Hannah Williams :)

ideas. design. open data. social change.

When your ship comes in

This information graphic is a playful visual comparison of Lotto winnings vs ships coming in to Cape Town harbour - a play on the English saying ‘When my ship comes in’. The comparison of these two values, that are not in fact related, highlights the superstition and idea of ‘luck’ that surround our aspirations ideas of success. Created as Black hat and Nimbus with Mark Henning.

Scroll down for a detailed description of the artwork and the process.


Data Visualisation Public Art
Data Visualisation Public Art
Data Visualisation Public Art

The bus station is located near the old Milnerton racecourse, one of the oldest horse racing tracks in the country. It’s no longer used for horse racing but it remains an influential part of the area’s history. Although horse racing is still a popular betting sport, games of chance like the Lotto have surpassed it in popularity.

Like the other artworks, it is positioned at the entrance of the bus station, so it’s been designed to be viewed as one walks past it into the station. The graphics are playful, in keeping with the subject matter and the repeating lines of the graph, representing ships entering the harbour, make a wave-like pattern that contrasts with the bright solid yellow of the circles representing Lotto winnings.

The data shows monthly Lotto winnings and ships entering the harbour over 3 years (2007 – 2010) as a percentage of the total winnings for that period. The data was sourced from the National Lottery and Transnet.

The added detail of the ships makes it more interesting as a linear visual story with each ship’s angle and position changing as you move along the glass panels.

The application allows a lot of light into the station, and some areas are backed with white which makes some areas more solid from the inside, and provides more striking detail on the outside. From the outside it creates an aesthetically interesting visual, while the detail that can be explored from inside offers an engaging experience.


The Process

The process of researching and creating this graphic was an interesting one. We started exploring ways to create a graphic related to games of chance like horse racing, as well as superstitions surrounding it. Initial concepts included charting what colour horses were the most successful at the track, or possibly just charting ‘dark horse’ wins vs the number of horses of a physically dark colour. However, there are very few detailed records in existence for the old Milnerton racecourse.

While exploring superstitions and sayings related to gaining wealth, the English saying “when my ship comes in” came to mind. With Cape Town being a harbor city we thought that a comparison between ships coming into the harbor and winnings at games of chance would be a really fun, humorous take on the info graphic concept.

However, we ran into a problem – although local casinos and horse racing associations were more than happy to provide us with data, the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board deemed any public display of gambling or horse racing winning statistics to be advertising, and they said we couldn’t do it.

We also considered including other statistics related to superstitions, like the number of black cats that have been lost in the area, but the local SPCA were extremely affronted by the idea, as they believed it would lead to discrimination against black cats (?!). They also keep no records so there is no data available.

Luckily the Lotto doesn’t count as gambling – I suspect that the fact that it pours money into government coffers has ensured there are no limitations on advertising and promoting the Lotto, so although more data would have been fun, we settled on creating a visual comparison of Lotto winnings in the Western Cape vs ships coming in to the Cape Town harbor.