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Better Life
10-01-2014, 11:15 PM (This post was last modified: 10-01-2014 11:17 PM by DaveAditya.)
Post: #1
Rainbow Better Life
Better Life?

The visualization shows percentage distribution of consumer spending in the US between the years 1901 and 2002. It categorizes an Average family spending into four: Housing, Food, Clothing, & Other. The chart aspires to show the shrinkage in the combined percentages of (Housing+Food+Clothing) over time. It also indicates the average family income over the years at the bottom of every bar, this of course is adjusted for inflation using the value of 2010 US Dollar as benchmark. In a way it represents the success of the American economic system.

The visualization is very impressive; my first criterion while judging a visualization of any kind is how quickly can you discern the bottom line. The creator of this chart has kept it simple, yet very informative. Just the right amount of data one would wish to see in such context. The pictures to the left and the colors were well chosen, to create just enough contrast. There is also a dotted line in the center, which represents the total in the year 2009 (not present in the dataset). The total percentage of other spending is specified, as well as the color chosen here is unpretentious. Since the data is not evenly available, the gaps between the years are proportional to the hiatus. Only major thresholds (25%) are printed on the y-axis. There isn’t too much writing, which makes gleaning the entire chart at once, very feasible.

A couple of imperfections to point out would include- the 2009 line was rather unnecessary. If the point about <50% was so crucial I would have added another bar to represent that. This chart assumes certain contextual knowledge. The reason for the decreased percentage might not be obvious to some people, and the creator would fail to make his point to that group. It is not that the families consume less of those commodities or that they have compromised with quality over time. If anything the opposite is true, we’re consuming more and better, yet spending lesser percentage of the total income on that stuff. The visualization by itself may not relate that, it requires some additional knowledge to be possessed by the viewer, so as to get the author’s point.

- Aditya Dave

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10-05-2014, 10:22 PM
Post: #2
RE: Better Life
I liked your critique, it was very good. I liked how you explained the chart so well. When I first looked at the chart I didn't know what it was talking about. I was very glad that you explained that the overall percentage of what we are spending is what this graph is showing. I would also agree with you that the 2009 line is not really adding much to the graph. It in fact confuses me more. I also appreciate how there are proportional spaces between the different years. This allows the consumer to understand there are gaps. Also I liked the color chosen too. I was easy to read and not hard to distinguish what the different areas were. I wasn't so sure what the grey part of the bar was for however. But over all this was a very clean visualization and easy to find information when you know what you are looking for.
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10-06-2014, 01:02 PM
Post: #3
RE: Better Life
I liked the critique and find the visualization to be very interesting. I think the decreasing overall trend and the increasing housing are easily seen. My biggest question is why numbers were only added to the "Other" category. I think the numbers should have been added to all of the categories or none of them.
As a side note I personally found the second chart from your source (a breakdown by income level) to be even more interesting, both for the visualization and for the data.
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10-06-2014, 09:03 PM
Post: #4
RE: Better Life
I also liked your critique. I liked your criteria of a good visualization. If you can't tell right away what the vis is trying to show then there is probably some work to be done. I think the pictures and colors are helpful in seeing trends with the subsets of data. We can see the rise and fall of spending for housing, the decline in clothing and the overall decline in food. I also like that the bars aren't evenly distributed along the x-axis. They are spaced out in relation to what year they are.

Although the vis is nicely laid out, there are some things I would change. I would take out the 50% line from 2009. It's confusing and we don't have other 2009 data so it doesn't seem relevant to the rest of the data. Also, I don't like how there aren't percentages for all of the colors. The title makes it seem like we are focusing on all of the aspects of spending but the vis makes it seem like we are focused on the "Other" category.
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10-09-2014, 10:06 AM
Post: #5
RE: Better Life
These colorful stock bars efficiently show the variance of the spending during 20th century. We can easily see the cost of cloth, food and house are decreasing. The colors are really help on this variance. But except color, it's hard to tell what the exact percentage is in each category. The only number that tells is the category of "other". Is this the author's main point, to show us how the "others" increasing? If so, the color of "others" with gray is hard to pop-out.

And still, I agree with Dave that the 2009 ling should be pointed out with another bars. It is confusing to use the dotted line drawing across all the bars.
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10-11-2014, 01:30 AM
Post: #6
RE: Better Life
I liked the points you addressed especially first perception of the bottom line seeing the graph. The varying year intervals on x-axis was confusing to notice at first.
From my point of view, the grey bar at the bottom can easily mislead legend and units with the text "average family income" following it "2010 US dollar".
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10-12-2014, 12:30 PM
Post: #7
RE: Better Life
The visualization is legible with appropriate spaces between the bar graphs and is not overwrought with information.
The color palette is appealing except the grey has no legend which makes it difficult to interpret what exactly the author is trying to depict with those numbers.
The 2009 trendline tags the spending at 50%. Like Dave said maybe another bar would do it justice as a better means to represent that information.
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10-13-2014, 11:49 AM
Post: #8
RE: Better Life
The visualization is good, simple, informative and to the most part self-explanatory. The colors used are very well selected, the difference in years in understandable. For me, the 49% dotted line was not disturbing since it was in different color and fair amount of description is given alongside.
I would like to change a few things.
1) At first, I didn't understand what the gray portion represented and why it had % on it. I felt it a little misleading.
2) Also, the data collected is only for urban areas which they should have included in the title instead of at the bottom.
3) The % description should have been included for the expenses like (housing+clothing+food)
4) I think the base should have been a fixed income and then the comparison should have been made. The intuition this graph gives at first is, people are spending almost the same amount on housing but less on clothing and food which is not the case.
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10-13-2014, 01:53 PM
Post: #9
RE: Better Life
I wanted to point out that, in regards to those who complained about only having percentages in the "Other" category, if you read the web page where the graphic is found, it seems the point of the graphic is to demonstrate that families have more discretionary spending money. In other words, the standard of living has increased - people spend less on the necessities.

Aside from this point, however, I'd like to emphasize how misleading I feel this graphic is.

One thing that I found extremely misleading is that at the bottom of the visualization, in small type, it says that this is for urban areas only. The title of the graphic, as well as the web page, seem to indicate that this is a nationwide sampling of all families - not just urban ones. This leads to the question, are all families, on average, experiencing the same decrease in standard of living?

Another thing that could severely skew understanding of the underlying data is whether housing costs is for similar quality housing. In other words, have families been cramming into smaller apartments? It is natural to assume that food and clothing costs will have greatly reduced, due to automation in production. However, the cost of housing isn't influenced too much by automation - size, location, and quality play a bigger part (building supplies may be cheaper, but...).

Also missing from this visualization is accounting for the fact that new technologies have changed expectations in standards of living. In 1900, nobody had cars. Today, we have new utilities, electronics, and services that are considered required for normal life.

Finally, as income inequality becomes greater, average family income becomes a less relevant metric. A better measure would be median income. This is sort of addressed by the second visualization on the web page, however, this graphic is for urban AND rural areas (but not suburban), and only shows 2009.
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10-13-2014, 06:03 PM
Post: #10
RE: Better Life
I believe that this visualization has effectively shown the spending trends across years. I think the dotted line for 2009 is to compare the present trend with all the previous years shown. Overall the visualization is good in terms of the right choice of colors, understandability and effective communication of the trends.
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