Over the years, the Visual Capitalist creative team has created thousands of maps, charts, infographics, videos, data visualizations, and everything in between.
Through our online travels, we’ve encountered countless data-infused pieces – but only a select few stand out above the noise and filler. Below, five members of our creative team have each selected a piece that has inspired them in some way.
Let’s dive in!
— VC Creative Team
1. “The Weight of Walmart” by Nick Routley
See the full piece here.
There was an explosion in the number of infographics being produced around 2010-2011, and in many ways, that wave of popularity is what got me interested in fusing data with storytelling and design.
I can’t look back at that era with rose coloured glasses though; most of the pieces I encountered were dysfunctional and ugly. There was, however, a batch of really amazing infographics that tapped into clever illustrations and concepts to get their point across.
In my opinion, the piece that sums up that style best is “The Weight of Walmart”.
I love “The Weight of Walmart” for a number of reasons, but foremost, the content is genuinely interesting. In 2011, when the piece was released, Walmart was a retail juggernaut. As a result, some of the stats in this infographic are pretty remarkable.
Next, the idea of the obese anthropomorphic monster is weird and amazing, yet doesn’t detract from the subject matter at all. It also sets a very interesting aesthetic tone in the piece that is a big contrast from the staid, icon-filled infographics many people are used to.
As well, the infographic uses colour in an extremely effective, strategic way. Note the colour yellow as you scroll. Aside from being an overt hat tip to Walmart’s branding, that pop colour leads you through the content so you’re never stuck wondering where you should be looking next.
“The Weight of Walmart” made a big impact on me as a budding designer and even today – when we have more creative leeway on a piece – I look to that weird, wonderful example as one to emulate.
2. “The World’s First Writing Systems” by Melissa Haavisto
Watch the video embedded above
I’ve heard it said that while language could exist without writing, history books depend on the written word.
From our earliest days, humanity has shared information in an ever-evolving sequence of symbols, crude cave paintings, and timeworn inscriptions etched into stone. Fast-forward to 2017, and this habit of sharing knowledge has only continued to grow at breakneck speeds, with an explosion of data and information being created every second.
As a designer, I’ve always loved three things beyond the pure aesthetics: maps, history, and storytelling. Released in 2016 by Business Insider, “The Spread of the World’s First Writing Systems” concisely uses the first two points – maps and history — to paint the complexity of the third point (storytelling) in stunning detail.
In the span of two and a half minutes, the map follows a surge of evolving literacy systems across the world. Red is used to highlight six geographic regions, and colored timelines mark the birth (or death) of each script.
If you pause the video around the two-minute mark and look at the timelines, you can clearly see how complicated the evolution of language is. Winding new branches and dialects move across geographic borders, while some ancient scripts defy the odds and remain intact for millennia. Among the excerpts of each script, you may even notice some symbols that seem vaguely familiar to the modern eye.
Beyond its data functionality, the map pairs realistic beauty with a clean aesthetic and groups each family of written languages well.
As part of a series of concise, animated maps, “The Spread of the World’s First Writing Systems” remains one example among many that inspired my fascination with time, geographic space, and information.
3. “Earth Temperature Timeline” by Harrison Schell
See the full piece here.
Where a graphic really sets itself apart is how effectively it can communicate its intended message. The “Earth Temperature Timeline” by xkcd takes a huge amount of data, quite literally all of human history in the past 22,000 years, and makes it easy, fun, and informative to follow.
The strong points of this graphic cannot be overstated. The storytelling, with added jokes, keeps the reader engaged and interested, even if there is no flashy graphics or icons to accompany every slab of text. This is a great example of how writing and concept can carry the reader with sparse graphics, acting only as simple nudges to deliver the concept.
And finally, when you are happily comparing historic events and their relation to one another, the reality sets in. The whole 15,000 pixels set us up for the last inch, a swift blow to the stomach — climate change is here, and we are responsible.
This graphic altered my perspective on climate change — it made it real, and it made it ridiculous to claim “the climate has changed before”. When it comes down to it, making infographics is about taking data and making it digestible, and xkcd did just that, even if it was hard to swallow.
(After setting your car on fire) Listen, your car’s temperature has changed before.
– Randall Munroe of xkcd
4. “The Fallen of World War II” by Clayton Wadsworth
Watch the video embedded above
When we hear about the great wars of human history, it’s difficult to picture the sheer scale of the devastation in our minds.
What does 100,000 people look like? That one is simple enough – I can mentally picture a large stadium filled with people. But, what about 70 million people? There you’ve lost me. That is such a large number that I can no longer accurately visualize what that looks like.
That is the wonder of “The Fallen of World War II” by Neil Halloran. It takes the colossal numbers of casualties of both soldiers and civilians in WWII, and visually compares them to many of the other conflicts through human history in one brilliant video.
This award-winning motion graphic has inspired my own work here at Visual Capitalist, and was one of my primary animation references for the initial draft for “How Much Money have Humans Created?”, which we released in 2016. The success of this piece for me is largely due to its ability to contextualize history, allowing us to visually see the drastic difference between modern day conflicts and those of the past by using numbers effectively.
While its subject matter and length might turn away some from watching it in full, I strongly encourage you do so, as it is wonderfully made and incredibly captivating.
5. “Mission(s) to Mars” by Bennett Slater
View a larger version of this graphic here
An infographic needs to be able to communicate complex or dull information quickly and efficiently. Extraneous fluff added to a visualization because it’s “cool” typically muddies the information and begins to chip away at our attention. A simple, streamlined, and focused approach can hit its mark beautifully if done well. This graphic, which visualizes the world’s missions to Mars, is the perfect example of how to turn a table of names and dates into a piece of information art.
Let’s start with the visual hierarchy. Your eye shoots directly to the large white box against a black background. In the fewest words necessary, we read what this is about and smooth as milk we flow into the timeline. This is the meat of the graphic, and what we came for. Without even needing to read the dates, you are compelled visually to begin from the top and move down.
Now comes the genius bit. The timeline works both as a measure of time, but also a measure of distance. We move down the timeline and closer to Mars as we go. The viewer is able to gloss over this and still completely grasp where the Mars missions began and how far we’ve come in a matter of seconds. Once we’ve gotten what we need to from the timeline, we are invited to catch a few neat facts before heading down to the business of the color-coded legend. This design satisfies my itch every time I look at it.
It’s interesting to see styled trends come and go in the infographic world, but the one thing that will always rise to the surface is simple, effective information design. If you can hang a piece of art on your wall and learn some facts at the same time, then that’s the real mission.
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Our creative team uses the above infographics as inspiration for their own work.
If you want to see their creations, we publish new visuals every day that help to explain the complex world of business and investing.
Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems
All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.
Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems
While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.
But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?
This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.
Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA
A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.
This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.
Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms
Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!
This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.
Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:
|Organism||Kingdom||Size of genomes (number of base pairs)|
|Hepatitis D virus||Virus||1,700|
The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.
Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.
In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.
Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?
Beyond the 15 nations under the British monarchy, 28 other countries still have a ruling monarch. Here’s a look at the world’s monarchies.
Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?
In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the question of monarchy is brought sharply into focus.
However, a surprising number of countries have ruling monarchs, and in this visual we break down the kinds of royal leadership across the 43 countries that still have them.
Types of Monarchies
A monarch in the simplest sense is a country’s king, queen, emir, or sultan, and so on. But before diving in, it’s important to break down the distinctions between the types of monarchies that exist today. Generally, there are four kinds:
① Constitutional Monarchy
The monarch divides power with a constitutionally founded government. In this situation, the monarch, while having ceremonial duties and certain responsibilities, does not have any political power. For example, the UK’s monarch must sign all laws to make them official, but has no power to change or reject new laws.
Here are some examples of countries with constitutional monarchies:
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
② Absolute Monarchy
The monarch has full and absolute political power. They can amend, reject, or create laws, represent the country’s interests abroad, appoint political leaders, and so on.
Here are some examples of countries with absolute monarchies:
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
🇻🇦 Vatican City
③ Federal Monarchy
The monarch serves an overall figurehead of the federation of states which have their own governments, or even monarchies, ruling them.
Here are some examples of countries with federal monarchies:
Malaysia is a unique form of federal monarchy. Every five years, each state’s royal leaders choose amongst themselves who will be the monarch, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, of Malaysia and the respective states. Furthermore, the monarchy is also constitutional, allowing a democratically elected body to govern.
④ Mixed Monarchy
This is a situation wherein an absolute monarch may divide powers in distinct ways specific to the country.
Here are some examples of countries with mixed monarchies:
Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the only European monarchy that still practises strict agnatic primogeniture. Under agnatic primogeniture, the degree of kinship is determined by tracing descent from the nearest common ancestor through male ancestors.
Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Sultans Around the Globe
Now let’s break down the different monarchies country by country:
|Country||Type of Monarchy||Title of Head of State||Monarch||Title of Head of Government|
|🇦🇩 Andorra||Constitutional||Co-Princes||Joan-Enric Vives, Emmanuel Macron||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇺 Australia||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇭 Bahrain||Mixed||King||Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇪 Belgium||Constitutional||King||Philippe||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇿 Belize||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇹 Bhutan||Constitutional||King||Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam||Absolute||Sultan||Hassanal Bolkiah||Sultan|
|🇰🇭 Cambodia||Constitutional||King||Norodom Sihamoni||Prime Minister|
|🇨🇦 Canada||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||Constitutional||Queen||Margrethe II||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇿 Eswatini||Absolute||King||Mswati III||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇩 Grenada||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇲 Jamaica||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇵 Japan||Constitutional||Emperor||Naruhito||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇴 Jordan||Mixed||King||Abdullah II||Prime Minister|
|🇰🇼 Kuwait||Mixed||Emir||Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇸 Lesotho||Constitutional||King||Letsie III||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇮 Liechtenstein||Mixed||Sovereign Prince||Hans-Adam II||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||Constitutional||Grand Duke||Henri||Prime Minister|
|🇲🇾 Malaysia||Constitutional & Federal||Yang di-Pertuan Agong||Abdullah||Prime Minister|
|🇲🇨 Monaco||Mixed||Sovereign Prince||Albert II||Minister of State|
|🇲🇦 Morocco||Mixed||King||Mohammed VI||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||Constitutional||King||Willem-Alexander||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Constitutional||King||Harald V||Prime Minister|
|🇴🇲 Oman||Absolute||Sultan||Haitham bin Tarik||Sultan|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇶🇦 Qatar||Mixed||Emir||Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani||Prime Minister|
|🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Absolute||King||Salman||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇪🇸 Spain||Constitutional||King||Felipe VI||President of the Government|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||Constitutional||King||Carl XVI Gustaf||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇭 Thailand||Constitutional||King||Rama X||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇸 The Bahamas||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇴 Tonga||Constitutional||King||Tupou VI||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇻 Tuvalu||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇪 UAE||Federal||President||Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇧 UK||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇻🇦 Vatican City||Absolute||Pope||Francis||President of the Pontifical Commission|
Constitutional monarchies are undoubtedly the most popular form of royal leadership in the modern era, making up close to 70% of all monarchies. This situation allows for democratically elected governments to rule the country, while the monarch performs ceremonial duties.
Most monarchs are hereditary, inheriting their position by luck of their birth, but interestingly, French president, Emmanuel Macron, technically serves as a Co-Prince of Andorra.
Another unique case is the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who has absolute power in the small independent city—he gained his role thanks to an election process known as a papal conclave.
The Role of Monarchies
One of the most notable and famous ruling monarchies is the United Kingdom’s House of Windsor—also known as Queen Elizabeth II’s family. King Charles III has now ascended to the country’s throne, making him head of state in 15 nations total, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Many see the benefit in having a stable and consistent form of tradition and decorum at the country’s head of state.
“The Crown is an integral part of the institution of Parliament. The Queen [now King] plays a constitutional role in opening and dissolving Parliament and approving Bills before they become law.” – British Parliament
Japan’s royal family has been a prime example of stability, having reigned in the country for more than 2,600 years under the same hereditary line.
Critiques and the Future of Monarchy
Some claim, however, that there is no function of monarchy in the modern day, and complaints of monarchies’ immense wealth and power are rampant.
For example, according to the Dutch government, King Willem-Alexander’s budget for 2022, funded by the state and thus, taxpayers, comes out to more than €48 million.
Beyond tax dollars, with absolute monarchies there is typically a lack of political freedoms and certain rights. Saudi Arabia, for example, has no national elections. Rather its king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stays in power for life, appoints the cabinet himself, and passes laws by royal decree.
The death of Queen Elizabeth, though, may bring about change though for many of the world’s royally-governed. Since Barbados’ removal of her as head of state in 2021, six other Caribbean nations have expressed the desire to do the same, namely:
🇧🇸 The Bahamas
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda
🇰🇳 St. Kitts and Nevis
The future of monarchy in the 21st century is certainly not a guarantee.
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