I was having a look at the state of Japanese web design today (we’re doing some customer research there at the moment) and saw this towards the bottom of the home page of the Yomiuri Shinbun site.
For those who don’t know, the Yomiuri is the world’s largest newspaper by circulation. I would imagine their website is also read by Japanese from a wide variety of demographics.
At first glance, the object looks like an oddly-arranged table of news stories by region. A couple of seconds later, I realised it wasn’t a table but an extremely abstracted map of Japan configured to fit neatly across the page. They have a somewhat less abstracted vertically-orientated version here.
Perhaps most surprising about this is that (I assume) readers would understand that it is a map. They can then effortlessly locate the region on it that they are interested in. The form of the graphic facilitates the acquisition of the data perfectly for the context it’s in (and assuming you know your map of Japan). Note its economy of space, the use of colour for the super-regions, and the sheer elegance of this solution for a script (kanji) that doesn’t have a logical ordering of it own.
This, surely, is information visualisation nirvana – and it’s in the wild, being understood by people who aren’t design geeks like me.