Visualizing The World’s Well-Being

This is a guest post by Mike Tully, designer and student at Parsons School of Design in New York City. In this Inside article he describes the creation process behind his first information visualization project called “The Weather of Well Being”.

The Assignment

This past Fall, I was enrolled in Topics: Information Design, a comprehensive and rigorous course at Parsons School of Design, focusing on data visualization. My class was given the task of creating two information design pieces throughout the semester. We had to choose our topics, conduct research, find raw data and go through several stages of design. What resulted was an intense crash course in information design that consisted of endless hours of work, frustration, confusion, crying classmates, reassuring talks from our teacher, and both relief and happiness as my two projects slowly started coming together. The first of these projects was The Weather of Well Being, an infographic that examines the relationship between subjective well-being and climate in 40 different countries.

The Data

Many people believe that the weather has an effect on their feelings and mood. Considering this, is it possible to find data and information that proves this? This is the question I asked myself when starting my first information design project. I wanted to find valid connections that could both help prove this and reveal any other interesting and relevant information.

After beginning my research, I quickly stumbled upon the OECD’s Factbook 2010. One key component of this annual report is the section on “Quality of Life”. Within that section, I found that the report on “Subjective Well-being” was exactly one of the data sets I was looking for. The report states “Subjective well-being consists of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Each of these three dimensions matter for people’s life, and is subject to a different range of determinants.” One of these many determinants is weather.

There are many different systems of classifying weather. I decided that climate would be the most effective system for international comparisons. Taking a standard climate classification system, I linked each country in the OECD report with their various climates.

In addition to weather and climate, I wanted to somehow incorporate information about population and productivity. I decided that GDP per capita would be the most suitable variable for that task. The additional insight of the relationships between subjective well-being, climate, GDP, and population seemed worth including.

The Creation

My design process started with a comprehensive sketch phase. I played around with various forms of presenting all of my information. After working through many different representations, I found myself most drawn to a radial format. While it has been used in many infographics before, It seemed the most conducive to the information I chose to present. After committing to my design, I began to construct my data and poster in Adobe Illustrator.

I started by deciding to organize the countries along the circular form, so that as the viewer looks clockwise, the countries are ordered from the highest average positive experiences to least average positive experiences. This seemed to provide a logical point of entry to the piece and the easiest way to quickly compare positivity ratings among different countries, something very important to me.

After inputting the positivity ratings, I began to input the average negativity ratings. I had intended for both to be placed on top of each other, but quickly realized that it was confusing and much more clear if they were placed opposite to each other, with positivity going outwards and negativity going inwards. This allowed for much easier comparisons among the data and provided a stronger visual balance overall.

To display climate, I chose to have six color coded circles in the center of my piece. Radiating from each circle are colored lines that link each country to it’s various climates. This helps quickly reveal the relationship between climate and positive experiences, negative experiences, and GDP per capita. Initially each circle was filled with it’s corresponding color, but after deleting the fill and leaving the color coded stroke, I found that more emphasis was placed on the lines linking the climates to their corresponding countries.

Once the majority of my information was inputted, I found myself wanting to see more data, so I decided to include the breakdown of the average positive and negative experiences, which include 6 different sub-categories for each. Placing them next to the averages, I had issues color coding them in a clear manner. I decided that a monochromatic scale that got gradually darker was the most clear and effective choice.

The Visualization

Now after feeling confident with the amount of information I was displaying, I made small refinements throughout my poster. The most difficult was the placement of the percentages corresponding to the various positive and negative experiences and breakdowns. Ultimately I found it the most visually pleasing and easiest to read if they were placed within and on the same angle as each line. After the placement was finalized, I decided that my original color palette was too dull and unsaturated so I opted for a brighter and more saturated color palette for both the inner and outer parts of my poster.

The result of weeks of intense work was my first infographic, The Weather of Well Being. A high resolution version of this piece and my second infographic on air travel are both viewable on my website.

Visualizing The World’s Well-Being Mike Tully is a designer and student at Parsons School of Design in New York City and a member of Go West Collective. Visit his portfolio to see more of his work and his blog for a collection of inspiration.

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  • Gert K Nielsen

    Hi Mike –
    It’s a beautiful chart, but I fail to see the connection between weather and well-being? Your datasets are completely arbitrary, which could be ok, if you connected something to give us an insight. Instead you write a starting text, as manipulative as they come: ‘One of the most notable determinants for subjective well-being is climate’. Says who? And if so, why isn’t weather mentioned at all in the OECD factbook you use to lend your project some false credibility?
    Thanks for the insight into how the infographic artists of today are trained though. Regards, Gert K Nielsen –

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  • mazar

    How happy do people feel?