Opening up a world of trade and policy data

Working over several years with the Energy, Environment & Resources department at Chatham House, we crafted two data platforms comprising over 40 million data points. The ambitious projects visualise the trade of our planet’s natural resources, and uncover the policy and trade dynamics that drive the circular economy.

Until now, there’ve been readily accessible data on the production and on the consumption of natural resources, but nowhere you could explore the global trade in natural resources in one place.

Felix Preston Senior Research Fellow, Chatham House

Uniquely derived from the United Nations Comtrade database, Chatham House originally developed a comprehensive data set to underpin their own research. But with no single resource available, our challenge was to make the data accessible for others, in such a way that policymakers and businesses could be empowered to make better decisions.

User research

We began by interviewing users to help shape the proposition for the platform, asking them how they would use the data in their line of work. We spoke with a broad range of people with different needs, such as journalists reporting on deforestation issues, investors interested in China’s economic growth, and NGOs concerned with the flow of conflict minerals out of Africa.

Code experiments

After researching conventional trade visualisations, we realised there was an opportunity to stand out. We wanted the design of the trade flows to become a unique identifier for the platform and central to exploring the data, so we spent time experimenting with code to achieve optimal display performance and interactivity.

Design system

We designed and built ResourceTrade.earth with the future in mind, delivering a visual language and establishing a design system that would support continuous development. Displaying 1300 different kinds of natural resources across 270 countries, we achieved an almost limitless breadth of resource trade visualisations, accessed via user-friendly navigation. The simple yet bold colour palette aids readability, and gives the platform its distinctive look and feel.

Design system UI kit

CircularEconomy.earth

With ResourceTrade.earth in full swing and a design system in place, we were well positioned to evolve the user experience with an important piece of the sustainability puzzle. We created a sister platform based on the same design principles and data source. CircularEconomy.earth is the first platform of its kind, exploring the policy and trade dynamics associated with transitioning from linear to circular economic models.

Impactful stories

We needed to give in-house researchers the tools to easily publish impactful stories, combining leading research and expertise with data visualisations. The editorial solution we developed makes easy work of embedding shareable trade flow views, along with charts authored through the Applied Charts editor.

Results

The result is a clear and striking data visualisation platform legible to expert and non-expert users, becoming a well recognised resource to many organisations working on global trade. Providing a solid foundation for future updates, ResourceTrade.earth has been pivotal for Chatham House in attracting new audiences, helping to promote the sustainable consumption and production of natural resources.