Growing up in Scotland, you learn that we invented everything from heat and light to the deep fried Mars Bar (for people who want a heart attack but don’t want to wait). I could go on, but the list is long and the transition to what I’m supposed to write about will get even harder, so you’ll forgive me if I tell you right now that I’d never heard of William Playfair until I started this article. Born in 1759 in the parish of Liff and Benvie (which I’d never heard of either), Playfair invented the line graph, circle graph, bar chart (used in his 1786 Commercial and Political Atlas) and the pie chart (in his 1801 Statistical Breviary).
Later in the century, famous nurse and less famous statistician Florence Nightingale developed a kind of pie chart, the polar area chart, to show that dirty hospitals had killed more British soldiers than enemy action in the Crimean War. Military operations are also behind what Edward Tufte of Yale University calls “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn”, Charles Minard’s chart showing the losses of Napoleon’s army in Russia, along with temperatures, time and locations.
Tufte himself is a professor of statistics but he’s more widely known for his criticisms of how slidewares are used (here’s Peter Norvig’s suggestion on how Lincoln could have improved the Gettysburg Address using PowerPoint) and for his work on data visualisation. And that’s the subject of this post. We’re offering a trip to the OECD Forum in Paris next spring for the best visualisation of data from Education at a Glance, published this morning. The winner will also receive a $2500 prize courtesy of GE.
The theme is “Return on education”. The report says that people with higher (tertiary) education can expect to earn 55% more on average in OECD countries than a person without tertiary education. Those who have not completed secondary education earn 23% less than those who have.
We’ll supply the raw data and your design will be judged on understanding, originality and style. It “should encourage comparison across the countries, and should reveal the individual statistics that go into these indicators. Additional education or economic data from the Education at a Glance or other OECD publications may also be included.”
Deadline for entries is Friday, November 2, 2012, 11:59 pm EDT and we’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, November 14.
If you’d like to have a go but don’t have much experience, take a look at Shawn Allen’s course at the School of Visual Arts. You’ll find lots of good advice and examples, including the ones I used here, as well as links to software.