From ARCADE Issue 31.4Part of a series of posts sharing infographics and data visualizations highlighted the issue feature, "Designing Data." Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Shift Interactive Module Visualization Full

"Shift: Thirty Years of The New York Times (1981–2012)"

Design: Amy Keeling
M. Design Graduate Thesis, University of Washington, Seattle.
Faculty Advisors: Karen Cheng (Chair), Annabelle Gould, Tad Hirsch and Christian Marc Schmidt (Guest Faculty, founder of Schema Design).

“Shift” is an interactive module that visualizes the popularity of news topics in The New York Times over the past thirty years (1981–2012). Users can select from twenty-four different topics (derived from Gallup Trends) to generate a data circle. Each circle is formed from dots; one dot equals one news article, and larger dots represent articles published on the front page. Dots are placed in a Fibonacci sequence to emulate a living, growing structure.

The size of the resulting topic circles indicates popularity. Large circles (Terrorism) show greater public interest than smaller circles (Evolution).

Shift  Interactive Module Visualization Terrorism and Evolution

Terrorism (left) and Evolution (right)

The interior of the topic circles can be read like the rings of a tree, with color bands representing the time of publication. A wide band of a single color shows strong interest during a specific time period (for example, the large pink band in Health Insurance and Managed Care coincides with 2010–12).  If the colors of a circle vary widely (Oil and Gas) the topic has been of consistent interest over time.

Shift Interactive Module Visualization Health Insurance

Health Insurance and Managed Care

Shift Interactive Module Visualization Oil Gas

Oil and Gas

Within the module, a single topic can be sorted by year, such as with “Immigration and Refugees.” Interest in this topic began in 1994 and tapered off in 2009 — hence the absence of data before and after. Various factors between these years affected the popularity of the topic, causing the circular bands to grow and shrink.

Shift Interactive Module Visualization Refugees Immigration

Shift Interactive Module Visualization Color Key

“Shift” was created using the open-source programming language Processing, which was developed by Casey Reas and Ben Fry at the MIT Media Lab.