This week’s visualization for discussion in Alberto Cairo’s Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization course was this New York Times visualization that presents words used in the national conventions as bubbles in a kind of word cloud. I’ll forgo any detailed critique of that, but my first reaction was to question their use of bubbles. I really do like the aesthetics of bubbles and circles in diagrams, but they don’t serve well for comparing data which is the primary thing that I wanted to do with this data.
Bar charts are the visualization go-to tool for comparing data, so I thought I’d try a quick mockup (static, not interactive) of the data. Another student was kind enough to enter the data into a Google docs spreadsheet so it was easy to generate a quick stacked bar chart in Google docs. (As a side note, the default colors for the chart in Google Docs were red and blue, an appropriate scheme given the red state vs blue state meme.)
I had in mind something a little bit different though so I brought the data into Illustrator and toyed around with that a bit, reworking only the top most used words.
After posting that to a Facebook group page for the course, another student suggested re-aligning the bars. I think this one might be better for comparing and less back and forth with the eyes, but I don’t like how it loses its symmetry.
All of this was pretty easy to do and didn’t take too much time. But I think my favorite mockup of all was a hand-drawn sketch by another student with a very similar idea as far as presentation.
So, the lesson learned here for me here is the value in prototyping alternative visualization methods when you come across a visualization that you’re not satisfied with. And, as a corollary, the value in mocking up alternative ideas when creating your own visualization.