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Andrea Lau in conversation with Andy Kirk: Explore Explain podcast

The aim of Small Multiples’ COVID-19 Recovery Data Insight Platform was to be a “one stop shop for policy makers and officers of UNDP all around the world to find useful and reputable data”. This week Andy Kirk of Visualising Data and author of Data Visualisation: A Handbook for Data Driven Design sat down over Zoom to chat with Small Multiples’ Andrea Lau to chat more about this project.

You can watch their conversation on YouTube below, listen here on, or find the Explore Explain podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts and several other platforms.

In a way, this project was a departure from Small Multiples’ usual way of working. Rather than helping the client find and highlight the salient narratives within the data, this was a true “platform”. We created a structure that would allow the UNDP to add many and diverse data sets, as long as they conformed to the platform’s data structure. It is a tool for data exploration, and was developed in conjunction with the UNDP’s own data scientists.

On the other hand, as Andy and Andrea discuss, it was a project very much in keeping with Small Multiples’ desire to work on projects ‘for good’ at a global scale.

They discuss the challenges of visualising a large number of diverse data sets at once - what are the limits imposed by this kind of data, in terms of design choices? One solution Small Multiples reached in this project was the use of a bivariate choropleth colour scheme, which has the benefit of showing two variables within the same colour, but also carries a certain cognitive load.

How do you design a colour palette when there are so many variables, and the existing website uses a wide range of colours already? Are certain colours inappropriate for dealing with serious topics? As Andrea says:

It’s amazing how much of design is just crossing off what you can’t do.

Back in May when we started this project, COVID-19 data was all about the case numbers. But it’s the UNDP’s job to take a broader view and employ long-term thinking, so even then they were drawing in many other social indicators, and thinking about the economic recovery phase of the pandemic. Have a listen to Andrea and Andy discuss this important global project.