× Presidential Campaign Television Advertisements
× Police Incidents that Resulted in Mental Commitment
Through this project I was interested in exploring how a reader can be made aware of misleading data visualizations. I began with the question: By what means can a graphic designer make misleading data visualizations explicit to users, resulting in increased informational comprehension?
I chose two unrelated data sets, presidential campaign ads and mental commitments, providing information from Raleigh, NC in 2016.
I followed a systematic process. Each data set was dissected into all possible variables (B). For data set #1, each incident could be viewed by date, time of day, and region within the geographic location. Data set #2 had an extensive range of variables. Each incident could be viewed by date, time of day, channel and show type in which the ad aired; as well as ad topic, whether it was pro or con, which candidate it favored, and how the ad was financed. I compared the time and date of police incidents with the time and date of campaign ads for my visualizations. I further explored factors for data set #2 including candidate, ad topic, and pro/con themes.
I began to vigorously chart each data set separately, addressing as many variables as possible. These charts were layered to find correlations visually. A clear correlation appeared: When more presidential ad campaigns play on television, more occurrences of police incidents result in mental commitment. Thus, the lie was born – presidential campaign ads make people go crazy! Duh.
I then set forth to find interesting ways to visualize this information. One candidate aired about three times the amount of ads as the other, which clearly lent itself to placing the blame for the correlation on that candidate (C). Personally, I was cool with that lie, as it favored my political preference. But both candidates followed the same trajectory of ad air date and time. It became apparent that either party, Republican or Democrat, could use this same data to argue in their favor… to the detriment of the other candidate. Hhhhmmmm, interesting. Or perhaps another “duh” moment.
I kept questioning my intent. My discomfort with participating in the lying (in particular, the choice to lie in favor of my political preference) led me to a conclusion. Data can become a lie when it is delivered through the designer’s or stakeholder’s lens. Neutrality is dismissed and the information can become blurred and confusing (D). Likewise, the lens through which a reader sees the world is the lens through which they seek out, receive, and interpret information, including data.
Moving forward with the considerations of both designer and reader bias, I produced an interactive visual metaphor to tell the story that information (i.e. data) can become a lie when delivered or received through a narrow lens. Politics clearly afforded this metaphor. I designed a visualization that could be viewed through a Republican (red) filter or a Democratic (blue) filter (E). The lens through which the visualization are viewed determines the information the viewer receives. For the interactive presentation, each viewer was handed a pair of red-tinted glasses and blue-tinted glasses. For this site’s sake, I have dropped the color “filters” over the visualization (F).
So the shifting lie emerges. When viewing as a Republican, clearly Hillary Clinton is causing this uptick in mental commitments. When viewing as a Democrat, clearly Donald Trump is at fault. So which is it? Who really knows?; because it’s all a lie.
As a visual communicator, I reflect on my responsibility to understand how my personal schema, understanding, experience, and self-identity serve as a bias for how I present information to the world. I also must keep in mind the bias of the reader. How might this understanding allow for neutral communication resulting in increased informational self-determination for the reader/user.