Infographics and Data Visualization class: graphic revision

I’m currently enrolled in the Knight Center massively open online course, taught by Alberto Cairo, a well-known infographics designer and instructor. For this week’s assignment, I decided to revise the infographic we critiqued: the New York Times’ visualization of words used by speakers during the past year’s party conventions.

I found it a bit lacking, since the content required a great deal of scrolling and the interactivity was not fulfilling. I felt that with a little more reporting and design, it could provide more context and be less of a wide wilderness for the reader. Here is my suggestion:

Hopefully you’ll forgive the rough quality of my sketches, but I think they do well to convey my idea (Alberto Cairo has encouraged us to render our revisions any way possible–I took the “pencil and paper” suggestion a bit like a challenge!). I combined another student’s suggestion of adjacent bar graphs with a more content-rich dashboard on the left. Upon first visiting the page, the reader would see a deck describing the methodology and a basic display of the most frequently used words and who used them more. Mousing over the boxes that make up the graph displays a little quote bubbles from a few of the most notable uses of the word (instead of giving the audience every relatively insignificant use of every keyword). The rate I displayed was one quote per use of the word per 200,000 words spoken at the convention. The boxes were inspired by the New York Times’ user-generated visualization of short responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. Except that this one features a twist:

Text is much more valuable when we can indicate tone, and a majority of these speeches are recorded. If the number of highlighted quotes were manageable, appending a sound bite to each of the boxes would allow the user to click on the box to hear the actual quote. This brings a wealth of comparative value to the visualization, as the simple text doesn’t allow me to compare the tone with which a Republican or Democrat is likely to say something like, “The passage of Obamacare will bring enormous changes to our healthcare system.”

Clicking on a box changes the right-side dashboard to also deliver a layer of context. First, the reader can read the entire speech, but most importantly, it allows the reader to see the eventual point being made with the use of the keyword at hand. Second, there’s the opportunity to listen to the quote again. Third, since each individual’s speech is already tagged in the original visualization with the number of times they use each keyword, I think it would be useful to see a graph of the keywords used by the speaker: it give the reader a good general idea of the speech’s theme. Maybe, if I click on a quote that uses the word “better” and find the quote, “Obama/Romney will make things better,” and then see that the speech used the keyword “economy” the most, I can infer that the speaker’s primary concern was of the economic state of America.

The visualization isn’t perfect, of course. I would prefer to display all of the details without relying on two scroll bars, for instance. Having smaller boxes would be preferable, to include as many quotes as possible–but that would mean work for the newsroom. I think there’s probably a reason why the New York Times came up with a relatively light visualization for this news item, so my suggestion is sort of a “what if” projection.

Think it’s better? Worse? Leave a comment!

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  1. I think that your idea of including audio in the visualisation is very interesting. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Do you have any similar example?

    It seems that the course is very good. I’ll start the second edition in a few weeks and as I can read in your blog it is a big amount of work!

    • I can’t think of any news-related examples off the top of my head. On movie promotional sites sometimes they’ll have obnoxious sound bites that go off on a mouse-over event. It would be really easy to code in Javascript, although the number of keywords that the user sees would directly impact the load time of the page. So, the fewer, the better.

      If you’re looking to sign up for the second edition, registration is open now (unless it’s already full!). And I recommend it, especially if you don’t have any prior experience in data visualization. The forum discussions are great, everyone has been supportive, and Alberto Cairo definitely knows his stuff!


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