Beauty is in the eyes of the fishes
Fantastic visual, but the Google data need some pre-processing

Hog wild about dot maps

Reader Chris P. sent me this chart.

This was meant to be "light entertainment." See the Twitter discussion below.



Let's think a bit about the dot map as a data graphic.

Dot maps are one dimensional. The dot's location is used to indicate the latitude and longitude and therefore the x,y coordinates cannot encode any other data. If we have basically a black/white chart, as in this hog map, the dot can only encode binary data (yes/no).

The legend says "each dot represents 5,000 hogs." Think about how that statement applies to these scenarios:

  • Do you expect to see something different between the dot representing 4,200 and the one showing 4,900?
  • Do you expect to see something different between the dot representing 400 and 4,000?
  • Do you expect to see something different between the location with 4,800 hogs and 9,600 hogs?

Based on the legend, the designer would need two dots to represent 10,000 hogs. But those two dots pertain to the same location. Sometimes, "jitter" is added, and the two dots are placed side by side. However, with the scale of the map of the U.S., and the dots representing seemingly small neighborhoods, jitter creates more confusion than anything. Also, what about 3, 4, 5, .. dots in the same location?


Looking at the details above, are the dots jittered or do they represent neighboring locations?

Sometimes, colors are used to encode data on a dot map. But each dot can only contain one color, so it only typically shows the top category in each location.

Dot maps are very limited. Think before you use them.



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Aaron Mackey

I like binhex density overlays for this kind of thing -- that allows a single dot to remain visible as a single (small) bin, while also allowing the population density to be visible along some color scale.

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