Visualizing immigration to the United States

Here are three interesting visualization options – an animated map and two infographics – to see immigration to the United States. Three quick thoughts:

  1. The map really does help illustrate the various stages of immigration. It starts from Western Europe, moves significantly to Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, and then opens to Mexico, east Asia, and other parts of the globe in the 1960s.
  2. It is unfortunate that the arrivals from Asia have to go over the “break” in the map since it has the Atlantic in the center. At first, I couldn’t figure out where the dots coming into the United States from the left were coming from.
  3. The second infographic provides some proportional context: even with the jump in migrants from Mexico, they represent a smaller proportion of the total U.S. population than the immigration spikes in the 1800s.

Misleading graph of Dyson vacuum suction power?

The latest edition of Time includes a back cover ad from Dyson with a graph of their vacuum’s suction:


From the graph and the numbers below, it is pretty clear that Dyson has more suction power than the two other pictured vacuums: 160 air watts compared to 68 and 43 air watts. Fair enough, particularly for those who need the most air watts. But, I also wonder if this graph doesn’t represent a common problem with infographics: it is confusing a linear relationship, 160 air watts is more than twice as much as the competing vacuums, with volume. Not only does the Dyson have the most suction power, it is clearly the biggest vacuum in this graph. While I don’t think Dyson wants to sell their vacuum as the largest (in fact, they often pitch its manueverability), it isn’t necessarily bad to show that your product visually dominates the competition.

Four tips for making a good infographic

The head of a new infographic website suggests four tips for making a good infographic:

1. Apply a journalist’s code of ethics

An infographic starts with a great data set. Even if you’re not a journalist — but an advertiser or independent contractor, say — you need to represent the data ethically in order to preserve your credibility with your audience. Don’t source from blogs. Don’t source from Wikipedia. Don’t misrepresent your data with images.

2. Find the story in the data

There’s a popular misconception that creating a great infographic just requires hiring a great graphic designer. But even the best designer can only do so much with poor material. Mapping out the key points in your narrative should be the first order of business. “The most accessible graphics we’ve ever done are the ones that tell a story. It should have an arc, a climax and a conclusion,” Langille says. When you find a great data set, mock up your visualization first and figure out what you want to say, before contacting a designer.

3. Make it mobile and personal

As the media becomes more sophisticated, designers are developing non-static infographics. An interactive infographic might seem pretty “sexy,” Langille says, but it’s much less shareable. A video infographic, on the other hand, is both interactive and easy to port from site to site. Another way to involve readers is to create a graphic that allows them to input and share their own information.

4. Don’t let the code out

One of the easiest ways to protect your work is to share it on a community site. offers Creative Commons licensing to users who upload a graphic to the site. When visitors who want to use the graphic grab embed code from the site, the embedded image automatically links back to its creator. Langille suggests adding branding to the bottom of your work and never releasing the actual source file — only the PNG, JPEG, or PDF. And what if your work goes viral without proper credit? For god’s sake, don’t be a pain and demand that the thieves take it down. “It’s better to let it go and ask for a link back and credits on the graphics,” Langille said.

The first two points apply to all charts and graphs: you need to have good and compelling data and then use the graphic to tell this story. Infographics should make the relevant data easier to understand than having someone read through denser text. An easy temptation is to try new ways of displaying data without thinking through whether they are easily readable.

It would be interesting to know whether infographics are actually more effective in conveying information to viewers. In other words, is a traditional bar graph made in Excel really worse in the basic task of sharing information than a snazzy infographic? I imagine websites and publications would rather have infographics because they look better and take advantage of newer tools but a better visual does not necessarily equal connecting more with viewers.

Side note: the “meta Infographic” at the beginning of this article and the “Most Popular Infographics You Can Find Around the Web” at the end are amusing.