Archives for category: Infographics

Google Maps Engine Lite is a great tool for building uncluttered, functional, interactive online maps if you don’t have a lot of artistic talent or technical skills. Here are a few things you can do with it:

  • Locator maps: Students in Multimedia Journalism this week will follow a step-by-step visual guide in class on how to create a geospatial data map of the top vote-getters in a poll by the Kansas City Star. Here’s what they’re aiming to create to prepare to make their own maps to post on their blogs; it might look familiar since I blogged about the Kansas City barbecue map yesterday:

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

  • Map routes: Robb Montgomery used Google Maps Engine to show how to get to an outdoor cinema in Berlin over a couple of different routes by searching for directions and drawing routes.
  • Layered geolocated data charts: You can import spreadsheets of data organized by location (e.g., state, county, other geographic boundary) in one column and data for each location in the second column. The result is a map with pins the reader can click on to see the data. The New Haven Register used this to map crimes in the city of New Haven, Conn.

That last option is not the easiest way for readers to visualize data if the info in question involves rankable rates or numbers by geographic region. If that’s what you have to work with, what you really want to make is a choropleth.

Don’t be afraid; that’s just a fancy name for a heat map, a way of presenting data that is color coded from most to least, best to worst, etc. Doing this can help readers visually recognize the rank order of each region.

To make a chloropleth, you need to use Google Fusion Tables, which I’ll blog about later this week. Google Fusion Tables can be used to create heat maps by merging a spreadsheet containing state-by-state (or county-by-county, or country-by-country, you get the idea) data with the geographic outlines of their corresponding geographic areas.

Made with Google Map Engine Pro

Made with Google Maps Engine Pro

The Kansas City Star recently ran the results of online poll asking where to find the best barbecue in the metro area. Only problem is, it didn’t tell where to find them. So I threw together a map using Google Maps Engine Pro while I prepared a step-by-step visual guide on making interactive maps for my multimedia journalism students.

I was pleased to see so many options I knew nothing about, despite my always being open to trying new ‘cue joints each time I’ve returned to see family and friends in the place where I grew up.

Locator maps were a staple of the infographics diet when I was a print journalist. Bar charts and fever graphs were also pretty typical. Illustration was seen as pretty exotic.

But locator maps were and continue to be important for mid-sized and large metro papers because city geography can be complicated, and we can’t always expect our readers to know much about neighborhoods far from their own.

At the same time, you can pack only so much into the space of a print graphic. And sadly, infographics were sometimes seen as “just one more thing to fit on the page.”

That shortsighted view was a symptom of a text-centric orientation of a “reporters’ newsroom.” Yet designers in more visually oriented newsrooms, like the ones where I learned the craft at the St. Cloud Times, Lawrence Journal-World, The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and the Santa Fe New Mexican, know photos and infographics are the reader’s gateway into the page.

We also know EyeTrack studies have shown information from infographics is more likely to be read, retained, and potentially acted upon. But you could only fit so much into the space of a print infographic since real estate on the printed page was at such a premium.

That’s why I love the new tactics of online data visualization, in which the first layer provides general information and orients the reader to the subject, giving them points to click to find deeper information. That’s the logic of the graphic generated with Google Maps Engine, which is easy for the reader to use and relatively simple for journalists to use to create content.

Unfortunately, WordPress.com does not make it easy to embed Google Maps Engine maps. Please, add your comment asking WordPress to add this functionality to this forum.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this sample of what Google Maps Engine can do: Kansas City barbecue: Star readers poll results.

Oh, and if you want to see something that might get your blood up AND show you how handy Google Fusion Tables can be for blending numerical and geographic data, here’s a map showing how each state compares in terms of combined state and local sales taxes. Alabama, which has a reputation as anti-tax, actually has one of the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the United States. That’s as I suspected, based on every time I’ve made a Costco run and been bitten by Montgomery’s sales tax, which combined with state tax is 10 percent.

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