Visualization Observations from Election 2012

You have probably heard of big data, enterprise analytics, business intelligence, or just plain analytics––whichever term you prefer, they all refer to ways of sorting through the tons and tons of data at our fingertips. Today, there are an increasing number of tools out there to help us visualize complex, not-so-user-friendly information. Enter visualization.

Visualizations have been around for a while––from things like Major League Baseball’s iOS app for watching a baseball game on your mobile phone without streaming video to the a user’s device. At their core, these types of visualizations take complex events, such as sporting events or elections, and display the critical data elements in a structured means to tell a story to the viewer. In the baseball example, the visualization depicts each pitch and the subsequent events (hit, strike, run, out, etc).

The presidential election this past week was no exception to this visualization trend, but each of the major news networks took a different approach. The US presidential election is basically a game played to 270 electoral votes, but much like baseball, what happens with each pitch––or in the case of the election, when a major network predicts the winner of a particular state––is just as important as the score.

With this in mind, consider the following observations when you think about data visualization:

1. Updates matter.
Notifications of those updates matter even more when the updates are sporadic (and the game, or election, occurs over a long period of time).

2. Compact wins!
Good design, except for the four-digit time issue, makes NPR’s “Big Board” the clear winner in terms of clean, focused design. NPR gave up the map for a fixed, transit-style grid. Using a clean, fixed style, NPR conveyed all of the other specifics that each of the big networks attempted to show on their respective sites: battleground states, percentage of popular vote, electoral delegates, time the state was called, party who won the state, and percentage of districts reporting.

3. Remember the colors.
The bane of monitor-based displays has long been contrast and color and the litany of variables that accompany all the devices used to consume online content. Critical, primary data points––the status of each state’s electoral votes, for example––were difficult to see on many sites because of the color (and small size) of the graphic.

Did you watch the election online or with a secondary display nearby?

What was your favorite source?

Author: John Carew

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