Monday, February 27, 2012

nice visuals in Bill Gates annual letter

I just finished perusing the 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), after receiving a tip on the good visuals it contains from a friend.

This is a great example of data viz done well. The visuals are straightforward, clean, and easy to interpret. They reinforce the words around them and vice versa. Each strives to tell a story. Here's one example:

Here's what I like about the above visual:
  • It has an action title, so you know before you even get to the data what to be looking for.
  • The key takeaway is stated in words, and the red font ties it visually to the relevant points - today, developing countries have a much higher proportion of workforce in agriculture than the US.
  • Font size and colors help to create a visual hierarchy of information, so it's clear what is most important and what is less important.
  • Everything is labeled (overall title, axis titles, sources).
There are a couple things that bother me a little, but they are relatively minor: I find the diagonal lines in the US area unnecessary and a little distracting; I also prefer sans serif font (without the little squiggly lines) to serif, while here they've used a mix of the two.

There is one other visual in the report that I'll spend a moment on. I like it visually, but I have some problems with it as well. Here it is:

Can you identify what about the above visual comparison makes me uncomfortable? 

I also urge you to check out the other graphs in the report and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Thanks, Lauren, for the great tip!


  1. The scale in the other visual is not the same and perhaps not to well adapted among the three graphs. I find the scale most useful for Malaria and for the two others it's hard to get the exact amount of treatments for '11 - the distance from '11 to the diagonal line for the two others are just to far. They could have cleared this up with the actual number for '11 as they have already marked this column red.

    The diagonal lines is different in the three diagrams, i like the diagonal lines in the malaria chart best as 5 lines in Aids is to much and 2 in TB is to few.

    The numbers doesn't necessarily add up to the message that Global funds has helped save millions of lives - unless there is a very high correlation on nets distributed and malaria prevention (you have to read a 20% decline in the text below). Maybe another dataset or some relative reference could clarify. Charts are often copied and used elsewhere scrupulously and this decline would then have been missed

    They could also add relative values to Aids and TB as they did in chart 1 to get a better grip on the overall picture on total number of cases not only number of cases treated.

    The 'blue' color could have been 'nicer', I'm no color expert but also light purple, 'blue' and light brown may not be the best color combination I've seen, but ths'ts just me.

  2. I would have liked to have total (cumulative over the years) mentioned in a box, within the chart. That would have made the graphs meaningful and I would get just three numbers as a takeaway

  3. The Malaria prevention graph is the "odd man out", as it does not depict "lives saved" as the other two, but nets distributed.

  4. Yes, nice visuals, but my gut response on reading was "incomplete without context" and possibly a case of making data say what you want as opposed to convey useful information. If the percentage of farmers is declining, that needs some corresponding data into overall employment rate (it's not bad if everybody still has jobs) and total land still being farmed/gross farming output (maybe we're being far more productive with less jobs).

  5. I really can't abide unnecessarily rotated labels such as the 'Millions' on the LH scale. When they could so easily be laid horizontally at the top of the scale