Sunday, February 17, 2013

Visual examples: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Obama's State of the Union speech 2013

It is February, time for the SOTU( State Of The Union) address and like in past years I have looked at the slides of the enhanced speech. The major why this matters to scientific presentations is because of the data visualization they provide to the public.  The National Public Radio did a piece on this and ask Steve Few author of Show me the numbers, and Nathan Yau of flowing data about the quality of charts. According to Mr. Few and Mr. Yau for the most part Obama's team did a good job. There were however some cases the criticized.  Here are 4 of them. Call it The Bad. You can click on them to see a larger version.

  • 12 Of The Hottest Years On Record  misplaces the x-axis by not setting it at 0. This creates an unnecessary dramatic effect. The y-axis has no units and the labels on the same axis should be "-0.4", "-0.2", … to emphasize these are rational and not integers numbers. 
  • Natural Gas Wells doesn't tell the whole story with the "zoom effect", in other words the y-axis should start at 0. 
  • Our Troops are Coming Back From Afghanistan misleads by presenting non-uniform time intervals as such.
  • Finally, Veteran Jobs  looks like a time series instead of a cumulative chart. On Yau's opinion is this not wrong by itself, but people might get the wrong idea.
You can read here the whole NPR piece about these and more charts, including a makeover of  Natural Gas Wells and Our Troops are Coming Back From Afghanistan by Steve Few.

Next, The Ugly.  The slide were finished the day before the speech. I guess these just came in right before the closing.

Finally, let's look now at The Good.

These are my four favorites slides of the more than 100 presented on the speech. I guess the colors made it very appealing to me. I'll get to the colors of the slides in just a moment, just for now, note how even 45,000 Wind Turbines is very slick its use. In fact, this slide is a paradox. There is a considerable amount of text and information, but still it doesn't overwhelm the viewer. There is hierarchy of 3 in it. The title, the image, and the additional information. There is even eye gazing from the foregrounded wind turbine to the supporting text.
Now Is The Time is emotionally powerful, as it should be. Its title might be a  reference to Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech (emphasis added):
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
The slide also reminds me of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C. No wonder Obama's team decided to finish the speech with this topic. Watch this for more context.
The color of the overall design haven't change that much in the past 2 years. There is sample of the color used.
You can compare this with the two previous years here. Just in case this is slide stack of this year.

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