Favorite Visualizations for 2023

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To recap what has been a productive year at Fat Pencil Studio, a decisive case in Montana, emergence of artificial intelligence, four new hirings, and an move office next door (blog post coming), we now look at the staff's favorite visualizations from this year!

Alex's choice

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Perhaps it was an inevitability of reaching a certain age, according to some memes, but during the pandemic, I got into birding on my many walks, and even joined a birding club. My entry into the birding community coincided with a rise in campaigns like Bird Names for Birds, which seek to get rid of eponymous bird names, since the individuals many birds (and some birding organizations) are named after held beliefs or engaged in actions that would be considered offensive or unethical by present-day standards. Advocates believe that this tradition of eponyms runs counter to the aims of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For example, although John James Audubon did paint some beautiful and iconic images of the bird species of North America, he was also a slaveholder and white supremacist. In light of this, Portland Audubon voted in January of 2023 to change its name, joining a few other chapters in this decision as the National Audubon Society's board considers making a similar move.

Beyond the historical side of this argument, there is no doubt that it takes a deal more memorization and study to recognize, say, a Wilsonʻs warbler than a Yellow-rumped warbler. Eponymous bird names tell us nothing about the birds themselves, other than the name of someone who "discovered" them. To this end, I was struck by the above work of artist Alex Holt, who helps run the Bird Names for Birds website. They write, "the more time I have spent reading into the figures whose names these birds now bear, the less attention I have spent upon the birds themselves," and to counter that trend, painted this beautiful image. In highlighting the colors and shapes of a variety of species who happen to have eponymous names, this graphic urges viewers to focus on the wonder birds evoke, and what draws humans to watch and learn about them.

Ben's choice

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Ever since its appearance on the web over a decade ago, this heliocentric vortex model of our solar system by DJSadhu has captivated many in its alternative interpretation of how the planets revolve in space around our Star.

The original Copernican model, dating back almost 500 years, has endured and formed the basis of our common 'flat' understanding of the solar system. This new representation is far more dynamic and gives new form, in 4 dimensions, to our understanding of movement between the Sun and its planets. This shows the power a diagram has in  shaping and reshaping our basic understanding of various phenomena. 

Billy's choice

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My selection is Cinema Through Data, published in 2021. An examination of viewership and ratings throughout the eras of film.

I chose this visual for its length of dataset, spanning back to the early history of cinema. Films speak to the pulse of the era they were produced in and the audience they are for. It gives us a glimpse of the mindset of the people of the times and their environment. I found it particularly interesting how shifts in the data could be pointed to advancements in technology or landmark events in time.

Elise's choice

Mona Chalabi

One of my favorite data visualization artists is Mona Chalabi. She just won a Pulitzer Prize for her data journalism work that interprets statistical reporting through illustrations. Her unique visual style often mixes human figures with more traditional scientific graphs/charts. The effect is a striking humanization of data in unexpected and engaging ways. An example of this is her work in response to the successful NYC nurse strike last winter, in which she calls attention to the overall decrease in labor action over the past 50 years in the US.

Joel's choice

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There's consensus that Broadway divides Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant

My choice is this crowdsourced map of New York neighborhoods.

I think it's fascinating to see which dividing lines everyone can agree on, and the grey areas where no one seems to know which neighborhood they're in. I'd love to see a similar map of Portland– including a name I recently learned for the small area on the west side north of the Fremont Bridge, bordered by Front Ave and Yeon: The Squish.

Joshua's choice

My contribution is Ed Hawkins' "climate spiral" which he first published in 2016, but has been making news again this year as Earth experienced a record number of warm months in a row.

Humans are terrible at comprehending the true impact of things that change slowly. This chart does a great job of collapsing a long period of time into something that is compatible with our short attention span. The spiral shape is also useful because of the implication that things are spiraling out of control. This chart was updated in October 2023. We now know the results from November, and guess what... we've now crossed the 2°C threshold which is a red line on Ed Hawkins' chart.

Kalin's choice

Using Minecraft to Show a Real World Project. Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism has created a remarkably realistic model of the Tatsuno Dam project using the Minecraft game platform. While the model isn't perfect, and stops short of offering much information about the project, it got me thinking about other ways we could be using consumer grade software to make massive, hard to understand concepts more approachable, sharable, and fun for users to explore.

Katherine's choice

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I've selected a summary of "How New Rules Turned Back the Clock on Baseball," published in The Upshot, a New York Times newsletter. I'm not a professional sports follower, but I was intrigued by the rule changes when they were announced and delighted that they accomplished their stated goal of making baseball games shorter and more action-filled.

I like the way this particular graph includes an outlier, Kenley Jansen (who I'd never heard of), to help illustrate the parameters of the effects on pitching times. Mostly, I like the takeaway that a few tweaks here and there can effect real change.

Kenneth's choice

My choice is an on-going project by Adam Paul Susaneck, an NYC-based architect, called Segregation by Design. The project illustrates the result of the 1956 Federal Highway Act creating the interstate highway system. Adam has been mapping out several cities across the US, showing how the the freeway system destroyed communities of color due to red-lining.

A few weeks ago, Interstate-10 in Los Angeles was closed to due to a fire. But through a state of emergency, it took 8 days for it to open. The video above shows I-10 cutting its way through Los Angeles.

Here in Portland, The Oregonian, also has examples of how I-5 and the Rose Quarter destroyed the Albina district, the heart of Black Portland.

May's choice

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While the graphic itself is exceedingly simple, the data dates back to the 18th century, and illustrates the complex and serpentine nature of language across time and space. Language both shapes and is shaped by a culture, and the protracted process of this persistent archive evinces just that.

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Kenneth Zapata is a Designer at Fat Pencil Studio