Diverging paths for rich and poor, infographically
Using a bardot chart for survey data

The visual should be easier to read than your data

A reader sent this tip in some time ago and I lost track of who he/she is. This graphic looks deceptively complex.

MW-FW350_1milli_20171016112101_NS

What's complex is not the underlying analysis. The design is complex and so the decoding is complex.

The question of the graphic is a central concern of anyone who's retired: how long will one's savings last? There are two related metrics to describe the durability of the stash, and they are both present on this chart. The designer first presumes that one has saved $1 million for retirement. Then he/she computes how many years the savings will last. That, of course, depends on the cost of living, which naively can be expressed as a projected annual expenditure. The designer allows the cost of living to vary by state, which is the main source of variability in the computations. The time-based and dollar-based metrics are directly linked to one another via a formula.

The design encodes the time metric in a grid of dots, and the dollar-metric in the color of the dots. The expenditures are divided into eight segments, given eight colors from deep blue to deep pink.

Thirteen of those dots are invariable, appearing in every state. Readers are drawn into a ranking of the states, which is nothing but a ranking of costs of living. (We don't know, but presume, that the cost of living computation is appropriate for retirees, and not averaged.) This order obscures any spatial correlation. There are a few production errors in the first row in which the year and month numbers are misstated slightly; the numbers should be monotonically decreasing. In terms of years and months, the difference between many states is immaterial. The pictogram format is more popular than it deserves: only highly motivated readers will count individual dots. If readers are merely reading the printed text, which contains all the data encoded in the dots, then the graphic has failed the self-sufficiency principle - the visual elements are not doing any work.

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In my version, I surface the spatial correlation using maps. The states are classified into sensible groups that allow a story to be told around the analysis. Three groups of states are identified and separately portrayed. The finer variations between states within each state group appear as shades.

Redo_howlonglive

Data visualization should make the underlying data easier to comprehend. It's a problem when the graphic is harder to decipher than the underlying dataset.

 

 

 

Comments

Marco

It becomes much easy to understand after group them in 3 category. Nice job.

Jeff

A suggestion: When I first read the question in the headline and then looked at the maps, I initially thought that I my savings would last longer in Nevada than in Texas, for example. Since the darker/more intense colors are mapped to higher annual cost of living, which varies inversely with how long your savings will last, it might make sense either to reverse the color scale or to rewrite the headline to something like "How fast will I go through a million dollars?"

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