15 Jan 2012

Before, During and After: The Richest 1 Percent

This weekend the NYT published Shaila Dewan and Robert Gebeloff’s story about the richest 1 percent of Americans (a more diverse bunch than you’d think). The graphics department published a lot of work in print and online to accompany the article. Online, there was an interactive map that shows you where you and your income rank in 344 zones across the country and a treemap of what jobs the 1 percent hold. But the print version, made by Alicia DeSantis and Ford Fessenden, was really imaginative. (I’m writing this only as a fan - my involvement was limited to about 10 minutes of data monkeying.)

First, Alicia’s original sketch, written on some junk paper:

Alicia's original sketch

Originally, they wanted to export the “labels-map” using ArcMap, but to make it as easy as possible to style (it’s not so fun to try to dynamically color or manipulate strings in Arcview, as far as I know, anyway), I used R (specifically, the maptools library) to make a pdf, which takes only about 5 lines of code.

Here’s the original output as a proof of concept:

R output 1

Then, after a couple iterations, we did more styling on the programmatic side to cut down on manual labor.

R output 2

And the final product:

Final product, 1pct

This is a good example, I think, of using each medium to its best potential, meeting the design constraints of each. More and more, this means making totally separate versions of things – admittedly, it frequently takes twice the time and energy – but the mediums are just so different that works well in one just doesn’t work well in another. 

One thing I do wish we could do better online is integrating graphics in the context of stories and other assets – photos, videos, whatever. Unfortunately, we don’t get to make every web page by hand once per day like we do in print.