This graph charts the participation of nations in the Summer Olympics since the beginning of the modern games in 1896. In the beginning, a mere 14 nations competed in the games. In 2008, the Olympics has grown to become a world culture phenomenon that now includes athletes competing under more than 200 different flags.
The project was a very open ended one; we were simply asked to create an infographic, using whatever data we were interested in. I knew early on that I wanted something that related to the Olympics; when they air, there's an excitement that the world can share together. There's something really rare and special about that, and I wanted to capture that sense of unity. On the more practical side, there's a massive amount of data surrounding the Olympics: Number of Athletes, number of medals, the scores and records of dozens of events, etc. I was overwhelmed with options.
I had to pull back and think about what viewers would relate to, would find interesting. When watching the news coverage during these events, everyone always focuses on who won what number of medals. I went down a path where I figured out who the top five medal earners were each Olympics and made a bunch of weird clusters, one for each year. It was a total bore. Worse than that, it just didn't say anything. It quickly became obvious that the same countries were scooping up most of the medals every year, and there was no representation of the Olympics being the true world event that it is.
I had to scrap everything and start from scratch. I thought about what really bothered me: The fact that all participants weren't recognized, big and small. I realized what the magic of the Games was really about; not the high scores or the heaps of medals, but the people they connect. The Olympics surely most effectively connect those who have athletes representing them. I asked, how many countries were included in the beginning? How did that inclusion grow over the years? Once I had the right questions, the layout came together on its own. Representing the participants with flags was the logical choice. Concentric rings seemed like a natural way to suggest expansion over time.