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Assignment 1: Good and Bad Visualizations

Good Visualization

Image:nuclearproliferation.gif

This visualization from the New York Times effectively utilizes shape, color, and spatial arrangement to show how nuclear weapons technology has proliferated to various countries over time.

  • Circular node: nation that currently has nuclear capabilities
  • Hexagonal node: nation that has abandoned its nuclear weapons program
  • Square node: nation suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons program
  • Edges: describe the flow of information and technology
  • Colors / top to bottom spatial organization: roughly correspond to political alignment and political influence, with red depicting members of the Warsaw Pact, blue representing the NATO and its allies, and grey reserved for neutral/unaligned countries.
  • Timeline: the countries are arranged from left to right in chronological order according to date of first confirmed or estimated nuclear detonation

Print Article: Hidden Travels of the Atomic Bomb, published by The New York Times on December 8, 2008

Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09bomb.html

Direct Link to Visualization: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/12/09/science/1209-sci-BOMB.gif

Bad Visualization

Image:carbonemissions.gif

This visualization displays a distorted a map of the world in which each country's area on the map is scaled by its cumulative carbon emissions from 1950-2000. Unfortunately, in its attempt to be creative, the Economist has compromised the usefulness and accessibility of this visualization, and omitted some key information.

  • Some international boundaries (especially those in Africa) have been transformed beyond recognition, so it is hard to identify individual countries.
  • The lack of concrete carbon emissions numbers and the contorted shapes makes it difficult to accurately compare data for two nonadjacent countries (for example, how much more carbon does the US emit than Russia?)
  • The visualization does not specify whether the original, unmodified map was based on Mercator, Mollweide, or other system of projection, so we might not even be able to compare countries in different latitudes
  • This graphic fails to leverage the power of color by painting all countries on the map in a uniform shade of red

Print Article: Climate change, published by The Economist on September 12, 2008

Online: http://www.economist.com/daily/chartgallery/displayStory.cfm?story_id=12202374

Direct Link to Visualization: http://media.economist.com/images/20080913/CIR928-Carbon-13-09-08.gif



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