OECD better life initative

I have to be honest: at first, I was totally turned off by the flower visual representation within the OECD's Better Life Initiative. An email with the link to this site has been sitting in my inbox for weeks as I tried to muster the energy to write about flowers (I am not a flowery person). Today, I decided to try to move past that and use the tool to actually explore the data.

I'm glad that I did. It's kind of amazing. I highly recommend playing with it directly (here). But in case you aren't convinced, let's take a quick tour of this interactive visual.

Here's what you'll see on the main page (and what initially turned me off through the cuteness of flowers for data visualization):

Each flower represents one of the 34 member countries in the OECD. Each petal represents one of the 11 aspects of life (e.g. housing, education, work life balance) that make up the OECD's index (details on how they chose these, data sources, etc. are in the FAQ). You are given complete control over how the various aspects combine to the summary index - to begin with, all are weighted equally, but the user can dial up or dial down how much each counts towards the overall index. The size of the petal indicates how the given country rates on the given life aspect. The height of the flower represents the aggregate index for the given country (based on the the user-input weightings) relative to the other countries.

One thing that bothered me initially was that the flowers seemed randomly ordered and I couldn't tell what the height represented (or even whether it was meaningful). This confusion goes away as soon as you start setting your own preferences and dialing up/down the different aspects of life on the right. For example, if I dial down the emphasis of income and select display countries by rank (bottom right; default is alphabetical, which is messy visually), I get the following:

The blue petals (income, which is what I changed) are highlighted. This is a nice use of preattentive attributes to make one aspect stand out and push all else to the background. I can quickly see the relative index by country (height of flower) visually.

As you hover your mouse over the different countries, another visual comes up that shows the relative scores for the given country across the various aspects. These horizontal bars make it much easier for our eyes to see the relative magnitudes than do the petals of the flower. But the petals do compact in a way that makes them work for the supergraphic (which is showing a LOT of information) and I like that the details are there on demand. There is good consistency of color throughout the site, with each aspect shown in the same color in each of the various visuals. The color palette of slightly muted shades is a good choice (bright colors would quickly transport us to the world of Rainbow Bright, which can be distracting).

Clicking on a specific country will bring you to a page on that country and some nice visuals showing how it ranks on each attribute compared to other countries (through another nice use of preattentive attributes to highlight the given country). Clicking on a specific aspect in the Topics menu will take you to a page on that aspect, including a nice visual of countries in ascending order by the given aspect.

In sum, this is a well organized site with some nice visuals to explore. It packs in a lot of data. I love everything except the flowers!

By the way, the OECD is a great source of data if you're ever looking for a dataset to analyze or visualize. Google has a great tool, Google Public Data Explorer, that brings together public data from various sources (including the OECD) and provides tools to visualize it.