U.S. vs. Eurozone GDP

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


Economists closely watch the quarterly change in gross domestic product as a sign of a country’s economic well-being. A contraction (aka negative economic growth) in GDP for two consecutive quarters is the technical indicator of a recession.

Here’s the catch: the U.S. and Eurozone calculate the quarterly change differently. If you want to chart the figures together one set needs to be recalculated.

The details:

The U.S. expresses its GDP figures as a quarterly change at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, or what the quarterly rate would be if it continued for four quarters. The Bureau of Economic Analysis does this to make it easier to compare a quarter’s rate to rates in previous years. The Wall Street Journal chart above is a good example.

The Eurozone expresses GDP as a straight change from the previous quarter, not at an annual rate. See the chart below from the National Post.

If you want to compare Eurozone GDP to U.S. GDP your best bet is to recalculate the Eurozone GDP at an annual rate. I’m not going to step you through it, since the BEA already does an excellent job of it at this link:  http://www.bea.gov/faq/index.cfm?faq_id=122. You will need to get the quarterly GDP values (not the percentage changes) to make this calculation.


Racing sheets

December 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

racing sheet exampleWhen I work with reporters on graphics that need lots of text blocks, I tell them to write the copy like a racing sheet: short, punchy, concise and almost exactly the same length from item to item. But not everybody goes to the race track, so here are two examples of racing sheets. Click on them to make them bigger.



Diffusion indexes

July 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

purchasing managers index

Diffusion indexes confuse the heck out of people the first time they see one. But once diffusion indexes become familiar, they make a whole lot of sense. To chart a diffusion index and label it properly, you really need to understand what the numbers mean. (Okay, that goes for any graphic, but don’t expect to wing it with a diffusion index.)

With a diffusion index, 50 is the baseline, anything above that indicates expansion, anything below that indicates contraction. What confuses people is this: If the number is 60 in one month and 55 the next, that does not indicate contraction, it indicates slower expansion. If the number is 40 one month and 45 the next, that does not indicate expansion, it indicates slower contraction.

Take a look at the four examples of diffusion indexes in this post. I believe they were all made by Pat Minczeski on The Wall Street Journal graphics team. You will see that The Wall Street Journal took great pains to label not just whether a figure indicates expansion or contraction, but whether it is slower or faster than the previous month.

purchasing managers index



Usually when you chart a diffusion index, you are looking at some form of purchasing managers index of manufacturing activity. The Institute for Supply Management and Markit provide much of this data. To create an index, ISM surveys purchasing managers and asks them whether they’re doing more, less, or the same of things like placing new orders, hiring people or producing goods. The manufacturing index (or its sub-indexes) reflects their responses.

Here is a link to the most recent ISM report: http://www.ism.ws/ISMReport/content.cfm?ItemNumber=10748&navItemNumber=12949

And here are the historical numbers for the main manufacturing index: http://www.ism.ws/ISMReport/content.cfm?ItemNumber=10752

For detailed historical figures, you probably need to contact the Institute for Supply Management or Markit. I haven’t found detailed figures on their sites. Give me a shout if you come across them.


Visual conceit

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Adonis Durado, the design director of the Times of Oman has employs what he calls “visual conceit” to drive his pages. For a presentation on visual conceipt, go here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/66821299/Visual-Conceit-Handout

Video: Narrative Visualization

November 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

information in the age of data

I have had a tremendously difficult time describing what I do as an information graphics specialist. “Oh, you’re the pie chart guy,” I often hear. I then explain that a pie chart is one arrow in a vast quiver, and I rattle off a dozen more forms that an information graphic might take. When I say I do “data visualization” instead of information graphics, that usually just stops the questions cold.

That said, Geoff McGhee at Stanford University has produced a video that explains, with great clarity and depth, how people in the information graphics field tell stories with data and images.


The video covers the genres of narrative vizualization, the tools and the methods. It tells you who’s who in the field and provides advice for getting started in data visualization.

Next time I have difficultly explaining the profession, I’m just going to offer this video.

Free visualization tools

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

This wiki provides a list of open source programs for graphics and data visualization. Karl Gude, a professor at Michigan State University and former Newsweek graphics chief, compiled the list and spoke about open-source software at the recent Society of News Design convention.


Extreme horizontals

August 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

In my last post, I emphasized how the shape of an extremely vertical graphic can make a statement.


This new post looks at an extreme horizontal from visualeconomics.com (http://www.visualeconomics.com/what-bp-could-have-bought-with-all-the-money-they-lost/) that puts the loss of BP’s market capitalization in perspective. Print publications often design graphics in shallow strips, sometimes across two pages. But from this post you can see how the size constraints of some online publishing platforms don’t allow for wide graphics. To fit in this blog, the graphic had to be reduced to about 5% of its original size. Click on the image to bring it up in a browser window (you may have to click the image again to bring it to 100%). To see the entire graphic, you have to scroll to the right, which to me seems much less natural than scrolling down a Web page. Maybe this will change as we get used to the iPad navigation.

Also worth mentioning, extreme horizontals and verticals are most effective when they play to the subject matter of the graphic. The extreme vertical from the previous blog post worked particularly well because it dealt with the depths of the ocean. A stronger usage for an extreme horizontal would be a comparison of long jump records.

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