1 August, 2008
Data Visualization of the Day
The position on the y-axis represents each film’s rank, revealing the importance of a strong opening weekend (but begging the question of how The Bucket List, which opened in 23rd place, became the #1 movie in America the following week; something to do with New Year’s Day?) The slope of each line conveys the distinction between films with a slow burn (Juno) and those that flamed out (Cloverfield.) Beane makes a rare and non-gratuitous use of color to distinguish individual data lines, where the occasional dissonance identifies films with box office longevity: the thread of mint green running through the purple of early May highlights the inexplicable endurance of Horton Hears a Who. And the height of the y-axis overall charts seasonal trends in the industry at large, confirming that July is considerably more important than April.
Finally, I appreciate the way Beane used rollovers to reveal the names of the films themselves. A lesser designer would have given this information primacy, but Beane recognized that the titles, while crucial, are not the story themselves. Isn’t it nice when a bold decision is demonstrably the right one? —JH
15 July, 2008
Four Shortage Strikes Nation
The New York Times reports on crippling shortfalls in the nation’s strategic four reserve:
‘With regular gas in New York City at a near-record $4.40 a gallon, station managers are rummaging through their storage closets in search of extra 4s to display on their pumps. Many are coming up short... “Typically, we have a lot of 9s and 1s, and we had a shortage of 3s before we got a lot of 3s in,” Mr. Nair said.’
Welcome to the world of frequency distribution. The popularity of different letters is familiar to anyone who’s ever watched Wheel of Fortune, as well as anyone who’s ever seen a Linotype keyboard (where the confounding QWERTY is replaced by the ranked-by-popularity ETAOIN SHRDLU.) But numbers, counterinituitively, have their own frequencies as well: a simple example of this is to write out the numbers from one to twenty, and notice that while most digits are used twice, the two appears thrice, and the one appears twelve times.
Different applications have their own unique frequency fingerprints. North American area codes traditionally favor zeroes and ones, retail prices favor fours and nines ($49.99); Golan Levin and Jonathan Feinberg explored the topic beautifully in their Java applet The Secret Lives of Numbers. There’s also a lot of occult numerology in the background of our Numbers collection, in which everything from cash register receipts to monuments reveals something about the culture of numbers. Of course, gas pumps are in there too, fours and all. And fives. And sixes... —JH
7 December, 2007
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 4
Every design studio has at least one of Edward Tufte's books. They're traditionally distributed during the sacred initiation ceremony through which one becomes a Graphic Designer: a cloaked celebrant makes the sign of command-option-escape and anoints the novice with toner, the congregation recites the paternoster from Paul Rand's Design, Form, and Chaos, and the now-ordained Designer is presented with the Holy Relics that will form the heart of his or her own workplace: a manga-inspired wind-up toy, a framed fruit crate label with a smutty pun, an overwrought and temperamental stapler with a European pedigree, and a copy of Envisioning Information.
Whether you share Tufte's love of clarity, or haven't read his books and simply want the shortcut to intellectual street cred (I'll deal with you later), you'll want a copy of this poster showing Napoleon's March to Moscow, which Tufte correctly calls "probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn." Designed by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869 and now reproduced by Graphics Press, the diagram simultaneously shows the position, direction, and strength of Napoleon's army, as well as the time and temperature at each turn — a remarkable amount of information for such an intuitive and tidy diagram. —JH