The Top 20 Visualizations of 2020, by Visual Capitalist
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Visual Capitalist’s Top 20 Visualizations of 2020

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Top Visualizations of 2020

What can be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? Simply put, it was a wild ride. Not only did these past few months provide a multitude of topics for us to dig into, our growing team produced far more original work than ever before.

This is now the seventh edition of our yearly round-up. One noteworthy change is in the name. It’s no longer the “Top Infographics”, which reflects a broader shift to different styles of visual communication. We live in a complex, volatile, multi-screen world, and our visualizations are becoming more nimble to keep up this fast pace.

Below is a selection of our most noteworthy work. Some pieces have been selected because of their wide reach, while others broke new ground in design and data-driven reporting. For the top picks, members of our team will provide some commentary on the concept and context.

Let’s dive in to our list of the top visualizations of 2020.
 
Editor’s note: Click on any preview below to see the full-sized version of a visualization.


Visual Capitalist’s Top 20 Visualizations of 2020

#20

The Soaring Value of Intangible Assets in the S&P 500

Tangible vs. Intangible Assets

The ascent of tech firms since the 1990s has brought about a massive change in the asset mix of publicly-traded companies, with the share of intangibles currently at unprecedented levels. This infographic charts the growth of intangible assets in the S&P 500 over time, providing a glimpse at how prevalent technology has become in our lives.

#19

Tech’s Bizarre Beginnings & Lucrative Pivots

Lucrative Tech Pivots

Imagine Samsung trading dehydrated fish and Nokia selling rubber boots. It’s bizarre, but that’s exactly how some tech giants started their journey. In this infographic, we show the unusual beginnings of recognizable tech brands and the pivots that helped earn their success.

#18

Charting the $1.7B Transfer of Military Equipment to Police Departments

The $1.7 billion transfer of military equipment to police departments

From office supplies and thermal underwear to mine-resistant vehicles and helicopters, a plethora of outdated military equipment has been transferred to police forces through the 1033 program. This visualization tracks the flow of $1.7B worth of military equipment to law enforcement over the past decade at the state and department levels.

#17

Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

The Impact of Highways on American Cities

Highways not only enabled a new era of connectivity, but also utterly changed the course of development in American cities. These animations show how highways reshaped the downtown cores of six American cities and provide background on the interstate highway system.

#16

How Many People Die Each Day?

Deaths per day vs. COVID-19

COVID-19’s daily death toll numbers have taken center stage in the media, with recent December numbers in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 15,000 deaths per day globally. But without any frame of reference, these numbers can be hard to put into perspective.

Which diseases are the most deadly, and how many lives do they take per day? This infographic visualizes average daily deaths by cause and country, showing how many lives are claimed by various diseases and instances on a daily basis.

#15

Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

Looking at which countries were most reliant on tourism was especially important in a year where travel changed dramatically. This chart breaks down the countries with travel and tourism sectors that make up more than 15% of national employment.

#14

Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2020

Prediction Consensus in 2020

There was no lack of predictions from pundits and prognosticators as we approached the beginning of a new decade. As 2019 drew to a close, we compiled hundreds of predictions to get a broader sense of what the experts saw coming in the year ahead. (Spoiler alert: Nobody had global pandemic on their bingo card.)

#13

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Media Consumption, by Generation

Media Habits by Generation in 2020

COVID-19 changed a lot of things about daily life, but how did it impact the way we consume media? This graphic looks at the trends in media usage by generation and the type of media being consumed. Overall, Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers all increased their time looking at media in 2020.

#12

Mind-Bending Medicine: An Overview of Psychedelic Substances

Overview of Psychedelic Substances

With the growing awareness around mental health, the use of psychedelic substances for treating mental health disorders is becoming less speculative and more mainstream. This infographic is an eye-opening overview of seven of the most common psychedelic substances and examines the mind-bending ways in which they could transform mental health.

#11

Making Billions: The Richest People in the World

Making Billions: The Richest People in the World

This graphic from September reveals the world’s richest people across multiple categories. Peruse this graphic to see some familiar faces like Mark Zuckerberg, some of China’s richest people, like Jack Ma, and, of course, the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos.

#10

The Race to Save Lives: Comparing Vaccine Development Timelines

Vaccine Development Timelines

This in-depth visualization showed us the historical rate of development for the world’s vaccines. Understanding how the development process works was more important this year than usual as many people had questions about COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline.

#9

Zooming In: Visualizing the Relative Size of Particles

The Relative Size of Particles

The coronavirus has made us well aware of the impact microscopic things can have on our lives. From virus particles and wildfire smoke to a grain of salt and fine beach sand, this infographic zooms in to visualize the relative size of particles that are often smaller than the eye can see.

#8

Visualizing the Length of the Fine Print, for 14 Popular Apps

Length of tech service agreements

In a year with more people relying on technology than ever, how many of us truly know what we sign up for?

This infographic–which was inspired by an art exhibition by Dima Yarovinsky–revealed just how lengthy and arduous terms of service agreements are for some of the most popular apps, and how long it would take to read them.

#7

U.S. Dollar Performance After U.S. Elections

U.S. Dollar Performance After Elections

A turbulent election year for the U.S. meant many were examining the potential of the election on markets—both before and after November. Our recent look at U.S. dollar performance after U.S. elections took a closer look at the influence elections really have on the market.

#6

Visualizing the Expanse of the ETF Universe

The Expanse of the ETF Universe

Since the establishment of the first U.S. exchange-traded fund (ETF) in 1993, ETFs have gained traction as a convenient way of investing in multiple stocks. In terms of assets under management, the ETF universe is almost five times what it was just a decade ago.

In this visualization, we show the expanse of the $5.75 trillion ETF universe that covers almost every investing niche.

#5

The Economics of Coffee in One Chart

The Economics of Coffee

Words by Omri Wallach

If you’ve purchased even one cup of coffee this year from a nearby café, you’ve participated in the $200+ billion global coffee supply chain. Yet few of us understand the amazing journey coffee makes from beans to cup, nor the costs associated with them (and who profits).

This infographic breaks down the costs incurred by retail coffee production for one 16 oz (475ml) cup of brewed coffee. From growing and processing beans to a massive export and roasting market, it reveals the underlying costs that factor into every cup of coffee you consume.

#4

The Math Behind Social Distancing

Math Behind Social Distancing

Words by Nick Routley

Along with zoom and flatten the curve, the term social distancing entered our collective lexicon. While the benefits of avoiding extraneous human contact during a pandemic can be easily understood at the individual level, the downstream effects are harder to understand.

Our goal with this graphic—which was published just two weeks after the pandemic was declared—was to provide an impactful example of how a reduction in social exposure would theoretically contain the spread of infection. And time was of the essence. Previous research had shown that the sooner distancing measures were put in place, the more effective they were at curbing local outbreaks.

#3

The Front Line: Visualizing the Occupations with the Highest COVID-19 Risk

covid-19 occupational risk

Words by Nick Routley

After the shock of the pandemic wore off, people began to ask more practical questions about how it would impact their day-to-day life. One of those questions was: will my job put me at risk for contracting coronavirus?

We looked to answer that complicated question by digging into the U.S. Department of Labor’s massive O*Net database, which has classified nearly every type of occupation based on a number of attributes. We selected specific attributes and gave each job a score, making it easy for people to evaluate occupational risk in their own life.

There were a number of ways the information could be charted, but in the end we decided to plot risk against annual income.

#2

50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream

History of Gaming by Revenue Stream

Words by Omri Wallach

The COVID-19 pandemic hit many sectors hard, but gaming was not one of them. The market continued growing its ever-rising tsunami of revenue, new consoles were launched, and tech giants entered the playing field to try their hands at capturing the cloud streaming market.

But how did 2020’s estimated $165 billion gaming market come to be? This historical timeline examines the rise of gaming revenue from the arcade boom to the console and PC invasion, culminating in the rapid rise of mobile gaming. Considering revenues have been adjusted for inflation, it clearly demonstrates the upwards momentum of media’s biggest earning sector.

#1

Visualizing the History of Pandemics

history of pandemics

Words by Nicholas LePan

In 2020, the COVID-19 virus swept the world and forced nations to shutter their economies to protect their citizens. However unique this virus is to our current time, the world has faced pandemics before, so Visual Capitalist looked to the past.

The History of Pandemics infographic compared the death toll from the COVID-19 virus to other historic pandemics all the way back to Roman times. However, as time revealed the growing impact of the COVID-19, this infographic was updated to tally the growing death toll.

We are still in the midst of this pandemic and the final impact is still uncertain. But undoubtedly, COVD-19 defined 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021 and beyond.


Thanks for visiting our top visualizations of 2020 round-up. From our entire team at Visual Capitalist, we wish you a prosperous and safe 2021!

Previous Years:

See previous round-ups of top visualizations here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

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Our Top 22 Visualizations of 2022

In this ninth edition of our yearly round-up, we highlight visualizations that broke new ground in design and data-driven reporting.

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The world was a complex and volatile place in 2022.

In our signature style⁠—combining art, data, and storytelling⁠—we helped millions of people make sense of unfolding events, from geopolitical flare-ups to stock market turmoil. Our growing team ranked, mapped, and visualized hundreds of new infographics on a multitude of topics.

This year we continued to refine classic concepts such as All the World’s Money, Global Happiness, World’s Richest People, and Prediction Consensus.

🔮🔮🔮
Speaking of predictions, we’re creating the ultimate cheatsheet for 2023.
See what hundreds of experts are predicting for 2023 with our Global Forecast Series.

In this ninth edition of our yearly round-up, we’ve highlighted a small selection of our work, as well as pieces made by talented members of our Creator Program. The following visualizations were selected because they reached millions of people, sparked lively conversations, or pushed boundaries in design and data-driven reporting.

Now, let’s dive in to the top 22 visualizations of 2022.

Editor’s note: Click on any preview below to see the full-sized version of a visualization.

#22

The $100 Trillion Global Economy in One Chart

$100 Trillion World Economy preview image

IMF projections from earlier this year suggested that we would hit a new milestone for global economic output: $104 trillion. This voronoi diagram carves up the global economy by country.

One more insight from this graphic. While China’s GDP growth has slowed in recent years, projections still indicate that the country will overtake the U.S. by 2030, dethroning the world’s economic leader.

#21   CREATOR PROGRAM

Visualizing Earth’s Seasons

Earth's Seasons preview image

The Earth’s changing seasons radically affect the world in different ways. Some regions experience four distinct seasons, while others experience only two or as many as six.

Many people think the seasons are dictated by Earth’s proximity to the Sun, but this isn’t the case. It’s the Earth’s tilt, not its closeness to the Sun, that influences our seasons and causes massive changes in weather and ecology.

This animated map by Eleanor Lutz visualizes Earth’s seasons, showing how the temperature changes impact ice levels in the Arctic, as well as the growth and shifting of vegetation. It also highlights the cloud cover and sunlight each hemisphere receives throughout the year, with each frame in the animation representing a month of time.

#20

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Ukraine

Ukraine map explainer preview image

As columns of Russian tanks began snaking their way toward Kyiv in early 2022, the world’s eyes became fixated on Ukraine. While outlets like FT and NYT provided real-time invasion updates, we focused on geography, infrastructure, and points of interest using our Map Explainer format.

#19

Visualizing the World’s Largest Oil Producers

oil production by country preview image

The conflict in Ukraine had broader implications on the global economy, and the world hit its first energy crisis of the 21st century. This infographic looks at where oil is actually produced around the world.

The OPEC countries are the largest oil producers collectively, with Saudi Arabia alone making up one-third of OPEC production.

#18

10 Years of Tinder

10 Years of Tinder Preview Image

With its user-friendly interface and popular features like “swipe right” to indicate interest, Tinder has transformed the way people meet and date. When the dating app reached its 10th birthday this year, we leaned into a wacky design that reflects the twists and turns the company has taken on its journey from hackathon project to billion dollar business.

#17

The Salary You Need to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Cities

salary to buy a home preview image

Where one lives has big implications on how realistic home ownership may seem. This graphic offers a broad view of affordability, mapping out the annual salary needed for home ownership in 50 different U.S. cities.

San Jose came out on top as the most expensive city, while Oklahoma City and Cleveland ranked as some of the most affordable.

#16

The Relationship Between Wealth and Happiness, by Country

wealth and happiness preview image

Throughout history, the pursuit of happiness has been a preoccupation of humankind. Of course, we humans are not just content with measuring our own happiness, but also our happiness in relation to the people around us—and even other people around the world.

We crunched the numbers and visualized the data to see if money really does buy happiness.

#15

Animation: The World’s Biggest Wind Turbines

worlds biggest wind turbines preview image

Over the past 20 years, wind turbines have grown in size, and are now generating much more energy per unit. Today, the tallest turbines can reach over 200 meters (650 ft) in height and cost more than $12 million to manufacture and install.

This animated infographic, produced by our Elements team, shows them side-by-side with iconic landmarks to help show the scale of modern wind energy infrastructure.

#14

33 Problems With Media in One Chart

Problems with media preview image

One of the hallmarks of democratic society is a healthy, free-flowing media ecosystem. Unfortunately, the modern news media ecosystem is under fire from a number of angles, from a shrinking pool of ad revenue to declining trust from readers.

Many of the problems identified in the infographic are easy to understand once they’re identified. However, in some cases, there is an interplay between these issues that is worth digging into. One thing is for certain, the topic generated a lively discussion on how to fix the problems that plague mainstream media.

#13   CREATOR PROGRAM

Visualizing S&P 500 Performance in 2022, by Sector

stock market in 2022 preview image

Tracking indices over the course of a year reveals a lot about market trends and sentiment. The S&P 500’s performance over the course of 2022 is a great example.

Throughout the year, inflation rates have remained high and interest rates have likewise been climbing around the world. Accompanied by the looming threat of a recession, some sectors have been hit harder than others.

This animation from Jan Varsava shows U.S. dividend-adjusted stock performance for each company in the S&P 500 index in 2022, from the start of the year through the end of September.

#12

Animated Map: Where to Find Water on Mars

Water on Mars map preview image

The European Space Agency has long been looking for water on Mars, and this year it looks like they’ve found it…in rocks!

Special rocks called hydrous minerals are believed to contain remnants of a large but now lost Martian ocean. The ESA released new data confirming the geographical locations of these rocks, suggesting places where water may still be present deep beneath the red planet’s surface.

#11

All the World’s Military Personnel

military personnel preview image

With conflicts in Ukraine, Iran, and other places making war and violence unfortunately prevalent in 2022, we assessed the military capabilities of countries worldwide.

This visual breaks down all the world’s active duty and reserve soldiers with each soldier icon representing 10,000 soldiers. Although China has the largest active military, Vietnam took the top spot as the country with the biggest military worldwide when including reserves and paramilitary numbers into the mix.

#10   CREATOR PROGRAM

The Yuxi Circle: The World’s Most Densely Populated Area

yuxi circle preview image

If you wanted to capture over 55% of the global population inside a circle with a 4,000 km (2,500 mi) radius, which city would you place at its epicenter?

Mapmaker Alasdair Rae went digging through population data, tracing circles around 1,500 cities worldwide to find out how many people lived within a 4,000 km radius. Out of all possible options, he discovered that the The Yuxi Circle, based on a city in the Yunnan province of China, was the world’s most densely populated area.

#9

A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized

lifetime of fossil fuels preview image

In this graphic, we visualized exactly how many fossil fuels are used in an average American’s 80-year lifetime, putting the coal, gas, and petroleum into scaled cubes and comparing them to the size of a human being.

The end result? It turns out that we use a lot of fossil fuels as individuals—over 119 tonnes of coal, 236 tonnes of petroleum products, and 2,007 cubic meters of compressed natural gas.

#8

Every Song With Over 1 Billion Spotify Streams

spotify billions club preview image

Spotify is the world’s most popular audio streaming service with over 450 million users across 183 markets. With that kind of scale, songs can rack up some serious streaming numbers.

In this ambitious data visualization, we looked at every song with more than one billion streams on the platform, and served the data up by decade and artist.

#7

A Decade of Elon Musk’s Tweets, Visualized

elon musk tweets preview image

Even before Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the entrepreneur was already a power user of the platform, using it to share news about his companies, chat with users about technology, and, of course, post dank memes.

To better understand Musk’s Twitter usage over the years, we decided to scrape his entire tweet history and visualize the results. The result is a unique radial timeline design that highlights key topics as well as the overall volume of tweets. Our article also features the highlights (and lowlights) of Musk’s growing body of microblogging work.

#6   CREATOR PROGRAM

Nature Timespiral: The Evolution of Earth from the Big Bang

nature timespiral preview image

Not much is known about what came before the Big Bang, but we do know that it launched a sequence of events that gave rise to the universal laws of physics and the chemical elements that make up matter.

How the Earth came about, and life subsequently followed, is a wondrous story of time and change. Over the course of about 14 billion years, history has seen the creation of the universe, the expansion of the cosmos, and the spawning of galaxies, stars, planets, and eventually, life.

In this amazingly detailed visualization called the Nature Timespiral, Pablo Carlos Buddassi illustrates this journey, depicting the various eras that the Earth has gone through since the inception of the universe itself.

#5

All the Metals We Mined in 2021: Visualized

All the metals preview image

“If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it” is a famous saying that encapsulates the importance of minerals and metals in the modern world. The sheer volume of raw materials and metals that factor into our everyday life often goes overlooked.

This visualization takes these unsung heroes and puts them center stage. Of the 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2021, iron ore, which is used to make steel, made up 93%. Over on the other end, rare metals like rhenium are tiny by comparison.

#4   CREATOR PROGRAM

Countries Grouped by Their Largest Trading Partner (1960-2020)

trading partners preview image

Which countries are the central nodes of the global trade network? The answer to this question has changed over time, with China becoming the latest nation to dominate global trade networks.

This series of “netgraphs”, by Anders Sundell, connects countries to their primary trading partner, using data that includes both imports and exports. It’s no secret that the U.S. has seen its trade dominance slip in recent decades, but seeing it visualized in this unique way really drives the point home.

#3

The Top 10 Largest Nuclear Explosions, Visualized

nuclear explosions preview image

Threats of a nuclear war outbreak have been populating headlines this year ever since the beginning of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. We examined the top 10 largest nuclear explosions in history, charting their explosive yields, their height, and the size of their destructive radii into one graphic.

Though humans haven’t seen devastation from the likes of nuclear weaponry since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the explosives that came after leave much to the imagination in the face of developing world events.

#2

FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet

ftx balance sheet preview image

The high-profile collapse of crypto exchange FTX will stand as one of the biggest—and most lurid—financial stories of the year.

When FTX’s leaked balance sheet was published by the Financial Times, the large numbers it contained were tough to truly appreciate. We saw an opportunity to visualize the data to better understand the size of the company’s hole, and the breakdown between liquid and illiquid assets.

Graphic design aside, the results were not pretty.

#1

The World’s Population at 8 Billion

world population 8 billion preview image

In mid-November of this year, the eight billionth human being entered the world, ushering in a new milestone for humanity. In this series of voronoi diagrams, we look at the current distribution of humanity, by country and by region.

In just 48 years, the world population has doubled in size, jumping from four to eight billion. Our team also dug deep into this topic in a full report and webinar for VC+ members.

According to projections, 2023 will bring another major population milestone. The world will soon have a new largest country, as India’s population will surpass China’s.

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