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Week 2: Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State
09-04-2014, 05:39 PM (This post was last modified: 09-04-2014 05:40 PM by Jeff Webb.)
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Week 2: Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State
Source: New York Times, August 19, 2014.
Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State

This visualization is a set of interactive time series graphs of migration into and diaspora out of each state in the US from 1900 to 2012. The graphs can be toggled between migration and diaspora using a button in the upper right. The x-axis in each graph is implicitly organized by decade (I say “implicitly” because the time increments are not labeled on the axis but only appear interactively as the cursor is passed over the vertical lines in the graph). The y-axis represents 100% of the state population. The graph itself consists in strands representing the proportion of residents who have come from (or gone to) other states and regions. The strands are labeled clearly in the graph. But they are also color coded by region. So, for example, strands representing migration from/ diaspora into Western states are colored yellow. The key for this color scheme is conveyed in a small map of the US in the lower left of each graph that shows the colors indicating regions: the West, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast. This legend also serves as a handy way of navigating between states, which are not always listed alphabetically on the webpage.

These graphs present tabular data consisting in items with attributes. The items here would be states and the attributes (though there are different ways of organizing the data) might be date-state combinations with the size of population inflow or outflow (or that remains) in each cell. The values in the cells would ordered (larger and smaller) but quantitative.

In terms of the visualization, cell values are represented by the thickness of a state's strand at a given date. Since some of the values are relatively small, the designers chose to aggregate these across regions. This makes the graph more legible. The percentage composition of a strand (state or region) for a given decade can be obtained by passing the cursor over the graph.

This is a comprehensive and sophisticated visualization that allows one to quickly discern patterns of migration/diaspora flows by state, and, when scrolling through the graphs, differences in these patterns between states. It is easy to see which states are more regionally insular, with comparatively static populations, and which are more cosmopolitan. Moreover, the interactivity built into these graphs makes them fun, and the pictures themselves are aesthetically interesting, even beautiful. Nevertheless, while I find these graphs impressive, I do have some questions about the design. I cannot discern a substantive reason for the wavy strands. When they cross, why do they cross? The braiding perhaps enhances visual interest, but it seems haphazard. I would have preferred for the crossing to mean something—for example, that strands above represent a higher percentage of state population than strands below, which would entail the strands be organized vertically by thickness at each decade line. Lines would then cross when one state or region overtook another percentage-wise. This would add an additional spatial logic to the organization of the graph. One other small quibble. Some of the labels are inscrutable. In the graphs for migration into Florida and Hawaii there are strands labeled “other states in the other US.” What is the “other US”? If the reference is to US Territories, then that would be a clearer label.


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Week 2: Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State - Jeff Webb - 09-04-2014 05:39 PM

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