Makeover Monday week 45, 2017: Life expectancy at birth

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Another week, another map. Wait, what??? We’re mapping data AGAIN???

Yes, this week we’re looking at life expectancy at birth in countries across the world. We actually wanted to use this dataset during TC17, but given the mass shooting in Vegas it wasn’t an appropriate topic.

The dataset is a good one, though, and with two live events this Thursday – Andy in San Diego, me in Helsinki – it gives newbies and experienced MM participants a great challenge and many options.

Let’s have a look at the original viz which comes from WHO:

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 3.18.13 pm.png

What works well:

  • The map invited interactivity
  • colours are consistent
  • great highlight actions
  • tooltips provide exact values
  • additional indicators and timeframes are available
  • filtering by region allows ‘zoom in’


What could be improved:

  • I’ll be quite blunt: this is not visually striking. Blocks of different shades of green, with a lot of wasted space
  • lack of labelling: when I zoom into the world map, there is space for country labels but none are provided
  • when I select a country on the left and then want to look at a different country, the previous selection is still highlighted but not all the highlighted countries are shown
  • when selecting a country on the left the map is zoomed in but the country is often cut off or other countries around it are equally prominent. Again, a label would help to make the selected country stand out
  • highlight action in the bar chart when selecting a country is not great. An orange outline of a green bar is the only indication of my selection.
  • the bar chart is called ‘country ranking’ but it isn’t a ranking, it’s simply a bar chart sorted by life expectancy in ascending order from left to right. A ranking would also suggest that the country at the start, i.e. the left, is the highest or best ranked country, while this viz has the lowest life expectancy on the far left. A top to bottom list or – better yet – a bump chart would work well for a ranking


What I did:

  • My initial idea was to look at the impact of wars after getting a glimpse into Andy’s draft and having an idea. The data we had was from 1960-2015 so I tried a few wars that happened more recently but with the change of country names over time it all didn’t go anywhere.
  • I instead started exploring the data visually and looked at life expectancy drops that looked interesting
  • I ended up selecting Africa as my main focus and more particularly a number of countries which seemed most impacted by the AIDS pandemic which led to strong decreases in life expectancy during the 1990s
  • To show the impact I chose a line chart for each country which is coloured based on an increase or decrease in life expectancy
  • I also added a map for easy interactivity and a barbell chart at the bottom to show the range in life expectancy for each year (min to max) for all the selected countries. This helps my viewers compare across those countries


Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 3.33.31 pm.png

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