The Baby Spike



April 2017


Graphic Science page in Scientific American


R, Illustrator, D3.js


Data is for babies born in the U.S. in 2014, as reported by the CDC

During OpenVisConf 2016 Zan Armstrong gave a great talk titled Everything is Seasonal. Several months later, during the start of 2017 Zan reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to collaborate on creating a visualization for the Scientific American about one of the topics Zan discussed in her talk: when babies are born in the US. I was in the US for conferences for 4 weeks during April, which was the perfect time for us to get together a few times and dig through this data and its insights.

The data was available on several layers of time-granularity. From the numbers born per week, per hour and even down to the minute. When we visualized the trends, we noticed that the deviation from the mean became greater the smaller the time scale we looked at. And this then became the insight that we wanted to get across: that even though people think that they have a lot of say when babies are made but not when they are born, it seems that with the current technological advances such as inducing births and c-sections, we have a lot more to say about when babies are born than we might think.

We quickly moved towards using circular charts due to the cyclical nature of the time frames we were looking at. Another important aspect was the yellow average line, which is the same size in each of the three circles. This makes it more clear that the deviations from the mean are only small for the weekly totals, but are literally off-the-chart for the minute totals. Although you don’t see areas of a line chart being filled with color when using the average line as a base, I feel that here it helps to get the point across that we wanted to make.

The final visual appeared in the July issue of the Scientific American, and Zan also wrote a more extensive blog post that dives into the differences between types of births (natural, induced, c-sections), besides the time aspect. With my Astronomy background I always have a love for visualizing scientific topics, and being published in a magazine such as the Scientific American is such an honor, I’m extremely happy and grateful that Zan reached out to me to work together on telling this story.

The baby spike page in the Scientific American