Over the past ten years, as we have increasingly integrated digital technologies into our daily lives, both public and private institutions have reaped the benefits of ever cheaper and more commonplace technologies for capturing and processing data aggregated from individuals. However, those individual citizens often do not engage either with the data that are collected from them or with the processing and application of such data. Instead, they serve only as raw material at the beginning of the process or as consumers at the end.
In visualizing data, we have found that it is often difficult to create images that go beyond explaining data to telling stories about the people contained in it. While we have been thinking through these issues, the dataset examined most closely is the American Community Survey of the United States Census. The American Community Survey takes small samples on a rolling basis; it collects details about the ways that Americans live their daily lives. This survey shows what is often obscured in our encounters with census data: though census data is processed through layers upon layers of administrative procedures and boundaries, it is constructed by individuals one person at a time.
Powers of Ten, a data-driven short film by Charles and Ray Eames, has a powerful narrative design that allows the film to memorably contextualize an atom in terms of the universe. This Powers of Ten-inspired map applies the narrative construct of powers to census data in order to give human meaning to the relative scale of the data’s geographies and demographics.