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Exploring State Debt Since 2008

Since the financial and real estate bubble burst in late 2008 the amount of state debt has risen considerably. As a result citizens across the country are feeling the pinch as states tighten their budget, thereby cutting back on social services and improvements to infrastructure. What I was interested in seeing was if there was a correlation between states with higher debt and the political parties that run them. I chose to display this through an area cartogram. An area cartogram is a type of chloropleth map where the area (in this case the state’s area) of the polygon is distorted no to the polygon’s size but proportional to a polygon’s variable. In this instance the two variables manipulating the state’s area is the state’s debt per capita and the debt of the state as a percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Overlaying those two variables is the political party in control of the state legislature as of the 2008 elections. This is presented as traditional chlorepleth maps are.

Robin Williams discusses four design principles critical to any piece of material used to display information other than plain text. Those four principles are proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.

Proximity is the relationship between elements. Elements that are closely related should be placed nearer to each other and vice versa. One basic principle behind proximity relates to the way that we read. Our society reads left to right then top to bottom. So elements that are most important should be near the center or the top. For this project, the associated table that accompanies the map was placed directly next to that map with an arrow guiding the reader there.

According to Williams items should be aligned on the page so that each element has a visual connection with something else on the page. Items placed arbitrarily should not be tolerated. For this infographic the main title was centered with every other element either aligned to the right or left.

Repetition is used to maintain the integrity of the design. When one reuse the same elements it helps to hammer down the main point. For this project the color schemes and typography were repeated to keep the reader’s eyes focused on the elements instead of roaming all over the page from too much noise.

Contrast is the most effective way to add visual interest to a page. Williams argues that this must be
strong. Contrast can only be achieved when two elements are different. That is there little contrast between black and navy. For my project I used a dark background with light elements to have the main maps pop off the darker background.

Data Sources:
State Debt Data came from a study from Forbes
The shapefiles for the U.S. States came from the Census website


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