Union membership

January 27, 2013 § Leave a comment


You can find annual union membership figures on the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpslutabs.htm.

But the BLS stats go back just a dozen years. If you want to see how far union membership has declined over several decades, try the Unionstats database, which is maintained by scholars at Georgia State University and Trinity University. http://www.unionstats.com

This will take you back to 1973, broken down by various sectors. The database has some categories that I hope to chart in the future, such as union membership by very granular occupation categories, as well as state membership density from 1964 to date.

American Time Use Survey

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

American Time Use Survey

Each year since 2003, usually in late June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a snapshot of how Americans use their time. The Wall Street Journal graphic shown here is one example of what you can do with numbers from the report. This graphic just scratches the surface. The BLS counts time use in a number of ways, and breaks it down by sex, age and employment status. The report also includes a section just on how Americans spend their leisure time. The American Time Use Survey can be found here:


Netflix maps and normalization

January 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Companies collect detailed information on user’s habits, and sometimes they’re willing to share it with visual journalists. In this case, Neftflix provided The New York Times with movie rankings by Zip code, which the Times turned into noteworthy infographics in print and online on Jan. 10.

A key to making graphics like this work is “normalization.” Let me explain: If you chose to map the NUMBER OF TIMES “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was rented in each town, that is not normalized. One town might have more people in it than another, so you end up measuring the number of people in each town more than your are measuring the popularity of the movie.

Mapping the RANKING of the movie takes care of this. A heat map showing a movie’s ranking in each location would provide similar results to a heat map showing the number of times a movie was rented in each location divided by the location’s population. (Or at least that’s my theory. I don’t have the data on hand to prove it.)

Another interesting thing to point out about the graphic: The print and online versions were vastly different. I first read the print version in the newspaper’s Sunday Metropolitan section. (Sorry, can’t link to it since it’s a full-page print graphic. I’ll just have to describe.) It showcased a large map of the New York metro region that showed which Zip codes favored “Frost/Nixon,” “Pineapple Express” or “Obsessed.” Below it were six small heat maps of the same region that showed the rankings of six movies.

The online version, which you can see at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/01/10/nyregion/20100110-netflix-map.html?ref=nyregion lets you scroll through the top 50 Netflix movies nationwide and see heat maps of their rankings in 12 Metro areas.

This is a good example of how visual journalists have to adjust their print and online presentations to fit the strengths of both media.

Book: Nudge

December 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Humans are confronted with hundreds of choices every day. The way objects and messages are arranged affects these choices, and the people who arrange these objects and messages can be considered “choice architects.” For instance a cafeteria manager can decide to arrange food in a way that makes it easiest for customers to reach for healthy choices, that maximizes profits or that reflects the choices that people would most commonly make on their own with no encouragement.

The book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (http://www.nudges.org) tries to alert decision-makers that they are choice architects who must understand how humans behave. Without this awareness, the result can be apathy, confusion and harmful choices, such as bad investments, ill health and – as the diagram below shows – burnt pots.

In this example from the book, the most common design for cooking range burners and their corresponding knobs is shown at the top. Since the layout of the burners does not reflect the layout of the knobs, people can get confused about which burner they’re firing. (I’ve done this countless times on electric ranges.) Two alternatives are shown. I prefer the middle one, in which the burners and knobs are most closely mirrored.

I recommend this book to information graphics specialists. We need to think of ourselves as choice architects and understand how regular people interact with our designs. Will they read the intro first, or will they go straight to the chart? Should we be showing how the Libor (London Interbank Offering Rate) moved during the credit crisis, or do our readers just need an explainer on what Libor is? If we use the color red, will the readers think it refers to danger or decline? How can we design the graphic to lead the reader through its components in a logical sequence with intuitive symbology and colors?

Book: “Otto Neurath, the Language of the Global Polis”

November 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Otto Neurath, designer and sociologist, made beautiful pictograms that invoked the data he displayed. If his units represented unemployed people, they might take the form of hunched, depressed silhouettes, hands in pockets. Days of travel across the ocean might be expressed as jagged ocean waves.

We often forget that information graphics need not be cold and clinical.  The book “Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis” serves as a tonic to that tendency.

The blurb for the book: “Austrian sociologist Otto Neurath was a seminal Modernist figure. Much attention has been given to his achievements in the fields of graphic design and philosophy (Neurath was a member of the Vienna Circle, founder of the Museum of Society and Economy, inventor of the ISOTYPE pictorial system and champion of the Unity of Science movement), yet his involvement with urbanism and architecture has been all but ignored. From 1931 onwards, Neurath collaborated with the International Congress of Modern Architecture and its chief exponents–Cornelis van Eesteren, Sigfried Giedion, Le Corbusier and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy–to develop an international language of urban planning and design. More experimentally, throughout the 1930s a fascination with visual media led to an attempt to franchise the Museum of Society and Economy by establishing international satellite museums. This volume contains a text by curator and writer Nader Vossoughian, which offers a fresh perspective on one of the most versatile intellectuals of the twentieth century.”

Hispanic population

August 31, 2009 § Leave a comment


While the Census Web site is generally your best bet for population data, you should consider using statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center if you are focusing on the Hispanic population. The Pew Hispanic Center provides a level of analysis that would be difficult for most infographic artists to tease out of datasets from the Census site, especially on deadline.


Some of you are probably curious about how Pew made this three-dimensional data map. I haven’t spoken to the cartographer who made this, so I can’t say for sure. But I have worked on similar maps using either Arcview’s 3D Analyst plugin or with the Bryce 3-D program. With Bryce you extrude a shaded data maps so that the percentage of gray in each county is translated into an elevation figure. Essentially you trick Bryce into thinking your data map is a digital elevation model (DEM), a file that cartographers use to portray mountains and valleys.

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