Crisis for dummies : a selection of cool infographics to help understand and explain further (Part 1)

Posted on March 3, 2009. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, History, Medias, Research, Video |


Crisis : we hear and read about it everyday … but it is hard not to get lost, not to lose track of events or context or historical background, and hard to understand as events unfold the links between them, the play of multiple actors’ interests, and untimately, hard to anticipate, plan for personal or business needs. This is expecially true as the news we get are … well news only ! Bits and pieces of a puzzle we get at some point of our day, sometime without the time to reflect and integrate these.

I have blogged before about 4 aspects of the modern media system (speed, image, multiplicity and “thunderingness” as French politician Michel Rocard put them) and how visualization could provide that added value to provide context, particularly difficult on TV. It was followed by a discussion with him via email and a presentation I made for my students on story telling and visualization. A growing part of the population got accustomed to managing multiple information feeds at the same time, which reflect in specific layout designs for TV news (see here) or enterprise dashboards (see Stephen Few’s very good book on the latter : “Information Dashboard Design“).

 So I turned to economics and information visualization leading press outlets (Financial Times, New York Times, The Economist, French magazines Le Point, L’Expansion, …), TV news services, blogs and document sharing sites (Slideshare, Vimeo,  …) to collect a few of the most self-explanatory examples I could find. I have organized them in different categories :

  • History : trends and cycles

  • Stock Markets  :  graphical analysis and company valorization

  • Politics : public plans and social issues

But first, let’s start with an explanatory video (via Coolinfographics) :


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.


It remembers me (in a nicer way of course) of one presentation (subprime primer) I got via email some months ago, to explain what sub-primes, CDO, CDS etc… mean, with simple sketches / a cartoon of a banker talking to another banker and devising the sub-prime scheme. In such cases email attachments are still the best way to circulate documents 🙂

Today I will publish the first part :

History :

Business cycles are commonly known since their creation in the XIXth century (notably by French statistician Clement Juglar, but also Kondratief, Kitchin, etc…). Periods of growth and decline follow each other, and looking at it from different “zoom” levels allow for a better understanding of the context.

In the case of the current crisis, several sets of data are to be looked at, whether they represent cause or effect I will not get into the debate, I have just chosen them because they are self-explanatory and in a way they enhance the dramatic aspects of the current situation. If I have not chosen less dramatic charts, it is because I wanted to make a point (like I did with “An Inconvenient Truth”) : the editorial decision to pick one or another, to zoom on a detail, change the scale, etc… plays a key role in conveying a certain message for certain benefits.

 US Housing market

We see that trees (here housing prices), can climb to the sky 🙂


That a very clever ;-( financial innovation (sub-prime lending in CDO) definitely had a big success

US Debt to GDP

And that it happened in a liberal context of massive national debt growth, all that money coming from foreign investors.

 Decoupling finance from the economy

That somehow the link between those CDS/CDOs and the “real” market got lost in mad speculation, a loop feeding on itself

Credit vs GDP

So the real ratio of debt to GDP was somehow worse …

 Share of Financial Industry profit

And it was clear who was getting the larger share …


A process called “financialization” everybody thought was the sign of developped countries like us ;-(

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Never got lost in history ? Dates, names, alliances, places, when visual design makes it easy to follow

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, History, Time line, Video | Tags: , , , , , , |

Remember the history you used to learn at school ? The Egyptians dynasties, the French kings, the European alliances : there were ways to learn lists of dates and names by heart, sometimes using mnemotechnical gimmicks (PO GLACE for the 7 capital sins – works only in French, or a little poem for the number Pi “car j’aime à faire connaitre un nombre utile aux sages, immortel Archimede artiste ingénieur, qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur …”). Or there were the visual design tools …

The first one I used was comics : “l’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées”. It was recently republished by Larousse and Le Monde newspaper. My history teacher would give us black and white prints / copies, that we had to colorize (I was 10) : it sure helped me to remember a lot 🙂 Later I got more involved with comics and moved to historical series like “Alix“, then “Les 7 Vies de l’Epervier“, and more recently Marjane Satrapi for Persepolis and her own vision of the Iranian revolution.

Histoire de France en bandes dessinées

The second tool I discovered / used was timelines, visual representations of historical chronologies. A French editor (Maurice Griffe) is specialized in these, and you can find them (often in a foldable format) at every historical landmark’s souvenir shop, or a selection here.

Frise chronologique Maurice Griffe

There’s even a wiki version for easy editing of timelines called … EasyTimeline 🙂


Then of course there are the historical atlas. The best known to French students if the Historical Atlas from Georges Duby, but a field that lends itself especially well to that sort of visualization is geostrategy, as for example Yves Lacoste’s Geopolitical Atlas. There’s also an Atlas collection by Les Editions Autrement looks at many major historical landmark through the Atlas / mapping eye.

Atlas historique mondial Georges Duby Atlas geopolitique Yves Lacoste Atlas de la Chine contemporaine, editions Autrement

The number of books that relied heavily on infographics seems to have picked up lately, with editorial success such as XXI, a quarterly magazine approach brought to the book sector, or separate initiatives in a more “encyclopedian” way, such as “Comprendre l’actualité par l’image” (by well known French infography agency Idé), or l’Encyclopédie Visuelle VU by Gallimard, also editing the beautiful travel guides “Encyclopédie du Voyageur“, similar to the Eyewitness travel guides sold in English speaking countries.

XXI #2 Les Nouveaux Visages de l'Economie Comprendre l'actualité par l'image, Idé Encyclopédie visuelle des sports Guides Gallimard

And I recently watched a video made by a local TV channel for Paris 2nd arrondissement (QNTv), that presented the history of the Jean Sans Peur Tower. Nice infographic job, that follows the narrator’s speech in sync to explain how Jean Sans Peur is related to other key historical figures. Imagine you could get such videos for major monuments accessible on your mobile phone or on a wireless video player that would be rented for a Paris city tour : wouldn’t that be great ?

L’histoire de la tour Jean sans Peur
envoyé par QNTV

Comics, time lines, atlas, infographics encyclopedia, infographics videos : many ways knowledge can by designed to facilitate understanding and transfer.





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De-constructing and visualizing complexity : film plotlines and music tracks mashups

Posted on September 8, 2008. Filed under: BI, English, maps, Medias, MindMap, Video | Tags: , , , |

In a world of increasing complexity, both from an information perspective (infobesity) and from a consumer demand (ultrachoice), building new products, or understanding competitors, request new business intelligence visualization metaphors for GeoTime analysis.

Readers of thrillers have come to recognize one of the recipes for best sellers : never let the heat down ! Writers build their writing with multiple tracks in parallel (ver far away from the time and place unity from traditional theater), those plots intersecting unexpectedly for added drama. I have briefly written about it in the short notes from the VizThink 08 conference I attended last Winter. I found a very simple example (used here as a working paper) on a fiction writer’s blog :

Plotting the romance

Traditional plotlines were very simple, following a typical dramactic structure with a beginning, a rising action, a climax, followed by a falling action and a denouement. More modern plotlines are more oscillating, as shown below. A graphical guidebook/method for students to structure and tell a story can be found here.

Typical dramatic structureOscillating dramatic structure

Reading from the last Wired issue I came across a beautiful example for the music industry (Mashup DJ Girl Talk last piece “Feeding the Animals”). Many music artists have become experts at sampling (hip-hop, Rythm’ Blues, …) or mixing (electro, …), and it takes keen ears to catch the building blocks.

Wired 16.09 Girl Talk

An interesting research piece on the building of narratives in contemporary films gives another example of using plotlines in the creative process, here on the analysis of alternative futures. Note that this could easily be done using a Mind Mapping software, and that a lot has already been said on the use of Mind Mapping tools in creativity.

Graphing alternate futures in a fim narrative

And for those of you who want to get a deeper understanding of the visualization of events / stories in space and time, there is this excellent research paper. Ihave particularly liked this graph, which will probably remind you of the famous “Retreat from Russia” chart beloved by Tufte 😉

A concept sketch of an annotated GeoTime scene representing the events of a fictional story.

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Visualizing the invisible : ads for energy

Posted on April 27, 2008. Filed under: Advertising, Animation, English, Video |

I have already written about Areva’s and EDF’s TV campaigns, using animation and cool music to explain what they do. For the past 2 weeks Areva’s TV ad has been back on air, and Suez launched its new campaign, with a little sense of “dejà vu” …

All energy giants are facing similar challenges in terms of communication :

  • Energy can not be seen
  • Energy sources are critical assets for the future
  • Energy production and consumption is often associated with pollution

A quick analysis of French energy ads points to only 2 choices to help clients understand what they do, and both use visual tricks :

Animation : they chose to show us what energy can power, and how it is produced and distributed, and since reality can be too harsh, too complex, or on a scale too large to understand, they went for animation.

EDF (Electricité de France), issued that “SimCity”-like campaign a few years ago, blending reality and animation :

Suez (Lyonnaise des Eaux, Electrabel, …), recently aired a similar ad :

Areva (Framatome, …), went for full animation :

Allegories : they chose to represent the reality of energy in a figurative mode, in the every day or the founding moments of life. Allegories are often used in communication and advertising

Gaz de France is showing us a birth :

Total is accompanying us at every moment of the day :

Those advertising strategies are seductive, but straying too far away from reality can be deceptive, especially when those strategies are not in par with companies operations and actions. In a globalized world where they are no longer in a monopole, creating a brand identity in the end-consumers’ mind is a challenge for French energy companies.

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Royksopp’s Remind Me animated graphics video clip : if Tufte made an information design music video

Posted on April 24, 2007. Filed under: Animation, English, Video |

Reading from DynamicDiagram’s blog “If Tufte made a music video” I rediscovered Röyksopp’s famous “Remind Me” video clip using animated graphics as a background story for their 2002 music piece. It had such an impact that a few years later Areva, the French nuclear giant, wanted to use it for their advertising. Being denied it by the Norwegian pop group they finally went for the hit “Funky Town” on a video that looks very similar (as it was done by the same French art collectif H5 that did Royksopp’s video).

Royksopp – Remind Me
Uploaded by Pard

Their objective was to show Areva’s expertise in the energy sector (see their corresponding website using Flash animation) as part of the branding campaign of a company anticipating to go private (still waiting because of internal French politics). The choice of animated graphics was to reinforce the educative aspect on Areva’s business and avoid the harsh reality of images of nuclear plants. In a way the almost childish graphics (almost like a comic strip) make it look like a video game of some sort, some kind of SimCity. It was very successful and the idea was again used in a slightly different angle (accelerated special effects video) by EDF (another French energy giant) in a commercial

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Images + graphs : the winning persuasion combination

Posted on November 27, 2006. Filed under: Animation, conference, English, Video |

Have you seen Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Une vérité qui dérange” en Français) ? The latest docu-blockbuster showcases Al Gore’s crusade to raise the world’s awareness on the global climate crisis is a powerful example of the use of visual information to convince viewers of the reality of its key aspects, like the raising levels of carbon dioxyde.

Some of this borrows from the best of Hollywood craftmanship or Pentagon’s psychological operations toolbox … this time for a good cause ! I was convinced long before the film that man could have an effect on global environment issues but like others I had trouble with the fact that many climate scientists admit they could not prove the rising carbon level was truly causing sea level or temperature to increase. The case made by the novel “State of Fear” (“Etat d’urgence” en Français) from Michael Crichton was quite persuasive in its own sense … one could not win a legal case on this issue ! But to Al Gore’s credit, his slideshow really moves mountains : as the famous French photograph Yann Arthus-Bertrand put it during the conference that followed the showing, he has been trying for 10 years to no avail to convince some of his friends who were turned around by the film !

The most convincing part is probably the rapid succession of graphs going through the roof and video images of hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, … As well as superimposing 2 graphs to show the evidence without having to prove it.

Rising carbon and temperature levels

To those who see PowerPoint as evil … Al Gore’s slideshow will prove hard to fight in the minds of all who saw it ! The video images speak to the emotional self, while the graphs speak to the rational self. In the minds of most people graphs can not lie as they represent hard facts that can be traced back to a source that can be challenged by experts, whom they trust to voice their disagreement if it is wrong. But in our information overloaded society such a disagreement will be hard to hear … and to weigh against contradictive analyses / opinions.

Addition : I recently found another example (that may have been to some extent ‘inspired’ by Al Gore’s) : a lesson in economics (amongst other things showing the impact of the level of taxes on growth) by the the Medef’s president Laurence Parisot at the last General Assembly in January.

Pedagogie economique par L. Parisot
Uploaded by besoindair

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