Weekly Data Viz #1

Each Tuesday,  Eurry Kim, a student in our class, will pick one example of data visualization to share with us.  This week’s is an interactive visualization of consumer spending, one measure of inflation, from the New York Times, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Click on the link for the full effect. I’ll put in my two cents below the visualization. Eurry writes:

For the week’s Viz, I chose one that first put me on the path to becoming a data scientist:

For me, a good visualization captures the viewer and make it look for him/herself in it. And when I first saw this, I realized how much more money I spend on food than Joe Average. Another aspect of a good visualization is that it is information-dense. This one captures that in spades — I can compare overall buckets of categories to each other, but I can also look within those areas and drill for more information (with a mere hover of the mouse). And then, of course, the embedded heat map indicating areas of inflation. Oldie, but a goodie.


Matthew Bloch, Shan Carter and Amanda Cox/The New York Times

Before getting to the end product, the data had to be processed, aggregated and interpreted and design decisions had to be made. For example, consider:
— the choice of a cell or cell tissue as a design principle
— the non-standard irregular shapes whose respective areas or “weights” represent how much an average American spends in that category. Can your eye compare one category to the next?
— the use of labels in certain large categories
— choosing the change in price from March 2007 to March 2008 as the key metric of interest
— using color to represent that metric
— the choice of number of color buckets (10). Could have used less (more coarse) or more (more granular). e.g. imagine if there were only 2 colors/choices (“increase” or “decrease”), how would that impact your understanding of the data?
— Price changes have varied across categories (as indicated by color). So there is a complicated relationship between shapes’ relative sizes and colors. For example, look at transportation, where “Gasoline” is red and “New cars and trucks” is blue. Not only did prices change, but consequently the average consumer ends up spending a higher percentage of their total transportation spending on gas when gas goes up in price and the cost of new cars goes down. Thus the size of the shapes have likely shifted from the previous year. (This isn’t captured because we only see the March 2008 snapshot of the shapes, and not the March 2007 shapes).
— Does this all add up to an understanding of inflation?

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