Where does your electricity come from

We consume more data in the media and in our workplaces than ever before. The industry term is an ‘interactive’. However a broad audience can take very different things way from your visualization. So as the author, intentional placement of content is critical to effectively communicating your message.

With Where does your electricity come from, I took data from the World Bank’s climate change indicators and visualized them to help readers understand broad trends in electricity production.

The overall trend shows natural gas increasingly used as source of electricity, though renewables and coal and even nuclear power are surging in the most recent years.

The overall trend shows natural gas increasingly used as source of electricity, though renewables and coal and even nuclear power are surging in the most recent years.

The default posture of the visualization is similar to a news paper article you might read. This familiar form with a clear top to bottom flow immediately helps the reader digest the data.

The choice of text, map, and colors directs the reader to specific interactions with the data. The highlighted countries were chosen to provide an immediate reward. By clicking each in turn, a contrast between countries in close proximity to each other is highlighted. This technique – guided exploration – enables me as the author to tell a story without forcing, pressuring, or constraining the reader.

Poland's primarily source of electricity is coal, with only a small percentage of other sources adding to the mix.

Poland’s primarily source of electricity is coal, with only a small percentage of other sources adding to the mix.

Each interaction with the map provides an immediate reward. Clicking Poland shows a big difference from the global mix, coal predominates. Variation in sources of electricity is expected, but finding and highlighting contrasts in your data provides a compelling reason for the reader to engage with your interactive.

 

Denmark is consistently adding renewables to it's mix of electricity sources.

Denmark is consistently adding renewables to it’s mix of electricity sources.

Providing context is important in each visualization you build. The choice of a map to provide country selection makes it much easier for a reader to understand than a flat list of country names to select from. The inclusion of a line chart showing a trend of Carbon dioxide emission by year provides a measure of impact of change shown.

It’s critical when using 100% stacked column charts that show contribution to a whole to provide this kind of context, since the stacked chart obscures the magnitude of the data.

France uses more nuclear power than other highlighted countries.

France uses more nuclear power than other highlighted countries.

The visualization also enables the audience to explore on their own, countries of interest to them. One of my favorite examples is to compare the United States and Canada (go ahead, I’ll wait). While there are regional difference not shown in the data, on average driving your electric car across the border makes it a much cleaner vehicle.

One area not yet being explored widely is how platforms can enable collaborative story telling over public data through interactives. While in this case I chose to focus on France, Denmark, and Poland, I provided the file I used to create the interactive so others could mash it up and tell their own story.

Ideas in brief

  •  Intentionally place content to communicating your message
  •  Use familiar concepts to help readers understand the data
  •  Direct the user to specific interactions
  •  Design rewards into each interaction that’s part of your story
  •  Provide context to enable reasoning over the data
  •  Enable the audience to explore on their own

Notes

I created this report for my Telling Data Stories with Power BI Publish to web webinar for Microsoft. The webinar contains a number of additional tips and tricks for telling stories with data.

 

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