It isn’t often I see an infographic that seems to actually advance the state of the art, but USA Today’s photo, coded to highlight the maskless attendees at the Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court announcement is a masterpiece, and my candidate for “best infographic of 2020.” I hope it starts a trend; I see many opportunities for this technique.
Those depicted in color are not wearing masks; those in black and white are.
It is a well-established fact that human beings are terrible at grasping comparisons and statistics if they are expressed numerically, but understand them much better when they are expressed graphically. I don’t know what percentage of those in the Rose Garden were maskless that day, but I can easily see it was most attendees outside of the media areas.
This takes me back to my days at InformationWeek magazine, when we had both the need and the budget for good informational graphics. Our graphic artist told me I could better communicate my needs if I read The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte, which she called “the bible of data visualization.” As I sat down to write this essay, I couldn’t find my copy or think of the name of the book, but when I googled “Bible of Data Visualization,” I quickly found it.
I have never forgotten a graphic Tufte has made famous, because of its clever visual display of a great amount of information. It is available as a poster, described thusly:
“Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.”
Probably none of you will ever be Minard, but at least make the effort to offer clear visualization. Hats off to USA Today and I hope to see more. Here’s to Better Graphics!