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26 September 2013

Middle East Relationships Infographics

The Radio Free Europe - Radio Libre (RFE/RL) published an infographic summarizing the political relationships between the Middle Eastern countries. The graph comes after a similar one that was made by the Egyptian blogger, The Big Pharaoh (@TheBigPharaoh), and was published in the Washington Post.

I'd like to discuss the two infographics from a design point of view here. So, let me start with the one made by RFE/RL.

The main point of the graph is to show the relationships between those countries, i.e. friends and foes. However, as you can see, it is not possible to tell this from the first look. All dots are the same, black dots of the same size. Well, may be they are inviting us to interact with those dots by clicking on them.

So, there are messages hidden behind the dots, but this is just text. Hmmm, couldn't those same messages be written in an article then, or in a table? What is the use of the graph then?

Why is it that the United Stated is there on one axis but not the other. Same for Iraq. Also relationships are supposed to be symmetrical, yet the chart isn't. You can track the lines between Iran and Israel, but there are no lines between Israel and Iran. I know, this is a sort of redundancy, however, it is either the graph is to be redesigned, otherwise, this way is confusing.

Here comes The Big Pharaoh's graph then.

This times relations are supposed to be clearer from the first look. Different line colours reflect different relationships. In this graph countries are represented by points while the relationships between them are represented by lines. While on the RFE/RF's graph, it was the other way round. Entities are placed in the form of a matrix where dots represents the relationships between them and the countries are represented by the horizontal and vertical lines.

In Jacques Bertin's paper, The Matrix Theory of Graphics, he explained that the network representation (e.g. The Big Pharaoh's graph) is more useful in representing the topographical structure of the elements and how each pair of them are connected on a micro level. While the matrix representation on the other hand is more flexible in reordering the element in order to show how the relationships between elements on a macro level. You can cluster your elements first to show groups of allies and foes. Changing the dots colours or sizes gives you a third dimension to move in. As you can see in the network graph above, lines are cluttered and a bit hard to follow.

Can you sketch a better representation of those relationships then?