Mapping things out.

It’s no secret: Web journalism is all about the visuals. Whether it’s a photograph, a video or just a silly graphic, we humans don’t seem to like the read-and-interpret approach too much these days. We prefer our information packaged up tightly into the perfect visual.

Thus is born: the map as a journalistic tool. These maps are hardly restricted to the geographic, but are constructed in a way that departs some statistical information in a way that is intended to be simply grasped and easily understood.

Specimen A:

This map is quite simple. Red states voted for John McCain in 2008. Blue states voted for Barak Obama. However, there’s a fatal flaw to this illustration: in looking at this map it appears that John McCain won the election, when in fact, Obama won by a significant margin. This map doesn’t account for population distribution (like the fact that New York is home to almost 20 million, while Montana, almost triple in size, only has a population of roughly 1 million)

So the mapmakers get a little crafty. Bringing us Specimen B:

Here, states are stretched and squashed in an attempt to make their size proportional to their population (while still making a minimal effort to keep the basic U.S. shape in tact. Blue is now, the visible majority.

I would argue that these two variations of the election map are quite informative. They make their point simply, in an easy-to-grasp way. I think they could be made even more so with the addition of a few features:  Say if you held your mouse over the state it would reveal some further facts like the actual population as well as race, gender and income distribution. And even perhaps how many counties voted red vs. blue.

However, I don’t think incorporating these more detailed variables into the map itself is very effective, take Specimen C, for example, which is a cartogram of votes by county with different shades of red, blue and purple representing varying percentages of votes:

To me, interpreting a map of this nature is simply not intuitive. I think a more effective route to expressing more complex statistic would be spelling them out in a box to the side or that pops up with a click on any individual state. I would argue that only the most simple concepts should be represented in the actual physical map.

In other news: I can’t wait for this patriotic tie-dye pattern to hit the runway. I think it’s going to be huge for Spring 2011.

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