Is Obamacare Complicated? Depends on How You Visualize It

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TIME Magazine cover this week for its Europe, Middle East and Africa editions (US cover was referencing Trayvon Martin).
It caused some heated debate on the internet for positioning of Pope Francisco’s head against the red “M” from the magazine’s title. Red horns on a pope’s head is not subtle at all, but it is certainly effective if its goal is to raise discussion.

TIME Magazine cover this week for its Europe, Middle East and Africa editions (US cover was referencing Trayvon Martin).

It caused some heated debate on the internet for positioning of Pope Francisco’s head against the red “M” from the magazine’s title. Red horns on a pope’s head is not subtle at all, but it is certainly effective if its goal is to raise discussion.

According to El Mundo, this is how Venezuelan TV channel VTV depicted the results of this weekend’s presidential elections. Nicolás Maduro, successor of recently deceased Hugo Chávez, won against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by an incredibly small margin (50,66% against  49,77%), but VTV’s understanding of percentages and graphics is somewhat unique… It seems a landslide victory is only a matter of point of view…

According to El Mundo, this is how Venezuelan TV channel VTV depicted the results of this weekend’s presidential elections. Nicolás Maduro, successor of recently deceased Hugo Chávez, won against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by an incredibly small margin (50,66% against  49,77%), but VTV’s understanding of percentages and graphics is somewhat unique… It seems a landslide victory is only a matter of point of view…

Farewell to Chavez

Earlier this week, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez passed away after a long battle with cancer. A controversial political figure, Chavez has been idolized and hated, being called from “hero to the poor” to “tyrannical dictator”. The photographs used to illustrate the news of his passing in first pages of newspapers across the world reflect this multi-sided image of Chavez.

A tender approach was the use of pictures of him in farewell gestures. Ecuador’s Hoy and Peru’s Perú 21 showed Chavez in an introspective military salute, evocative of leadership and respect.

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Brazil’s O Estado de S. Paulo shows Chavez waving at a crowd, evoking his popularity. Spain’s Diario de Burgos chose the initial moment of a blowing kiss, showing an affectionate and familiar attitude.

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Colombia’s El Espectador went further, picturing a warm self-embrace, symbolizing a farewell embrace between Chavez and his nation. From Venezuela itself, El Nacional shows a joyful wave, followed by a picture of his people in despair.

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Pictures of desolated Venezuelans suggest that Chavez was a deeply beloved leader, who will be missed by his people. USA’s Hoy and La Opinión, Brazil’s O Globo and Argentina’s La Nación and Spain’s El Día pictured people crying, some holding posters with Chavez’s face.

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The use of posters with his face on it is evocative of his strong iconic figure. It shows Chavez, but indirectly, that is, the photograph of a photograph of him. He is therefore showed not as a person, but as an icon. Spain’s Granada Hoy shows a photograph of a vice-president Nicolas Maduro standing in front of a giant portrait of Chavez, while a man in uniform stares at Chavez ceremoniously.

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His iconic figure is also alluded to in photographs of him not facing the camera, but instead staring into the distance, such as in Colombia’s El Colombiano, Argentina’s Clarín, Spain’s El País and Brazil’s Zero Hora.

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Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo shows a photograph of Chavez raising his fist to an unseen audience, with a picture of Che Guevarra behind him. The image suggests a connection between the two South-American leaders, transferring some of Che’s strongly symbolic power to Chavez.

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Brazil’s Estado de Minas pictures a silhouette of Chavez, which carries at least two strong messages: a) he is so iconic that one doesn’t even need to see his face to recognize him; and b) the black shape of his head represents the shadow of Chavez that Venezuela might have to deal with from now on.

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Portugal’s Público and Diário de Notícias and Italy’s La Stampa show the same photograph of Chavez fading into the darkness. It might allude to both the fading of the man, slowly consumed by cancer, and the darkness of his government, strongly criticized for its censorship measures against Venezuela’s press.

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Colombia’s Q’Hub decided to go for the shock value, depicting a bald Chavez and the headline “Cancer has beaten him” in big bold capital letters, making the page about the disease instead of the man. 

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Obamacare’s front pages

United States’ president Barack Obama had his health care plan upheld by the US Supreme Court this week, and that made headlines in yesterday’s front pages all over the country.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen showed a lifeline image along with the headline “What’s Next?”, a symbol for tension and anxiety, emphasizing the feeling of uneasiness and doubt.

 

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The Home News Tribune focused on the partisanship of the issue, without any subtetly.

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A more subtle way to show it is through the images of Obama’s supporters and/or opponents. Some newspapers, like The Dallas Morning News, illustrated their front page with joyful Obama supporters, therefore putting a positive spin on the report; while others, like the Los Angeles Times chose to show Tea Party supporters in tears, with a more “bad news” approach.

 

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The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post used images of both groups. While The WSJ focused on the opposite reactions, showing separate pictures of both Obama’s suppoerters’ celebrations and Tea Party’s tears; the Post focused on the animosity between them, with a photograph of an argument in progress. 

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Other newspapers used images of patients, shifting the focus from politics’ victory / loss to the possible effects of the bill in people’s lives. The Seattle Times showed a picture of a young child receiving a shot from his mother — an image that evokes the emotional and protective side of readers — with the possible reading “this bill will save this poor innocent child’s life”

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The San Francisco Chronicle depicted a middle-aged man in a medical office. The man has latin-american facial features, placing emphasis in the large hispanic population in the area, relating it to the consequences of the bill.

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In Alabama, a state where over 30% of the population is obese, The Decatur Daily showed a young female patient and a doctor in a doctor’s office, both clearly overweight. The image subtlety draws attention to the obesity epidemic that affects that country, and that has a massive impact on healthcare costs. 

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The New York Post, as usual, has no love for subtlety. ;)

"Constancy of design puts the emphasis on changes in data, not changes in data frames."
The red line he walks on makes the “rupture” in the headline even more dramatic.

The red line he walks on makes the “rupture” in the headline even more dramatic.

The President and Pinocchio

Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s President, appeared today on the O Globo website, one of Brazil,s biggest newspapers. The headline reads “Dilma installs Truth Commission, gets emotional and cries”, referring to the commission created to uncover information from the so-far secret files of Brazil’s military regime, that lasted from 1964 to 1985.


The picture that followed the headline shows Dilma pulling the tip of her nose, as if to stretch it. The reference to “growing nose” right under the headline about the Truth Commission may be read as contradictory.

And, a few hours after posting the image on its homepage, O Globo might have had noticed it too… Since they later changed it for a new image and a new headline for the article, in place of the Truth/Pinocchio one.

—thanks to Samara Tanaka for catching it and sending me this tip! ;)

left-right, up-down

The design of information graphics consists, basically, in arranging data in a visual way that conveys a message. Building a message involves various aspects, and one of them is orientation.

Our western cultural bias tells us that time progresses from left to right, and quantity grows upwards. Therefore, up means gain and right means progress in time.


from Volkswagen 2010 Annual Report

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But what happens when information graphics do not follow this cultural convention? The chart below shows financial results from 2005 to 2009, but starts with the later year, moving right towards the earlier year. In a glimpse, the reader might have the negative feeling that sales are decreasing and be alarmed when, in fact, the sales have been increasing.


from Inditex 2009 Annual Report

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Below, in one chart, we see two choices of time-progression orientation. Presenting information in this way can be very confusing for the reader, causing a distraction that can be useful, depending on whether you want to emphasize or understate results.


from Bertelsmann 2010 Annual Report

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By trading the “up means gain” notion for “right means progress” when dealing with quantities, a horizontal bar chart can give the impression of progress toward a goal, with the longer bars seeming to be closer to the goal.


from Japan Post Bank 2010 Annual Report


Many times, however, there is no “goal” to be achieved (or the goal is not relevant to the chart), and displaying quantities in a horizontal bar chart can make the comparison confusing for the reader.


from Lloyds 2010 Annual Report

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In the chart below, the attention is driven to the longest bar, but that result is from three years ago.


from Adidas 2009 Annual Report

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Here, the difference in color drives attention to 09, even though 08 and 07 had better sales. But how would it look if this data had been portrayed as a usual xy chart?


from Boeing 2009 Annual Report

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"Just because people might be more psychologically inclined to accept infographics as “more objective” doesn’t mean that they actually are more objective. Graphic design is a language just like text, and it provides just as ample opportunity for obfuscation and distortion. The rub is that because graphics are so effective as communication tools, misleading graphics have the potential to be that much more dangerous as misinformation weapons."
"The typographer’s one essential task is to interpret and communicate the text. Its tone, its tempo, its logical structure, its physical size, all determine the possibilities of its typographical form. The typographer is to the text as the theatrical director is to the script, or the musician to the score."
"Ideally, all books start with a question. The clearer the question, the more precise the answer, but this is rarely the case. You have to find out what the question is. Sometimes those involved need to sit together for days, weeks, months before a book takes shape - and then I am not even talking about its design, but the shape of the content. As designers we are as responsible for content as anyone else."
A matter of style

Today, most newspapers around the world bring the same terrible news on their first pages: the tragedy in Japan. Never before has a natural disaster had so many quality pictures and footage, which provided for a stunning coverage. 

Naturally, those amazing images were bound to end up on front pages around the globe, and the impact of such a tragic event calls for dramatic headlines to go along with shocking pictures.

below: Melbourne’s Herald Sun (Australia), Jaipur’s Rajasthan Patrika (India), New York’s New York Post (USA) and Berlin’s Bild (Germany). 

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Some newspapers, on the other hand, chose to focus on facts others than casualties. Bogota’s La Republica (Colombia) showed a strong picture of devastation, but with no fire or desolated faces of victims. Here, the emphasis of the image is on the destructive power of nature, instead of on human suffering. The headline took the economic approach: “Tsunami in Japan made stoke exchanges of the world tremble. Losses are estimated in US$ 10,000 millions.”

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From Germany, comes a real piece of gold in minimalism. The always-elegant Frankfurter Allgemeine covered the tragedy using an image that shows the giant power of that earthquake, without showing any burning house, upiside-down ship or destroying wave. It shows a single picture on its front page: the register of the seismic waves from the earthquake on a seismometer.