Hans Rosling: the zen master of presenting data
Giving a 10-minute presentation with a single slide: Steven Johnson on the Ghost Map

Hans Rosling redux: Mixing analog with digital visualization

You have probably heard Hans Rosling's presentations on world population using the cool Gapminder software before. In his latest presentation — his sixth for TED — he mixes in some analog technique as well. This new analog teaching technique he picked up from Ikea, he says. This presentation below is excellent and is a good example of mixing analog and digital visualization techniques that result in a memorable short-form presentation. Watch the video below.

At a glance

Let's look at a few stills from Hans Rosling's talk below.

One box represents one billion people. In 1960 there were one billion people in the industrialized world and two billion in the developing world. The gap on the table between the blue box and the yellow boxes represents the large socio-economic gap that existed in 1960.

In 1960 those in the developed world aspired to buy a car, those in the developing world aspired to buy shoes. What Hans wants to show is that in spite of some of the old "the West and the Rest" language that is still used today, the world has changed.

The world population has doubled since the early '60s.

Here you can see the gap between the poorest of the developing (yellow/green boxes) nations and the rich (blue box) nations is much larger. The two billion of the poorest nations are struggling almost as much as in 1960, Hans says. In between the poorest and the richest are the emerging economies, the bulk of the world population. Hans's point is that while there is a "continuous world" from the poorest to the richest and no longer just a simplistic "us and them" or "the West and the Rest," the troubling part is that the poor are still very poor.

For sure China is going to catch up by 2050 just like Japan did, Hans says, and if we invest well in green technology, etc. the emerging nations will move up right along the richest nations.

Now how about the poorest two billion, will they catch up? The problem here, as Hans explains, is one of population growth (note that the two boxes have become four). In the rich and emerging countries, population growth will have essentially stopped by 2050. However, in the poorest countries the population will double by 2050 as demonstrated above.

We've got to make a change so that people on this level are not stuck looking for food and shoes (i.e, move them away from poverty and its consequences), otherwise population growth will continue. However, if (and only if) they get out of poverty, get better health care, achieve high child-survival rates, etc. then the birth rate will stop increasing in 2050.

Above. Turning to the digital display to reinforce the point Hans shows how much of the world now has good child-survival rates and smaller families, but the two billion of the poorest still have a relatively large number of births per woman and poor child-survival rates. (Note how the analog box metaphor is also shown in the graph next to the population bubbles they represented earlier.)

The point is not to do it like Hans or even to use Gapminder software. The real point is for us to ask ourselves how we can incorporate digital and analog techniques into our presentations in a way that helps make the data come alive and illuminate the story in an honest and yet engaging and memorable way. There are many ways to do this; Hans Rosling's style is just one approach. But as Hans (and his team at Gapminder) has shown many times, data is not dull, in fact it tells a story.


Ben Decker

Fantastic post Garr. We've been showing Hans for years - and really emphasizing his energy and how he shares data. If only everyone could match his enthusiasm.

Keep the tips coming, we'll continue to transform business communications soon!

Thanks Garr.

Simone Brunozzi

Very interesting, Garr, thanks for sharing.

katie ledger


thanks for the ideas sharing. Hans is great and some real thought has gone into this presentation. Ikea features heavily in your presentation philosophy too - remember your suggestion to look at IKEA billboards for design thoughts! thanks again Katie


Brillant. This analog reinvention of his famous presentations shows that the man is truly an exceptional teacher.

I want to nuance one thing you said: "The point is not to do it like Hans or even to use Gapminder software."

I see where you're coming from, but I'd like to quote Edward Tufte from memory in response: find good examples and copy them. If you want to talk about distribution or multivariate trends over time, it's probably good enough to copy Hans Rosling than to try to reinvent it. What are the chances to come up with something as good?


what a great and smooth presentation ... amazing


Indeed, the presentation is fantastic. But can you please correct the commentary so it talks about the bottom 2 _billion_ instead of 2 million? We're talking about a _lot_ of poor people here!


thanks for posting this pre-zentation (or is it a post-zentation).

i'm an internet marketing specialist, meaning i deal with data and numbers mostly, and sometimes expect everyone to have the same understanding of the data that i have (obvious problem). and recently i gave a presentation for a website audit (using data to make the website more efficient). and i had allot of trouble explaining this data to the non-techy client. in retrospect, using a visual the way hans did would have help break down communication issues, and in the future, i am going to try something similar.


Drive Research

Data visualization is key, especially in market research. Thanks for sharing this. Always looking for new ways to find interesting ways to present similar data in new ways to help clients grasp key takeaways.

- George

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