Archive for visual communication

Data Visualization Training in DC – June 29th 2015

If you’re in or near Washington, DC, I’d like to invite you to attend my full day data visualization training hosted by the Leadership Institute.

This session is cheap. $40 for the whole day and they give you food. They give you food! You could probably bring some big ziplock bags, rent a food cart for the day and make out ahead. Think of it as an investment.

You can read the formal description that they let me put up on their site but I wanted to give a more casual explanation here.

Who is this for?

This is the hardest part of the training for me. Who will be there? Programmers? Graphic designers? Journalists? Nobel Prize winning economists? Gender theory majors? I’m not making any promises, I just don’t know. So I’m trying to talk about all the things needed to make great data visualizations starting on the ground floor.

This is not visualization theory training. This is not sitting in a room listening to the sultry tones of my melodious voice all day.

I’m going to give a 1 hour presentation on how to do some stuff that you need to be able to do to make cool data visualizations, then there will be a lab, an hour of time to walk through the the stuff I just showed you. My goal is for everyone who attends to actually build 2 data visualizations during the course of the day.

Does this mean technical people will get nothing out of this? I sure hope not. I’ll be presenting on algorithms that I use, yes. But to make sure this is accessible, I’m also providing to the class a set of Excel helpers that I personally use to build my own visualizations. I’m also building a set of web-based tools to help get your visualizations started. I’ll provide all that code to the class so, if you’re technically minded, you can pull it apart and see how it works. And I’m happy to answer questions on it.

If you attend, you will get:

  • To see my glorious face
  • All the files, presentations, labs, and helper scripts that I present in the class.
  • Membership in a Google Group where we can discuss visualization and you can get help with your visualization projects in the weeks after the class is over.

Things you will NOT need

  • a dinosaur-powered rocket ship
  • a mathematics background
  • programming experience
  • design experience

Things you WILL need

  • clothes, probably
  • a laptop with Microsoft Excel
  • some kind of data manipulation software (Photoshop, Paint.Net, Gimp)
  • the willingness to try something new

I’m excited about this event. You will never find training like this for $40… you’re basically stealing it.

This is like those Groupons that you could get when Groupon was just starting out and they totally ripped off their partners and you could get a dozen cupcakes from that tiny little cupcake store for $3 or whatever and 5000 people would buy them and put the little cupcake store out of business.

I’m the cupcake store. You’re the person who kind of feels a little guilty for taking advantage of this great offer, but, hey, it’s a great deal and you’re not going to pass it up.

Right Online 2012 Presentation

Apologies for the fact that I don’t have the text of my presentation in here, but I wanted to post my presentation from m Right Online panel.

Right Online Bad Data Presentation

The Goose/Gander Visualization Series

I’ve been inspired by the Obama administration to start a new series of visualizations. It was this tweet that inspired me:

“See how well Mitt Romney’s promise to create jobs in Massachusetts worked out:”

First of all, that’s not a “see” sort of thing. It’s just a number on a background.

But second of all, it has become increasingly clear that the Obama administration doesn’t care too much about context in their use of data. They will use any data that is “technically true” to make their case.

I try to play nice in my infographics. I try to provide context and improve understanding. Because of this, there are several visualizations that I’ve abandoned because, although the visualization was compelling, it didn’t increase understanding of the reality surrounding the data.

So I’m going to start a series I’m calling the “Goose/Gander Visualization Series”. If I see something particularly egregious data or visualization usage, I’m going to create something that responds in kind. The difference is that I will call out what I think is wrong with my data.

If someone decides to try to correct me, I will point to original example, insist that they call that one out and then point out that I’m not only aware of the context, I’m giving it to anyone with the desire to find it.

I will only use accurate data, no fudging the stats. But I’ll use all the tricks that the original data used. It should be fun.

Romney Tax Day Infographic

The Romney team just released an infographic comparing the federal budget to a household budget. Replicated below:


I wanted to give an informal critique of this infographic. I honestly believe creating infographics is a form of art and that we need to give deep and careful consideration to all aspects of this art.

who is the target audience?

What they should want out of this infographic is to have the viewer see themselves in the family budget. They should be targeting a) people who are independents and b) people who might care about the federal budget.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the average family of four making under $25K a year doesn’t give a crap about the federal deficit. And complaining about it to them is probably not the best tactic to win their vote.

make the numbers mean something to the audience

On a quick look, the median income for a family of four in the US is about $67K. This is going to be a number people are a little more familiar with. People who do care about the deficit are going to look at the numbers in the infographic and feel a certain disconnect because the income is so far away from what they are familiar with.

When a typical man or woman supporting a family of four sees this infographic, they will start this train of thought:

“Well, if I had an income of $24,686, we’d have to move to another house. Gosh, where would we go? Probably rent somewhere, it would have to be under $700 a month. We’d have to sell a car and the kids… wow, we’d have to cancel most of their activities. Would I even be able to afford my iPhone? I’m under contract for another year, so I’d have to wait that out but I don’t think I can function properly without a smartphone…”

Can you see what they’re not thinking about?


Instead, they should have realized that you want the audience to slip easily into the role of the family. To this end, recalculate all the numbers for a median family of 4. I’ve done it here:

Family income – $65,500

Family spending – $100,708

New Debt – $35,208

Total Debt – $434,081

Note: My first calculation was for $65,000, but I saw that this number brought the “spending” number to just  to just under $100,000, which is an psychologically important hump. So I bumped the income up another $500 to hit that psychological mark. These kinds of details should be in the mind of every infographic creator.

These numbers are going to target an audience that cares about the topic at hand, and ultimately make more of the impact we want.

the graphic is not “share-sized”

What you see above is only 25% the size of the original. The original version of this thing is a half megabyte and comes in at 2112 x 3731 resolution. Holy cow.

Everyone knows the new iPad has a monster resolution, right? Here’s how this graphic would look at full resolution on a new retina-display iPad.


And on an iPad 2


A lot of viewing these days is done on mobile devices with screen sizes much smaller than an iPad 2. By having such a monster infographic, we’ve cut our potential viewing audience way down.

And they have no options for sharing it at a smaller size. There is a link to “download and print” it, but who is going to do that? Infographics are seen online. If you’re going to print them, fit them onto an 8 x 11 piece of paper. This infographic does neither.

I’m glad the Romney team has made infographics a part of their media platform. But they have a long way to go to create infographics that make the kind of impact that they potentially can make.

Sunlight Foundation Design For America Winners

The Sunlight Foundation contest “Design for America” has announced their winners. To my disappointment, Recovery Review was not counted among the worthy, but you should check out the winners.


Congratulations to all of the winners!


Redesigning a Government Website WinnerIRS Re-Design


How a Bill Becomes Law WinnerHow Our Laws Are Made


Senate Rules Visualization WinnerGuide to US Senate Floor Procedures



Health Data Visualization WinnerCounty Sin Rankings



US Spending Visualization Winner (Tie)Spending vs. Media Coverage and Is Washington Bankrupting America



Best Design of Sunlight Data Winner (Tie)Cool Kids at the White House and Who Paid Them


image Visualization WinnerMaking a Full Recovery


Not All Money Is Created Equal

I had a thought last night that, what with tax season coming right on up, it would be fun to do a visualization of income and tax distribution. So I wandered down to the CBO and grabbed this document and turned it into a visualization. Sadly, their latest data is pushing 4 years old, so I’ll probably have to update it sometime soon.

(click for the full resolution image)

If you’d like to use a low res version of this chart in your own blog, this one has just the shapes and very little text, so it scales better smaller more better readability. The information here is kind of blunt… I’m sure there are several variables I haven’t accounted for. But this is a pretty accurate portrayal of the data at the CBO (unless I did a calculation wrong).

I wanted to do this because I get really sick of people who say things like “The top 1% of income earners pay 27% of the taxes.” Unless you believe that someone who makes $15K a year should pay $20K in taxes, that is a very silly statement. If the top 1% of income earners make 27% of all the money, it would be perfectly reasonable for them to pay 27% of all the taxes.

That’s why I wanted to make this chart. I want to be able to communicate in a single image how much the top (and bottom) earners make as well as how much they pay in taxes. The thing I think this chart brings out is that we have a progressive taxation system that does not treat all money equally. (Some may bristle that I just called our taxation system progressive, but I’m going to stick by that description. It may not be as progressive as some wish it was, but it is progressive.)

If you earn between the 80th and 90th percentile, you’re the closest we come purely equitable income taxation. That group makes 14% of all the money and pays 14% of all the income taxes.

A tax system that treated all money equally (like a flat tax) would look something like this:

In this system, dollar number ten million and one made by a hedge fund manager would be taxed at the same rate that a dollar made by a single mom earning minimum wage at a fast food restaurant. Every new dollar made would be “created equal” under the tax law. Such a system would probably reduce compliance costs as well, although I imagine it wouldn’t be particularly popular. “Let’s tax the poor more so that we can tax the rich less!” doesn’t sound like a winning campaign.

And, just for fun, I created the “pure socialism” model of this chart as well.

Of course, pure socialism is pretty silly, so this would never happen. Reason one is that, if everyone made the same amount of money, we wouldn’t have quintiles or “the top 1%”. It would just be a blob.

And it wouldn’t make any distinction between people who work hard and people who are lazy. As Penn Jillette has stated (I’m paraphrasing), “laziness is a perfectly valid life choice”. Life gives us all sorts of things to trade off with. Some people trade money (or the potential of earning money) for hanging around the apartment playing video games. Nothing wrong with that. But I don’t mean to get off on a “socialism is really silly” tangent.

I just hope that these charts are helpful and fun. Feel free to steal (with proper attribution).

The Political Power of Data Visualization

It’s funny… I got my start in information visualization with an Ignite presentation on data visualization about a year ago. (For those who don’t know, Ignite is a get together of geeks and artists where people give a 5 minutes presentation on something they love with 20 slides where the slides auto-progress every 15 seconds.) About a month later, I posted my first political infoviz and that started the hoopla that led to this blog.

And I just found another fantastic Ignite presentation on “The Political Power of Data Visualization“. This one is done by Alex Lundry (Twitter: @alexlundry), who actually works in the field with Target Point Consulting. (I don’t work in the field… I’m just a hobbyist.) That means if you want Info Viz done for your company or think tank, you should go to him.

Alex makes the exceptionally important point that visual communication and thinking (especially with info graphics) is THE wave of the future for policy communication. Let me be as clear as possible about this:

If you talk, you lose. If you show, you win.

Period. Showing people something makes them feel like they discovered it. It is THE way to convince people.

Visual thinking. Infographics. Data visualizations. Make them. Use them.

By the way, here’s my original Ignite presentation for anyone interested (skip the first 20 seconds, it’s embarrassing).