New Work: GE Capital, Americas
The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, and the economy has been slowly improving over the past year, but what does the recovery look like for the average business? In a survey, GE Capital, the financial services unit of GE, asked 530 CFOs of middle-market companies in seven major industries about their confidence in the recovery. GE Capital is one of the biggest lenders to small and midsize companies and provides financial products and services for over 1 million businesses around the world. In the U.S., midsize companies represent GE’s primary market and are a significant engine of growth for the economy. The CFOs participating in the survey—not necessarily customers of GE Capital—represented companies that had $50 million to $1 billion in annual revenue, with an average of $144 million.
The survey provides a comprehensive portrait of the state of the economy and business, and GE Capital Americas commissioned Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfeld and her team to create a data visualization that dynamically illustrates the survey results. The project is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between Pentagram and GE to make information more accessible to consumers. Strausfeld and her team previously designed visualizations for GE about hospital quality and home appliance energy use.
“GE continues to believe that data visualization is a powerful way to simplify and advance our shared understanding of the issues shaping our lives—health, energy, and the economy,” says Camille Kubie, leader of GE’s data visualization initiative.
In the CFO survey, questions were organized in various categories including outlook; revenues and profits; hiring and spending; credit and financing; and external dynamics. The visualization plots the corresponding CFO responses on a scale of Optimistic versus Pessimistic. Questions like “Will your company’s revenues decrease, stay the same, or increase in 2010?” and “Will you be hiring throughout the remainder of 2010?” rate responses on the scale between Increases versus Decreases, Strong versus Weak, etc. The seven major industries covered in the survey—food, beverage and agriculture; healthcare; manufacturing; metals and mining; retail; technology and business services; and transportation—are each represented by a different color. An industry average across sectors is also presented, in gray.
So are things looking up? The visualization graphically illustrates the mixed feelings about the recovery. The outlook has improved—none of the CFOs anticipate a double-dip recession—and the visualization allows users to examine in detail various points of concern, like industry growth and cost of capital. Selecting different industries turns on color overlays, allowing users to make comparisons between different sectors: hiring is growing in technology and healthcare, for example, but shrinking in manufacturing. Users can see the larger view in the industry average and compare these results to specific industries; they can also compare responses between the first and third quarters of 2010. (GE plans to update the visualization every two quarters.)
Some questions go into greater depth, where pop-up bar charts show specific responses by industry. Rollovers in each industry headers describe how GE Capital is helping businesses in those sectors.
Project Team: Lisa Strausfeld, partner-in-charge and designer; Hilla Katki, data architect and designer; Adam Suharja, developer and designer.