How Electricity Is Made in Each Country
One of the most powerful ways that design contributes to climate work is making the invisible visible, as with data journalism. These series of 60 charts by Nadja Popovich, Michael Keller, and Aatish Bhatia in the New York Times quickly, effectively, and beautifully answer a question rumbling around many of our heads: how much progress is each country making to migrate to renewable energy?
There’s two techniques in particular I’ll highlight about this work:
Charts, Not a Map
When faced with data on a per-country basis our first instinct is to make a map. Mapping software like Datawrapper makes a once overly-technical task easy and attractive. And actually Popovich et al start with a map to give us an overview, but they don’t stop there…
By using stacked line charts they can show, on a per-country basis, both relative amounts of type of electricity production as well as the up/down trends for each. And because our eyes can scan a screen quickly, presenting them in a large grid helps us make quick comparisons…
Absolute or Relative Values? Yes
A key problem with this kind of data is that the scale varies widely. Countries like the China generate so much more electricity than small countries that presenting them on the same scale would make some plotted areas too large or too small to interpret clearly. But if you vary the scale, that can make it look like China and India generate the same amount when actually China generates over five times more.
A key tenant of design thinking is generating alternatives. So whenever we’re faced with a binary choice our instinct should be to reject it and seek additional options. Rather than choose one absolute scale or many relative scales they give us both, using a simple toggle to “see trends” or “compare totals”:
How can you find your role in climate?
On January 17, 2024 Bill DeRouchey will host a free, online panel discussion to move the conversation from why to work in climate design to how. Bill will be joined by Jamie Beck Alexander, Nina Gregg, and Shawn Petersen.
Thanks for Reading
And a bit of music for your day…