Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Celebrating pointillistic cartography

The map on the left has been making the rounds in social media, in the blogosphere, and even in mainstream publications recently, so I may be a bit late to showcase it. Designed by University of Virginia's Dustin A. Cable, the map depicts the racial makeup of the U.S., and it's as overwhelming (one dot, one person!) as it is dazzling. It reminded me a bit of another visualization based on the 2010 census by the folks at the NYT's infographics desk.

Cable has written an article describing the methodology behind the map. It involved Python, SAS, Processing, and the Google Maps API. The article also explains why certain dots show up in the middle of swamps, lakes, and natural parks. Hint: It has to do with how the Census Bureau locates the data it gathers.

My thoughts about this project? I love it. Even being a bit skeptical about what common readers can learn from many maps (see this, this, this and this funny XKCD cartoon), I'm still obsessed with thematic cartography. A couple of classics in the literature (1, 2) are among my favorite books about visualization and, as those of you who participated in my MOOC* know, years ago I wrote around 50 pages about basic mapping that were not included in The Functional Art (once I update them, they'll be in its follow-up.) Besides, I'll be keynoting the 2013 NACIS meeting in October, so I better keep my mouth shut about potential pitfalls and shortcomings in map design.

Anyway, enjoy this pointillistic beauty. You'll probably want to zoom into the areas where you live, as I did; see Miami-Dade above. And one silly question: Do you think that this will be sold as a poster eventually? It should.

*The third edition, to be offered in October, will be announced soon.