Touching Statistics

This week the German parliament lifted the ban on using tablet computers like the iPad during sessions. Earlier this year one MP dared to read his speech from an iPad and got cited for that. Still laptop computers aren’t allowed for the noise and visual barrier they present.

Now I don’t have any aspirations of speaking in parliament but I do know what a difference a touch device makes. It is so much more convincing in one on one talks. Modern tablet sized computers are very likely to run SVG capable browsers, so data visualisation is a given. In this video you will see some additions to the webbased visualisations as far as the touch interface goes, which is a little different from pointer devices like the traditional mouse.

Try it out as a beta version on my personal site at

Additionally this population pyramid uses the html5 application cache which means this web-app will work even without an internet connection. So if you have a WiFi only device or are afraid of roaming costs during international conferences, just visit the above URL once and bookmark it. From then on it will work without an internet connection.

If you want to start developing yourself just do a view source at the above URL or read further in the Safari Reference Library.

Snapshots from the Census Years

Recently the ONS has published some new interactive content aimed at bringing together visualisation, narrative,audio,data table, images and animation into a single compact product. The Snapshots from the Census Years product is, in one sense, a logical continuation of the storytelling themes Armin talked about in his recent posting

Snapshots from the Census Years
Snapshots from the Census Years - integrating content

As we move from print to web, it becomes clear that we need not think of visualisation/narrative/data as such separate constructs.  Modern web content should allow us to integrate these forms so they can be authored together as a powerful composite product:  Clicking on a story in the text highlights the appropriate part of the graph.  Enabling audio allows you to follow the text while looking at the graph.  Each component allows and encourages further exploration of the other components.  Although only a small product aimed at promoting our 2011 Census, it really does suggest there is more scope for integrated outputs from official statistics producers.

Comparing population pyramids

Comparing population data for regions that differ a lot in absolute numbers poses some challenges. While percentages come to mind population pyramids using percentages are a lot less familiar and are prone to mis-interpretation. But oftentimes absolute numbers means you have to adjust scales.

In the example below a clear indicator appears when the two population pyramids are scaled differently (which is not the case in all combinations). Here you see a region in the western part of Germany (the state of Hesse on the left) compared to one in the eastern part (Saxony). The latter showing an additional bulge (born in the 1980s).

Two population pyramids side by side with table

While the above example had been around for a while, it was updated today both in terms of data and technology wise. The data is Germany’s latest population projection broken down to the “Länder” level (=NUTS1). You can check out the population pyramid comparison at

This population pyramid is now using the SVG Web toolkit so that it runs out of the box in modern browsers and in Internet Explorer just as well with the help of the Flash plugin.

And while we’re at the topic, let me plug the Animated Population Pyramid of Estonia which was recently published using the same code-base.

An even better population pyramid

Today Statistics Germany published their latest population projection until the year 2060. Together with this data the animated population pyramid was updated as well.

Most notable is a new layout that will put the assumptions right beside the pyramid and will let you switch between four different scenarios for the future (different assumptions for: fertility, life-expectancy, net-migration).

Thanks to the SVG Web library it will work in any browser and takes full advantages of open web standards, namely Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Watch a short screencast to see all of the functionality.

Then check it out for yourself, it’s available in english, french, german and russian at
Internet Explorer will need the Flash plugin to make this happen, all other browsers don’t.

Postscriptum: It seems, ONS published similar data today with a different approach in visualizing. Check it out, compare and please comment.

Showing off your data on the go

Ok, you’ve seen animated population pyramids before, but it happens to the best of us that they don’t work in a certain environment. Like I had to witness during a recent conference, someone clicks a link and nothing happens: wrong browser, missing plugin, content/security restrictions. All you get is a blank window.

While many of us will have their prepared laptop with them on conferences, there are lots of occasions where booting up even a smaller laptop doesn’t fit. Now what if you could show your data during every conversation and it just worked? Lucky enough who has an iPhone or iPod touch (OS 2.1 from August 2008 or newer). Have a look:

And check it out right here for yourself (works with Firefox 3+, Safari 3+, Opera 9.5+):

Animated Population Pyramid (Germany 1950-2050) – iPhone edition

Depending on the language of your browser this visualisation will be localized to either english, french, german, spanish or russian (meta-data is available in english/german only).

Don’t mistake this for a gadget ad. A lot of our products need quite some explanation, they need someone who puts them into context and this could perfectly happen during so many face to face conversations we have. And while we put most of our efforts online these days, in a personal conversation usually a leaflet or booklet has worked better so far. But this changes.

You might argue that mobile phones just become as powerful as ordinary computers and so will play all our web content including animations (like the iPhone already does), but with this example I wanted to show how one could adapt – with just a few hours work – interactive graphics for those smaller devices.