A Word About Baltimore City's Snappy Budget Graphic....

Posted on March 27, 2015 | in Uncategorized | by Taj Carson

Infographics are all the rage. They are beautiful, engaging, and fun to look at. This one is no exception:

At first glance, it looks like a lot of fun. The Finance Office has done something unexpected, which is trying to make understanding the budget of Baltimore City a bit easier by using data visualization. It is likely to be successful in that more people will look at this than might read a website that breaks out funding by categories, or talks about the property rate; but, it also leaves a lot to be desired.

Here are a few things we would suggest to the City of Baltimore for next time:

Pie charts Be careful with them. Unlike other data visualization folks, Im not completely opposed to the pie chart in all situations. But, if you are going to use them, you should have the slices go from the largest (property taxes at 32%) to the smallest (other at 4%) slices. This one does work okay because you dont have a million slices.

Color The colors seem randomly chosen (except for the green tree and blue water) and the color palette on the top half of the infographic looks unrelated to the bottom half. Pick a few colors and stick with them throughout so the piece looks consistent. Consider gradient colors (i.e., a color fill that gradually blends from one color to another) for the Priority Outcomes.

Placement The bottom graphic is hard to read. It might be the case that the color of the Priority Outcome is supposed to match the color of the pie slice, but its not clear. Are the colors communicating information or if is this just the color palette? If the former, you made a good choice as a way to unify the piece, at least the bottom of the piece. However, a bit of labelling of the bottom pie chart (like the top one) would have cleared this up.

And Whats with the arrows? What are they pointing at?

We applaud the Finance Department for using data visualization to make the budget more accessible to citizens. And we love the clean look and feel of this piece. Wed love to see them use some of the best practices in the field of data visualization to make it even more impactful!

As a final note, thank you for NOT putting the City seal on this.