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Graphics Examples

(Mis)Representation of Information

This week’s prompt for blogging inspired some macro-level pondering about exactly what it is we are tasked to do through the creation of information graphics. I came to a simple answer… “provide visual information where text or photographs do not suffice.” However, through our readings and exploration of various static and interactive graphics, I have found that there are some underlying issues that occur in our field.

The first is oversaturation. It is widely known and discussed how much our readers are bombarded with advertising messages. But now it seems the same trend is happening with information graphics. Newspapers seem to be leaving the concept of designing from necessity. Editors oftentimes WANT art to accompany a story but have none. The easy solution … throw a graphic in there with it! This conclusion is clouding newspapers and sites with unnecessary and misleading visual data. The pie charts have run a muck. This creates a gauntlet of bad information that readers must traverse in order to find the meaningful stuff.

In the midst of this year’s election, I thought I would keep this post politically charged. (I know, I know. Bear with me.)

THE BAD

Here is an infographic from the Nation’s coverage of the 2008 election.

I find this graphic to be aesthetically pleasing and visually interesting – probably something I would throw in my own portfolio. There are inherent flaws in data representation, however. The representation of job existence according to the yearly timeline seems accurate enough. But take a look at the “Total Jobs Created” color bars. The height of the bars actually represents the term that the democratic or republican party was in office. Therefore, they do not accurately represent the numbers displayed in reverse type at their tips.

I am a fan of utilizing creative imagery to represent data relationships. The designer used the symbolic donkey and elephant to represent job creation percentage differences. This decision is flawed for one major reason – the shapes are so disparate that spatial relationships cannot be drawn. What does it mean if the elephants trunk is the same width as the donkey’s shin? Who the hell knows…In this case, I would go back to the drawing board and find similar objects to represent the difference.

Jump ahead 4 years to this year’s election coverage. Thanks to technological progression, we know have beautifully illustrated graphics that call for reader interaction.

THE GOOD

I think we all know by now that the New York Times does it right. They seem to pick the perfect stories to support with visual communication. And I don’t think that’s by chance. I’ll try to remain neutral here, but I think there is a very timely reason to run a graphic on swing states. Yes, it is done every election period – but I think it’s extremely important this time around. According to polls and general public sentiment, there is a low satisfaction rating for both candidates. Unfortunately, American citizens are picking the lesser of two evils which I think should lend to a high percentage of swing voting. Just yesterday, the Times published Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted.

At first glance, this project might appear to have too much data causing problems with user experience. The concise, yet informative legend assuages that problem. The navigation is quite simple. The right and left are divided into right and left sections (cool, right?). The elections are showcased in a vertical scroll with different hover features. In the left margin, notable shifts and trends are highlighted to show users some example insights that can be extracted from the data.

My only critique would be the lack of searchability by state. Missouri, for example, has traditionally been close to the swing line but it was difficult to scan across all of the data points to find it. But this one slight feature doesn’t detract from the informative nature of the piece.

Seems like we need to ditch the pie graphs and take a few notes from the Times.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “(Mis)Representation of Information

  1. WOW. The Times’ graphic “Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted” do a great job to help understand the complexity of the changing pattern of state that it is illustrating. That’s really clear and the flow of lines give a sense of dymanic. The graphic not just successfully achieves its objective, but does it elegantly. The NYT makes it all fun and engaging too.

    Posted by margaretnym | October 17, 2012, 3:25 am
  2. The NYT graphic is really nifty. They show a lot of information in a small space, and like you said, it’s easy to navigate. I agree with you on the other graphic; the bars are confusing, and because their shapes are so different, the comparison of the donkey and elephant doesn’t work.

    Posted by Aaron Cooper | October 17, 2012, 4:43 am

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