Saving the World, One Animation at Time

I was reading through the latest issue of Discover magazine, when I came across an interesting interview conducted by Jennifer Barone. She was chatting with a guy named Hans Rosling, who developed statistical analysis software that uses animation to convey complex data in novel, compelling ways.

The software, called Trendalyzer, was acquired by the good Samaritans at Google and has been used in hundreds of international forums to help world leaders understand trends in health, poverty and economics so that they can make better policy decisions.


You can get a feel for the application at The Gapminder World 2006, which uses data from the United Nations—data made publicly available in part to feed Trendalyzer.

Rosling explains the benefit of animation in the Discover interview like this:

Then in 1994, I got the idea to show each country as a bubble, with economic factors on one axis and child survival on the other. My son started writing the code that made the bubbles move through time, and his wife joined as designer. When you show time as an x-axis, you violate the way we think. But when you show time as graphic movement, as animation, people suddenly understand. …

Show the income distribution of the United States and China over time, and in 15 to 20 seconds I can make people understand things that textbooks and years of study haven’t. This is a discovery in perceptual psychology, of how to show trends in society.

It’s also one the most straightforward examples of motion graphics I’ve seen. Trendalyzer literally puts graphics into motion. The fact that motion helps us make a gigantic cognitive leap across daunting chasms of data is a testament to the power of the moving image.

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Rosling gave a couple of TED talks on these themes and his software – available online. They make for some interesting viewing:


Yep, I think that’s the same link I used above for his name. Interesting guy.


Oops. Well too make up for the mistake i offer a link of interest to all buffs of data visualisation.

I’d be interested in seeing the result of a Buck or Shilo hitting up a data vis animation job some day; masters of quick visual communication given hard data as their source.


“I’d be interested in seeing the result of a Buck or Shilo hitting up a data vis animation job some day; masters of quick visual communication given hard data as their source.”

That would indeed be rad. I guess Buck got into it a little bit by doing the Inconvenient Truth visuals, but I’d love to see what else they could do.

Simon Robson

This is an absolutely brilliant application. I am truly humbled and I’ve only been messing with it for 2 mins. you could literally use this single app as research fro a thesis or just to get a simple grasp of whats going on. And the data is so instantly digestable. You see the graphs animate out within the parameters and thats it. Thw potential is enormous. Makes me want to get hastily back into interactive…

Marc B.

Simon are you experimenting on anything interactive at the moment?


Amazing indeed. In the example @ the link you posted the way the life expectancy in Africa nose dives towards the end of the century is sickening…but it hits home because you watch it drop in animation while none of the other dots really do. It’s like watching a car wreck.

Simon Robson

@ Marc B. No, not at the moment. I used to design in Flash until about 2003, but then animation fully took over. When you look at an incredibly well crafted ap like this and you consider the potential if it was able to load dynamic content, you realise just how linear, linear is. I know both interactive and linear have their place, but i am gob-smacked by the potential of an approach like this and the detail you can quickly access through it…


A very nice application… totally rad… This would have gone handy when I was presenting my feasibility studies…


I am new to this site and my background is in health information (i am a statistician) so as far as amimation goes I know pretty much next to nothin! I did however come across Trendalyzer in gapminder last year and was blown away by how it brought what might be seen as boring statistics to life. I cannot seem to be able to track down the software so that I could use it to feed in my own data or can anyone recommend an alternative package I could use that would show informtion in motion that would come near to this.

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