Project description

How do you draw a circle? We analyzed 100,000 drawings to show how culture shapes our instincts. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have played Google’s game Quick, Draw! This prompted us to ask what takeaways it might have for global culture and whether your location and language affect how you draw. By using circles, the great universal symbol, we were able to answer this basic question that reveals so much about language, education and culture.

What makes this project innovative?

Not only was this project innovative but we also had a lot of fun working on this story because it involved asking people a silly question: How do you draw a circle? How would you draw a circle if you were “thinking” in Hebrew? Chinese? The story seemed to resonate with people because it was a genuinely fun question to ask and try to answer, at a superficial level and a deeper cultural level.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

“How do you draw a circle” had significant reader engagement with over 970,000 page views. The feature garnered significant coverage from a variety of online and trade media publications including The New York Times (link), the Gothamist, Chemical & Engineering News, MediaREDEF, Mind Body Green, Courrier International, and the Taiwanese publication TechOrange. The story was also covered on Tech News Today and 60db. Additionally, the project won gold from Kantar’s Information is Beautiful Awards and was also named one of Flowing Data’s 10 Best Visualization Projects of 2017.
Links -
New York Times:
Tech News Today:
Flowing Data:
Kantar's Information is Beautiful Awards:

Source and methodology

Google was very responsible about documenting the Quick Draw data model, including some example code for processing it. However, we had to derive the data we wanted—directionality of circles—from raw data that was just an array of x/y Cartesian coordinates for each shape, and then aggregate that data by country. It was nice to see Google using ndjson, an easy to use and up-and-coming format for large datasets.
The entire process took two reporters about a month to complete while working on other stories. The editor of Quartz’s data team edited the graphics, and Quartz deputy news editor Caitlin Hu edited the story as a whole. Many friends also helped by drawing air-circles for support.

Technologies Used

Google’s data on all 50 million Quick Draw shapes—including all of the points drawn by a user—was open-sourced and distributed in newline-delimited json (ndjson) files. We used node.js to process those files, and employed some geometry to calculate whether a circle was drawn clockwise or counterclockwise. We then pulled those results into the Pandas data analysis library, in python, to identify trends across countries and regions. All of the graphics and animations were created in JavaScript, with the D3 library.

Project members

Thu-Huong Ha, reporter, Quartz
Nikhil Sonnad, reporter, Quartz


Project owner administration

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