The Time We Won The Economist Data Visualization Challenge
In the interest of not burying the lede, my husband and I won The Economist‘s Data Visualization Challenge. Out of 4,000+ people logging in for the challenge details, our entry won first prize.
But let me back up a little.
We’ve subscribed to the Economist for about two years now and a couple of months ago I saw an advertisement for the challenge. My husband is the data guy so I immediately thought of him, and the challenge also was looking for a compelling story from the data analysis and, well, that’s right up this journalist’s alley.
The two of us have never collaborated on anything professionally before, and it was interesting to work together. We started off the process with a brainstorm. The data set was from Neilsen and consisted of their consumer confidence index and some other data about consumer spending and purchasing habits. You can read more about the challenge on this Wired article.
I kept bugging my husband, Bogdan, about doing what I called “fancy” data analyses because it is always impressive to me how much he knows about statistics. We both realized that we needed to supplement the data set with other economic indicators to be able to tell any kind of meaningful story. Somehow we got to the idea that democracy and freedom of speech were playing a role in how confident people were about their economies (this was mainly because of the high confidence in China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other similar countries).
Being the freedom of the press nerd in the family, I suggested we use the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index in our analysis. Sure enough, we found a strong relationship between confidence and press freedom.
You can read more about our entry here as well as some more biographic info about Bogdan and me. You can also find a link to our winning entry there.
As part of winning the challenge, Bogdan and I will be presenting at the Economist‘s World in 2013 Conference in New York city today. We’re excited to be a part of the conference and to share the interesting things we found in the data.
Honestly we never really thought we had a chance at winning the challenge. I knew we had something unique (which I gambled and thought it was exactly what they were looking for), but Bogdan kept worrying that we were going too far astray from the original data set. Apparently they liked it! We’re honored to have won. Looking through the finalists, I realize that there were some great submissions and some really talented people involved. Kudos to all of you!
I think at this point people are realizing that we need “data visualization” but they erroneously think this means an infographic. Infographics can be beautiful, but are they meaningful? I think that by winning this challenge it is clear that data visualization needs much more than graphic designers. You need a statistician to actually prep and find meaning in the data. You need a writer/storyteller who can provide context and depth to the data. And finally you need a designer to make it beautiful and interesting.
If you have any data visualization issues that need solving, well, you can contact us!