Storytelling with Numbers Using Data GIF Maker

In March 2019, Google News Labs announced updates to its Data GIF Maker website. Data GIF Maker is an easy-to-use resource for making animated GIFs from small sets of data.

Data GIF Maker has three tools: rectangles, circles, and a racetrack tool. Users can enter 2 or 3 data points into the rectangles tool. Circles and the racetrack tool can include up to 4 data points. The tool is perfect for depicting Electoral College results because it is exceedingly rare to find a presidential election in which more than 4 candidates received Electoral College votes. Data GIF Maker will be great for the 2020 presidential election if the large Democratic primary field narrows to 2 candidates as it did in 2016.

Introducing Students to Data GIF Maker

Show students the site. It works on both laptops and tablets. Give them some sample data sets to play with. Then ask these questions:

  1. Which of these tools is best for data with big differences?
  2. Which of these tools is best for data sets where the numbers are close?

Answer Key Spoilers:

  1. The circles tool is the best for data with big differences.
  2. The racetrack tool is the best for data sets with close numbers.

Circles

1912 Electoral College Vote
Animated GIF made with Data GIF Maker circles
Woodrow Wilson 435
Theodore Roosevelt 88
William Howard Taft 8
Made with Data GIF Maker circles.

Circles is the best of Animated GIF Maker’s tools for illustrating big differences in numbers. The circles are in proportion to the differences in the data. Watch as I demonstrate how to create an animated GIF using circles:

Racetrack

2016 Michigan Democratic Primary
Animated GIF made with Data GIF Maker racetrack
Bernie Sanders 595,222
Hillary Clinton 576,795
Made with Data GIF Maker racetrack.

Racetrack is the best of Animated GIF Maker’s tools for small differences in numbers. The tracks are in proportion to the differences in the data. I love the drama that plays out over two seconds in this animated GIF. Watch as I demonstrate how to create an animated GIF using the racetrack tool:

Rectangles

1984 Electoral College Vote
Animated GIF made with Data GIF Maker rectangles
Ronald Reagan 525
Walter Mondale 13
Made with Data GIF Maker rectangles.

The rectangles tool is the one that needs some work. It has great potential for creating beautiful animated GIFs but I have a concern: the rectangles are not in proportion with the data. In the above GIF, Walter Mondale’s blue should be a tiny sliver but it looks like he received a third of the votes. To Data GIF Maker’s credit, “525” and “Ronald Reagan” are much bigger than “Walter Mondale” and “13”. Watch as I demonstrate how to create an animated GIF using the rectangles:

Use Google Slides to Make Animated GIFs Even Better

Use Google Slides to not only present animated GIFs created in Data GIF Maker, but make them better too. Have a look at this slide:

Roshambo First Throw Percentage - Rock 37, Paper 28, Scissors 35. This image has pictures of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, paper, and scissors.
Made with Google Slides

Room for Improvement

Overall, I am very happy with Data GIF Maker for illustrating small sets of data. There are some changes I would like to see that would make it even better.

Changing Tools in the Editor – I would love to enter data and see what it looks like in each tool. This is what happens when changing tools:

Data goes away when switching tools in Data GIF Maker
Try another tool? Lose your data.

The data goes away. I hope in the future the data will stay and there will be a way to use the same data set with all three tools without re-entering it.

Commas – Data GIF Maker does not allow commas in numbers. What is easier to read, “Bernie Sanders received 151,584 votes in New Hampshire” or “Bernie Sanders received 151584 votes in New Hampshire”?

The Yellow Color – Data GIF Maker has a simple palliate of 7 colors. The yellow color needs some tinkering. Have a look:

2016 New Hampshire Democratic Primary
Animated GIF made with Data GIF Maker rectangles
Bernie Sanders 151,584
Hillary Clinton 95,252
The 2016 New Hampshire Democratic Primary as illustrated by Data GIF Maker rectangles.

Again, the size of the rectangles does not tell the story because they are almost even. More concerning is the yellow color barely contrasting with the white text on it. The yellow has just a 1.39 contrast ratio with white. Hopefully, the yellow will be darkened or the font will be changed to black.

To conclude, Data GIF Maker is a great tool for telling stories with small sets of data. If you have any questions or thoughts to share about Data GIF Maker, please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

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