Charting and Mapping Income Mobility

After two weeks out of the country, I come back and find early this morning (thanks, jet lag) an interactive article published by the New York Times on income mobility. What does that mean? From a medium side, a long narrative interspersed with charts and graphics with which the user can interact to uncover specific data about specific elements in the dataset. From a content side, income mobility means the movement of an individual from one group of money earned to another, e.g. a poor person becoming a millionaire. The piece is fantastic and you should take the time to go read and interact with it.

A map shows the broad context of the data to be looked at in the story
A map shows the broad context of the data to be looked at in the story

For some time now I have harped on about the need to annotate and contextualise datasets. Too often, large datasets paralyse people; their eyes glaze over and they simply gaze at a graphic without seeing the data, the story, the information. Little notes and blurbs of text can help people synthesise what they see with what they read with what they know to gain better understanding. But in this piece, by combining a lengthy article—very well written although that is not the focus of this post—with powerful interactive maps and graphics, the New York Times has created a powerful piece that states and then proves the point of the article. And while doing all of that, by making the datasets explorable, the Times also allows you to find your own stories.

A story-like piece lets you choose an area and an income to see how the article's topic plays out
A story-like piece lets you choose an area and an income to see how the article's topic plays out

Lastly, in the credits section at the end you will see this piece required the input of eight individuals (though I know not in what particular capacities). Clearly, for the Times this is not about to become a regular type of infographic/datavis/journalism piece. But when will skill sets be democratised or dispersed enough that smaller teams can create similar scale projects? That will be interesting to see. However, the Times certainly leads the States if not the world in some of the best information design pieces and undoubtedly this will push other publishers of similar content in this direction.

Ultimately people want to know who's best and who's worse and where they fall and this chart does that at the end of the piece
Ultimately people want to know who's best and who's worse and where they fall and this chart does that at the end of the piece

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Amanda Cox, Matthew Ericson, Josh Keller, Alicia Parlapiano, Kevin Quealy, and Josh Williams.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/business/in-climbing-income-ladder-location-matters.html?smid=pl-share

Gay Acceptance

Last week I looked at a piece from the Washington Post about the possible impact of the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in the United States. But with the rulings yesterday, we step back and look at globally how the progression of gay rights has taken steps forward or backward.

The National Post looked at the reversal of bans of gay marriage as well as polling from several countries to look at changing opinions and perspectives across the world. Fascinating/horrifying are some of the stories about specific countries in the map.

Gay acceptance
Gay acceptance

My only real criticism is that the colour-coding of regions seems a bit jarring. I wonder if grouping countries by region would not have allowed the same data to be presented in a bit quieter tone.

Credit for the piece goes to Richard Johnson.

Tax Breaks for the Wealthy

In today’s post we look at a small interactive piece from the Washington Post. Everybody pays taxes. And everybody seeks to find ways to pay less in taxes. This interactive stacked bar chart (and bar matrix) examines how much the different available tax benefits help Americans, grouped into income quintiles. The measure is dollars, not percentage of income (either personal or national), so clearly highest income Americans are the big winners in tax benefits while low income Americans lose out. For example, most low income people do not make enough money to invest in the stock market. Therefore they cannot reap the benefit of preferential tax treatment of dividend income as opposed to wage income.

A look at tax benefits in the US
A look at tax benefits in the US

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron.

Plastic Surgery

This Friday we look at plastic or cosmetic surgery. Because you should always feel better about yourself before the weekend begins. The work comes from the National Post and it looks at the popularity of specific types of surgeries for men and women over the last several years.

Plastic surgery
Plastic surgery

It’s a nice use of small multiples, line charts, and bar charts to explore the issue. I take issue with only one chart near the end of the piece. It looks at minimally invasive procedures and uses bar charts to compare the numbers. However, the bars do not sit on a common baseline and but for the addition of data labels, they would be useless in comparing the numbers of procedures.

Unaligned bar charts
Unaligned bar charts

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Faille and Richard Johnson.

Black and White Maps

Rarely do I have criticism for infographics or pieces published by the New York Times, and admittedly this time I no longer have the original. However, in May, the Times published a map that was printed in black and white in their paper. I could not make heads or tails of what the map was attempting to say. I later found the online (and full-colour) version of the graphic. Because I no longer have the paper on me, I took the image and then discarded the colour information to simulate the effect.

Comparing colour to black-and-white, link to the colour version
Comparing colour to black-and-white, link to the colour version

One must always beware of the ultimate use of their designed work, be it an infographic or something else entirely. If one designs for digital, online display, he or she can rest relatively assured that colour will be available for their piece. However, in a black and white print environment, the colour here in a divergent palette fails to communicate the split between increases and decreases in aquifer levels. I would have expected a different palette or the use of patterns for the print version of this story.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times Graphics Department

Piracy on the Seas

Today’s post looks at an interactive graphic from the Los Angeles Times. The subject matter is piracy and the piece has three distinct views, the second of which is displayed here.

Pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean
Pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean

Generally speaking, the package is put together fairly well. My biggest concern is with the first graphic. It uses circles to represent the number of attacks by locale over time. I would have either included a small table for each geographic area noted, or instead used a bar chart or line chart to show the progress over time.

Credit for the piece goes to Robert Burns, Lorena Iñiguez Elebee, and Anthony Pesce.

Student Debt Levels are Soaring

Earlier this month the Federal Reserve Bank of New York published a report on household debt. Among the findings was the story that student debt is rising to problematic levels as it may act as a brake on economic recovery. In short, without an economy creating jobs for the young (recent university graduates) it becomes increasingly difficult for the young to pay pack the loans for the sharply rising costs of university tuition.

The report made this argument by use of interactive choropleth maps and charts. The one below looks at

Which consumers have how much debt
Which consumers have how much debt

But another chart that talks about the rising levels of student loan debt misses the mark. Here we see some rather flat lines. Clearly student loans are growing, but without a common baseline, the variations in the other types of debt muddle that message.

The NY Fed's presentation of non-housing debt
The NY Fed's presentation of non-housing debt

I took the liberty of using the data provided by the New York Fed and charting the lines all separately. Here you can clearly see just how in less than ten years, student loans have risen from $200 billion to $1,000 billion. This as credit card debt is falling along with other forms of debt (non-automotive).

My take on non-housing debt
My take on non-housing debt

The New York Fed did some great work, but with just one tweak to their visualisation forms, their story is made much more powerful and much more clear.

Credit for the original work goes to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Alaska Airlines

Here’s an older, March graphic from the New York Times that looks at Alaska Airlines. This exemplifies what maps do well; it maps relevant data onto a map. Perhaps that reads silly, but too often people map data just because most things are tied to a geography; things that happen in the world happen somewhere, ergo everything could be mapped.

The growth of Alaska Airlines
The growth of Alaska Airlines

In this graphic, however, mapping the tight and Alaska-focused network with tendrils sneaking off-map to distant cities. The map supports the article that tells how after decades of focusing on Alaska, the airline has begun to expand to Midwestern cities in the US, cities in Mexico, and Hawaii.

I am not terribly keen on the stacked bar chart. It highlights the steady Alaska market over the decades at the cost of showing dynamism in those Midwestern, Mexican, and Hawaiian markets.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times Graphics Department.

Strikeouts on the Upswing

Strikeouts are an important part of baseball. They are the moments where the pitcher wins the duel between pitcher and batter that is the essential element of baseball. But over the years the game has seen more and more batters striking out more often. Earlier this year the New York Times looked at the rising rates of strikeouts in a story supported by interactive data visualisation components.

Strikeouts on the upswing
Strikeouts on the upswing

Like the piece on Bryce Harper, this piece on strikeouts is more of a narrative with the interactive graphics supporting the written words. It is not as lengthy as the Washington Post’s piece, but this one is far more interactive as the user can select his or her favourite teams and follow their performance over time.

Credit for the piece goes to Shan Carter, Kevin Quealy and Joe Ward.

Disabled List Payrolls

The Boston Red Sox are in Chicago this week to play the other Sox, i.e. the White Sox. So this week we have a bunch of baseball-related pieces. The first is this recent interactive graphic from the New York Times. It is a daily-updated graphic that looks at the payroll of all Major League teams that is tied up on players on the Disabled List, i.e. those unable to play because of injuries.

Comparing all MLB teams
Comparing all MLB teams

Clearly the Yankees are paying a lot of money for no production. You can go down the list and compare each team’s total spending. But if you want intra-team details, the piece offers you the ability to look at player-by-player salary details. Interestingly one of Chicago’s baseball teams ranks just above the Red Sox while Milwaukee sits just below.

Red Sox players on the Disabled List
Red Sox players on the Disabled List

Credit for the piece goes to Shan Carter, Kevin Quealy and Joe Ward.