Visualize This: Flowing Data makeover challenge

On Flowing Data, Nathan has just posted one of his ‘Visualize This‘ design challenges to apply an improved visualisation treatment to an existing graph.

The graph in question shows the results of poll data from the Pew Research Center, suggesting that the Internet has gained on Television as the public’s primary news source in 2010.

As Nathan observes, this isn’t the worst graph in the world but it is very busy (caused by the excessive labelling).

I’ve quickly crafted up a simple alternative which separates out the data series into small multiples of area charts thus enabling straightforward comparison across each data set. I’ve maintained the same colour scheme but this could be exchanged for a single, consistent colour for all charts so that no single hue dominates disproportionately. The only labels shown are those for the latest year of data.

(click on image for larger view)

Depending on the layout constraints associated with publishing the original graph, the current label sizes and overall dimension may not be ideal but, anyway, this is just a suggested alternative approach.

Incidentally, I think the headline insight from the results is two fold – the fact that Internet is eating into Television’s  source of news share (the other two are fairly flat) and that Internet continues to pull away from Newspaper.


Andy CotgreaveJanuary 13th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Hi Andy
Nice work, and a very fast reponse to Nathan’s challenge.

I’ve also done my own take on the data:

I initially also tried small multiples as you have, but I think that in this case, you really need to have the values on top of each other in order to see the relative increase of the internet over the others. This led me to pretty much do no more than just tidy up the initial chart. The story is in the initial chart already, it’s just concealed by too much noise.


Andy KirkJanuary 13th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Hi Andy, thanks for feedback. Can see a lot of benefits from what you are saying and your solution.
Guess Nathan’s early posting UK time wise gives us a head start while the US is still sleeping!

Richard KurschnerJanuary 13th, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I have to agree with Andy C, separate graphs just don’t show the correlation as well as the overlayed version. I also prefer the original’s aspect ratio: the narrower presentation emphasizes the tending more than the wider versions. Of course TV & Newspaper publishers may like the wider version as they don’t look so bad then! Finally, why is only the final number important enough to show? Once you have the axis and grid lines, do you even need that? It strikes me as out of place. Adding the axis to the original would eliminate the need for the labels and clean it up considerably.

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Andy KirkJanuary 14th, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Richard

Thanks for your feedback. Take on board yours and several others’ comments with regards to the overlayed line graph designs giving you a better feel of the key junctions where one media overtakes another.

Based on the headline observation that accompanied the original piece, about the Internet continuing to eat in TV share, I suppose seeing both lines converge on the same graph would enhance this message.

My instinct was to learn more about each individual media type so I headed for the matrix layout. I believe this still enables you to easily synthesise a sense across all formats about which formats are increasing and which are not.

Entirely agree about reducing the widths in order to tease out the direction changes better – that’s very true.

As for the final year’s labels, I displayed them because I wanted to make instantly visible the results emerging from the latest research as those values form the basis of the associated narrative.

Rob JensenJanuary 14th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

One little detail I really appreciate in your visualization is the y-axis going all the 100. It helps present a clearer picture of what more can be gained or the relative potential.

I was playing around in Excel and noticed it auto-formatted the axis to 90 which just didn’t look right as it made Television look like it captured all of the market in 2002 but really missing nearly 20% is significant.

Andy KirkJanuary 14th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Many thanks for the feedback Rob, much appreciated.