Our Favorite Data Visualizations of 2020

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It occurred to me that between the staggering events that unfolded and the unprecedented amount of time I spent at my computer trying to make sense of them, 2020 was a remarkable year for data visualization. So at the risk of diving back into a year we might all rather be done with, I asked everyone at Fat Pencil Studio to choose their favorite data visualization from the past year. Here are our picks:

Yana chose the Hedonometer from the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont. She writes, "It's the coolest dataviz I stumbled upon this year. As the name connotes, the site registers global happiness according to Twitter. The algorithms at its core use a representative segment of daily tweets (10%, I believe), and interpret language use according to a ranking of keywords on a positivity-negativity spectrum. The words are language-specific, or course, and it looks like 10 languages are tracked. I found the site through an episode of Reply All in which one of the hosts got in touch with the creator of the site/algorithm, learned about its creation, and also volunteered his texting history to be analyzed and compared with the Hedonometer."


Joshua chose FiveThirtyEight's look at gender balance among Biden's cabinet picks. He writes, "the past year has shattered many records... and many lives. While it's true that infographics can help us make sense of the train wreck that was 2020, I prefer to look ahead. If Joe Biden's picks are confirmed, he will have the first gender balanced cabinet in US History. Of course, numbers are not necessarily equal to influence, and as a country I'd like to see us nominate and elect more women and people of color to the highest posts. However, I feel like we are on the right track."

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Jazzy's pick is a map of bioluminescent organisms in Australia from cartographer Jonni Walker. She writes "Who doesn't love glowing organisms? Other than the fact that it looks pretty, I chose this graphic as a favorite because it only showcases a relatively small part of Australia, but within that small area there are so many difference instances in which you could possibly see bioluminescence. This natural phenomena seems special, but maybe it's more prevalent than we think. We just aren't squinting hard enough."

My favorite is this accurately-scaled representation of Jeff Bezo's wealth from designer Matt Korostoff. It's hard to get your head around what a billion dollars is. This graphic is a simple, clear way to see it, and sheds some pessimistic light on income inequality in America. (These images don't do it justice, you've got to click on the link and scroll through!)


Joel Newman is a Senior Designer at Fat Pencil Studio