself without needing decorative and structural lines etc.
Here’s an example of a dashboard by Colin Wojtowycz who uses bar charts to tell his data story. You can see colors being used sparingly but effectively to focus the attention on Pulses and Chicken meat. There’s a single ‘information’ icon, which most people will recognise as a way of finding out more, so this can easily drive interactivity and exploration. There are no unnecessary decorative elements and the shading of each chart’s heading is used to break up the viz and make it clear that a new section is coming.
LESSON 2: HAVE A CLEAR MESSAGE AND STATE IT CLEARLY
Words are important and so is having a clear message AND communicating it clearly. Sometimes we get ‘creative’ and can get carried away by the goal of having a funny or provocative title for our viz but in the process we choose the wrong words and end up confusing our audience or making statements that are plain wrong.
Some of that surely is down to language challenges and as a non-native English speaker myself I can relate to everyone who has English as their second language. It’s not easy to always choose the words with the right meaning and I’ve had my fair share of hilarious mishaps in the past. Embarrassing ones, too, trust me.
When we design vizzes for a global audience (and everything online has a global audience), we need to ensure we take extra care so that we can’t be misunderstood or have our message misinterpreted.
This week I saw a number of vizzes with titles which were wrong or misleading. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention of the authors, but they simply didn’t nail the clarity component, I’m sorry to say. To make it clear what I mean, here are some examples:
- people said that certain foods consumed XX amount of water. No, the production of those foods consumes the water. That’s a big difference.
- others asked how much water ‘we’ consume. That’s not what the dataset was about. It was about the water footprint for the production of certain foods.
- foods were categorised into interesting groups and while most of us would agree on the categories of ‘meat’ and ‘animal products’ (eggs, milk and milk products), calling fruits, vegetables and pulses ‘vegan foods’ isn’t really that clear. Yes, vegans eat a lot of that stuff, but what those foods are, are ‘plant based foods’ or ‘plants’ to keep the category at the same level as the previous two. Most people would consider ‘vegan foods’ stuff like tofu, tempeh, etc., i.e. processed plant based foods.
- ‘the water footprint of beef is xx times larger than chicken’. No: ‘the water footprint of beef is xx times larger than the water footprint of chicken’. Call me pedantic, but the first sentence literally compares the size of the water footprint to the size of a chicken. Grammar is important :-).
- ‘meat needs a lot of water, nuts too’. No: ‘meat production needs a lot of water, as does the production of nuts’. The first sentence suggests that meat needs nuts. Huh?
Yes, some of these things seem minor, but they matter and my aim is not to criticize people for small mistakes, but rather to show how easy it is to change the meaning of a sentence (and potentially your story) simply by omitting some words.
- Seek feedback during the viz creation process. Find a ‘Tableau buddy’ and send them a screenshot of your draft, ask them specific questions and if you’re struggling to find the right words, ask them about that too.
- Viz in your own language if that seems easier. Yes, you won’t reach as broad an audience as you do when creating something in English, that’s true, but when a topic is very important to you, wanting to create the next viral viz shouldn’t be the priority. Creating an impactful viz with a strong message will be much more effective in the long run.
- You may find it helpful to read your text and titles out loud to hear how it sounds when spoken. Does it still make sense? Is it simple enough for your audience (people who haven’t spent any time working with the data) to understand the topic and information quickly and easily?
Here is a great example of a neat viz which uses clear and simple language. Michael Mixon features on this blog almost every week because his submissions are consistently well designed, clear, aim for simplicity and have strong visual appeal. This week he uses clear explanatory titles and doesn’t leave his audience guessing. The tooltips provide additional information that help me understand every measure and the different parts of his overall dashboard.
THIS WEEK’S FAVORITES
What I like about it:
- Simplicity, white space and great use of colors
- A question is used as a title to set the tone for the viz AND the answer is provided at the end. Yes, please give me the answer like this, don’t leave your audience guessing
- Linking to MeatlessMonday.com adds a resource for people to take action
- It’s a very informative viz with annotations that support the key message
- Including total calories as a measure makes it easy for people to relate to and while I’m more of a carbohydrate proponent myself, the addition of a chart that focuses on protein content will speak to those who think you need to eat meat to be strong
- Alicia wrote a very comprehensive blog post about her viz and the process behind it. Reflecting on your work is always helpful for the learning process.
What I like about it:
- How did he do this? This viz has me tilting my head to the side (much like a dog begging for food) and wondering how he actually created it and I love being intrigued like that
- Great design, a well executed idea, I particularly like how the water imagery frames the viz
- Excellent interactivity with highlight actions that also bring up text and BANs as you hover over every circle
- While there are a number of different colors, they all serve a purpose and work really well within the overall design
- The question in the title indicates what sort of information I can expect
- Using text to provide definitions and explanations ties everything together
What I like about it:
- Very clean mobile design
- The first statement about the impact of our diet is very strong and following it up with a definition of the concept of ‘water footprint’ and its components is a smart move, as people can get very defensive when their food choices are questioned. So creating some neutral ground by adding information before confronting the audience is something I personally find a very good idea.
- Colors are used very effectively and only where necessary
- The descending bar chart serves well to let people explore the data through hover actions and find where their foods fit on the water footprint scale
- The stacked bar chart that takes up the space at the bottom of the viz is a good addition to tie everything back to the different components of a food’s water footprint and to state some BANs