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flags: engaging


Scientific graphical abstracts — design guidelines


data visualization + art

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Enjoy colors?
Take a look at my color projects and resources.

Color proportions in country flags

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
(right) 256 country flags as concentric circles showing the proportions of each color in the flag. (left) Unique flags sorted by similarity.

Country flags are pretty colorful and some are even pretty.

Instead of drawing the flag in a traditional way (yawn...), I wanted to draw it purely based on the color proportions in the flag (yay!). There are lots of ways to do this, such as stacked bars, but I decided to go with concentric circles. A few examples are shown below.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Country flags drawn as concentric rings. The width of each ring is proportional to square root of the area of that color in the flag. Only colors that occupy 1% or more of the flag are shown. (zoom)

Once flags are drawn this way, they can be grouped by similarity in the color proportions.

Check out the posters or read about the method below.

Or, download my country flag color catalog to run your own analysis.

sampling flag colors

To determine the proportions of colors in each flag, I started with the collection of all country flags in SVG from Wikipedia. The flags are conveniently named using the countries' ISO 3166-2 code. At the time of this project (21 Mar 2017), this repository contained 312 flags, of which I used 256.

I originally wanted to use the flag-icon-css collection, but ran into problems with it. It had flags in only either 1 × 1 or 4 × 3 aspect ratio, which distorted and clipped many flags. Many flags were also inaccurately drawn and had inconsistent use of colors. For example, in Turkey's flag the red inside the white crescent was slightly different than elsewhere in the flag.


 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
Flags of 256 countries and territories drawn as concentric circles representing the proportions of colors in the flag. The flags are labeled with the country's ISO 3166-2 code. (BUY ARTWORK)

I converted the SVG files to high resolution PNG (2,560 pixels in width) and sampled the colors in each flag, keeping only those colors that occupied at least 0.01% of the flag. I apply this cutoff to avoid blends between colors due to anti-aliasing applied in the conversion. When drawing the flags as circles, I only use colors that occupy at least 1% of the flag—this impacts flags that have detailed emblems, such as Belize. I apply some rounding off of the proportions and colors with the same proportion are ordered so that lighter colors (by Lab luminance) are in the center of the circle.

perceptual radius scaling

There are various ways to represent the proportions of the flag colors as concentric rings—in other words, to use symbols of different size to encode area.

The accurate way is to have the area of the ring be proportional to the area of the color on the map. The inaccurate way is to encode the area by the the width of the ring. These two cases are the `k=0.5` and `k=1` columns in the figure below, where `k` is the power in `r = a^k` by which the radius of the ring, `r`, is scaled relative to the area, `a`. A perceptual mapping using `k=0.57` has been suggested by some.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
The concentric rings can be drawn to be either accurate in area (left, `k=0.5`) or to have their width encode the area (right, `k=1`). The hybrid approach is a mix of these two extremes. (zoom)

My goal here is not to encode the proportions so that they can be read off quantitatively. To find a value of `k`, I drew some flags and looked at their concentric ring representation. For example, with `k=0.57` the Nigerian flag's white center is too large for my eye while for `k=1` it is definitely too small. I liked the proportions for `k=1/\sqrt{2}` but wasn't happy with the fact that flags like France's, which have colors in equal areas, didn't have equal width rings.

In the end I decided on a hybrid approach in which the out radius of color `i` whose area is `a_i` is `r_i = a_i^k + \sum_{j=0}^{i-1} a_j^k` where the colors are sorted so that `a_{i-1} \le a_i`. If I use `k=0.25`, I manage to have flags like France have equal width rings but flags like Nigeria in which the proportions are not equal are closer to the encoding with `k=1/\sqrt{2}`. In this hybrid approach smaller areas, such as the white in the map of Turkey, are exaggerated. Notice that here `k` plays a slightly different role—it's used as the power for each color individually, `\sum a^k`, rather than their sum, `\left({\sum a}\right)^k`.

For the purists this choice of encoding might appear as the crime of the worst sort, representing neither correct (`k=0.5`) nor the conventionally incorrect encoding associated with `k=1`. Think of it this way—I know what rule I'm breaking.

calculating flag similarity

The similarity between two flags is calculated by forming an intersection between the radii positions of the concentric rings of the flags.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Example of how flag similarity is calculated using the flags of Ukraine and Sweden. (zoom)

For each intersection, the similarity of colors is determined using `\Delta E`, which is the Euclidian distance of the colors in LCH space. I placed less emphasis on luminance and chroma in the similarity calculation by fist transforming the coordinates to `(\sqrt L,\sqrt C, H)`) before calculating color differences. The similarity score is $$ S = \sum \frac{\Delta r}{\sqrt{\Delta E}} $$

Color pairs with `\Delta E < \Delta E_{min} = 5` are considered the same and have an effective `\Delta E = 1`.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
The order of flags using different approaches to calculating the similarity score. (zoom)

I explored different cutoffs and combinations of transforming the color coordinates. This process was informed based on how the order of the flags looked to me.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Reasonable ordering for some similar flags achieved by optimizing how similarity between flags is calculated. (zoom)

I decided to start the order with Tonga, since it had the highest average similarity score to all other flags in some of my trials. The flag that is most different from other flags, as measured by the average similarity score, is Israel.

Color proportions in country flags / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
(left) Order of flags when starting with Tonga. (right) Order of flags when starting with Israel, which is has the lowest average similarity score of all flags. (zoom)

 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
Flags of 256 countries and territories drawn as concentric circles representing the proportions of colors in the flag. Flags are sorted by similarity in color proportion and labeled with the country's ISO 3166-2 code. (BUY ARTWORK)

download files

country flag colors

I couldn't find a list of colors in the flags of countries, so I provide my analysis here. Every country's SVG flag was converted into a 2,560 × 1,920 PNG file (4,915,200 pixels). Colors that occupied at least 0.01% of the pixels are listed in their HEX format, followed by the number of pixels they occupy. The fraction of the flag covered by sampled colors is also shown.

DOWNLOAD

#code img_pixels sampled_pixels fraction_sampled_pixels hex:pixels,hex:pixels,...
...
cm 4366506 4364514 0.999544 FCD116:1513103,007A5E:1456071,CE1126:1395340
cn 4369920 4364756 0.998818 DE2910:4260992,FFDE00:103764
co 4364800 4364800 1.000000 FCD116:2183680,003893:1090560,CE1126:1090560
...

country similarity score

DOWNLOAD

#code1 code2 similarity_score
ad ae 0.0108360578506763
ad af 0.0288161214840692
ad ag 0.0510922121861494
ad ai 0.42746294322472
...
zw ye 0.473278765746989
zw yt 0.238101673130705
zw za 0.810589244643825
zw zm 0.573265751850587

VIEW ALL

news + thoughts

Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines

Fri 13-11-2020

Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

Making a scientific graphical abstract? Refer to my practical design guidelines and redesign examples to improve organization, design and clarity of your graphical abstracts.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines — Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

"This data might give you a migrane"

Tue 06-10-2020

An in-depth look at my process of reacting to a bad figure — how I design a poster and tell data stories.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
A poster of high BMI and obesity prevalence for 185 countries.

He said, he said — a word analysis of the 2020 Presidential Debates

Thu 01-10-2020

Building on the method I used to analyze the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, I explore word usagein the 2020 Debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Analysis of word usage by parts of speech for Trump and Biden reveals insight into each candidate.

Points of Significance celebrates 50th column

Mon 24-08-2020

We are celebrating the publication of our 50th column!

To all our coauthors — thank you and see you in the next column!

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance: Celebrating 50 columns of clear explanations of statistics. (read)

Uncertainty and the management of epidemics

Mon 24-08-2020

When modelling epidemics, some uncertainties matter more than others.

Public health policy is always hampered by uncertainty. During a novel outbreak, nearly everything will be uncertain: the mode of transmission, the duration and population variability of latency, infection and protective immunity and, critically, whether the outbreak will fade out or turn into a major epidemic.

The uncertainty may be structural (which model?), parametric (what is `R_0`?), and/or operational (how well do masks work?).

This month, we continue our exploration of epidemiological models and look at how uncertainty affects forecasts of disease dynamics and optimization of intervention strategies.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. (read)

We show how the impact of the uncertainty on any choice in strategy can be expressed using the Expected Value of Perfect Information (EVPI), which is the potential improvement in outcomes that could be obtained if the uncertainty is resolved before making a decision on the intervention strategy. In other words, by how much could we potentially increase effectiveness of our choice (e.g. lowering total disease burden) if we knew which model best reflects reality?

This column has an interactive supplemental component (download code) that allows you to explore the impact of uncertainty in `R_0` and immunity duration on timing and size of epidemic waves and the total burden of the outbreak and calculate EVPI for various outbreak models and scenarios.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. (Interactive supplemental materials)

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. Nature Methods 17.

Background reading

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: Modeling infectious epidemics. Nature Methods 17:455–456.

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics. Nature Methods 17:557–558.

Cover of Nature Genetics August 2020

Mon 03-08-2020

Our design on the cover of Nature Genetics's August 2020 issue is “Dichotomy of Chromatin in Color” . Thanks to Dr. Andy Mungall for suggesting this terrific title.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Dichotomy of Chromatin in Color. Nature Genetics, August 2020 issue. (read more)

The cover design accompanies our report in the issue Gagliardi, A., Porter, V.L., Zong, Z. et al. (2020) Analysis of Ugandan cervical carcinomas identifies human papillomavirus clade–specific epigenome and transcriptome landscapes. Nature Genetics 52:800–810.