Swiss Communes and Their Claims

Data-driven piece about the promotional claims Swiss communes give themselves.


One out of four communes in Switzerland has an official claim promoting their place by describing its "bijouxness". I collected these claims by scanning more than 2200 commune websites.


How to tell a story about Switzerland based on commune's claims? What kind of visualization helps to localize and summarize the amount of pretty similar but also quite versatile claims?


When searching the list, co-author Frank Sieber, discovered a bunch of groups among the claims which made the grid for the story. I picked the two largest groups referencing "liveliness" and "activity" to showcase some more examples and locating them on a map.

Inspired by the aesthetics of "panorama boards" on top of almost every Swiss peak, I pinned the claims on a perspectively distorted map. To reduce the flood of information, I let claims fade into one another for only a short period of time. For mobile optimisation I furthermore let the camera pan over the country.

video modes

The outcome is a fun and niche article ending with a very challenging quiz to test the reader's knowledge about Switzerland.

Read the full article


1. Idea & Data Collection

The idea came to me in January when I visited the commune Madulains's website and read its pretty uninspired claim "Madulains bewegt" (Madulains moves). I asked myself why a commune's name needed to be decorated by such a generic claim, usually used in the business world. I wanted to know how many other communities used claims like those. How many swiss communes are actually "moving"?

Madulain's website

There was no way around having to screenshot each individual commune's page: I collected the commune’s official website URLs and let a script capture automated screenshots. On top of this I developed a litte HTML explorer allowing me to go through the screenshots and note potential claims. For quicker copy-pasting of claims, I scraped the website's content too, but in many cases this was useless as the claim was rendered inside a header graphic.

Scanning the screenshots was probably the hardest part of this project. I did it twice – to make sure of not having overlooked any claim. I surely did and in some cases it was quite unclear whether the website title was the claim.

2. Ideation

Without any concrete visualisation idea, I handed the data to Journalist Frank Sieber, who is known for humorous takes on topics. When analysing those claims, he wrote a text along certain groups he found in the list.

I created the claim subsets "liveliness" and "activity" and projected those on a Swiss Map with QGIS but couldn’t find any geographical patterns. Still I wanted to let the reader get an idea of the amount of ridiculous claims being used. On the other hand, it wasn't necessary to give interactive, explorative access to all of the data, since most of it is irrelevant and would bore the user after revealing the first couple of claims.

I decided that the best solution was to use animation to create a stream of data. The short period of the claim's appearance stands in a healthy relation to the data's importance but still gives an impression of the distribution and content.

3. Production

The animation's frames were rendered in this notebook on observablehq and merged to MP4 movies with the invaluable help of Roman Karavia.

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