Week 2 with Alberto Cairo

Hello to all of you!

It’s the end of week two at Alberto’s online course and I am loving the idea of taking this online course. Even though I have a full-time job and 100 other things to do and it’s getting harder to follow the course, I find some time to do justice to it. I recommend for people interested in data viz to take this course in Jan. Alberto literally lays out the fundamentals of info graphics and dat visualization through this course. Being a designer, I can say that the course emphasizes more than umpteen number of times on the purpose and need for information design. I’m finding it hard to stay away from the habit of pretty(fying) and beautifying graphics for the sake of its form. A chance to learn the basics I never knew of is a privilege.

Week two’s discussion topic was this:

To begin with when I saw this, I thought well this is pretty cool! It conveys almost everything it wants to. Words used the most, Obama using words vs Romney using the same; I dnt see anything wrong with it :O plus The New York times generally do a great deal with their info graphics, so must be perfect. At this point I wish I could tell my professor ‘Alberto, this is a good one, it will flex my brain muscles’.

Then when i knew ‘I was hired by Steve Duenes, infographics director at the Times, to make a constructive critique of that piece’ (hypothetical situation obviously), my mind started to see things it wouldn’t otherwise (ofcourse the readings and lectures during the course help a great deal). So, lets begin with what I came up with:

Things that work:
I like the interesting take on word cloud and the fact that the % of usage of words makes it favour either towards ‘republicans’ or ‘democrats’ (didn’t see this in the beginning though). The second thing I like is the choice of words, Words used are words that make sense in context of politics and debates. If you looked at it overall, you would get a sense of words used by either conventions. Many other positive points and on the whole I feel, the NYT did a good job in making bubble charts clear enough compared to some others out there.

Things that don’t work:
1. The bubbles are clickable but don’t do anything on click. Their function isn’t very clear.
2. When you drag the bubbles out of their place they go where you leave them. WHY?
3. There is a search bar on top to search for words, I didn’t use it much and am wondering if it’s really needed. It’s not a playful graphic and searching for words like ‘is’, ‘and’,’I’ is redundant and has no context
4. Some of the words like ‘AUTO’ and ‘WOMEN’ are described below and I cannot figure out why. Why only these words and not others? Why do they disappear when you drag a bubble out of its place? Initially they almost looked like sections for the graphic.
5. The pull out quotes at the bottom could be a nice element, but is easily missed in the scrolling. Plus its too long and doesn’t add to the story user is getting from the graphic.

The more I look at it and think of it; I realise that it’s a great graphic as a static and the interactive elements don’t have any value addition to the communication. They do things that seem to be deprived of any function. Most of the story that can be communicated is given to the user in the first go.

Improvements
What I can do to improve this communication follows:

I am not very good at coding and the lack of practice in Flash and Indesign hindered my attempt at making this interactive. Im still on it though:

So, the sketches follow:

This is how I see the whole thing readjusting itself ( it’s a concept sketch and can be worked on a lot in terms of appearance). What I liked about the previous one was the fact that the words would move towards one convention depending on which convention used it more. I feel the key message for users in this is the correlation of the word between the two conventions. A scatter plot in my opinion communicates 2 things clearly: Firstly, it tells how many times one word is used by both conventions. Secondly, it gives us an idea  of which convention the word is leaning towards. The closer the circles (all same sizes) are to the 45 degree line the more balanced is the use of the word by both conventions.

What could also be a nice element is a zoom button to zoom into the congested areas and blow up the scale :O

Next step is when a user clicks on lets say OBAMA. This would make the bubbles settle in a state like this one:

Here all the words drop on the X-axis and show the way the words are used by the democrats. When one hovers on one of the bubbles it would lead to a screen like this one:

The word that the bubble belongs to shows up here with an added description or caption. One can go back to the full view and do the same steps for ROMNEY and republicans:
 

I know I don’t see much sense in the excerpts but maybe the interactive piece could look something on the lines of this: with much lesser redundant lines and better aesthetics.

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Week 2 with Alberto Cairo

4 thoughts on “Week 2 with Alberto Cairo

  1. Wow. I liked the idea about clicking the bubble and viewing the caption, and the added interactivity by clicking on Democrats & Republicans. :)

    I’m still wondering if the NYTimes style (word cloud/bubbles) is easy to understand, or the scatter plot (and the 45 degree angle line). Changing the size of text according to the frequency of use catches your attention more (On the other hand, words used less often will probably be missed/ignored). Also the idea of Republicans on right & Democrats on left seems easier to explain. Thoughts?

    Also, one problem with the colors in scatter plot is that they’re either blue, or red (which seems incorrect for words commonly used by both, like tax, hope etc.). Would using a color scale (Red to grey to blue?) help?

    Agreed about the Auto, Women part: it is just wrongly placed. It disconnects the word bubbles from the text/description below (and is confusing as well).

    Anything else that can be done with the extracts? Maybe show it as accordion (with all speech collapsed), so you can first see who have used the words, and then click on their name to expand? Might not be as overwhelming as the current one, and easier to read (For ex, in most of them, Obama’s extract gets lost in between others).

    Loving the assignments that you have. Please keep blogging about it!

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