Before the start of game three of the World Series, Fox Sports showed this map to their viewers. It is awful. Let me tell you why.
(A caveat: While I have ended up doing a lot of infographics, I’m an illustrator/artist, and not a data visualisation expert, so my opinions do not and should not have the weight of people like Edward Tufte.)
We live in an age where, just like love, bad infographics are all around. I have made bad infographics in my life. Plenty of them. I like to think, though, that when I look back at those bad graphics, I learn from the mistakes I made. To that end, let’s look at some mistakes in the Fox Sports map.
We can start by putting our fingers in our mouths to mime vomiting at the aesthetic of Fox’s on-screen graphics. All the shiny stuff that is way more appropriate for Robot Wars than baseball. Add in blurry bits of orange and white in the background, and lay it all over a blimp shot of St. Louis.
Maps should be easy to read, especially if they are going to be on screen for fewer than 15 seconds, as this map was. Your eyes and brain have to read and understand which categories of data are being shown and then process those categories when looking at the map. The way this map has been laid out makes that difficult.
Firstly, the colours they have chosen to represent each team. One of the teams has “red” in the name. Which colour is that team assigned on the map? Blue. With so much to take in in a short space of time, that one should have been a no-brainer, and they got it wrong. Of course, both teams have red as their main colour (and cardinal is a shade of red, I guess), which does make it more difficult, but, in my opinion, the team with the name of the colour in their name gets first dibs on that colour.
Fox is showing us four kinds of states here: heavily in favour of either team, or slightly in favour of either team. That’s fine. I’m all for less black and white and more grey in data analysis in general. But does the key to understanding this information really need to take up a third of the screen?
And that giant key is so difficult to read. For one thing, the key area is dominated by the chopped team logos on black backgrounds. (This is a bug of mine with a lot of sports broadcasts: designing their on-screen graphics with no regard to keeping the logos intact. Here, we can see the middle half of the Red Sox’s cap insignia, which at a glance looks like a badly-drawn H. Note that TV networks never do that with their own logos.) Those logos add nothing to our understanding. They are visual junk. And they also create an overpowering amount of white in the area we are supposed to be able to quickly read and understand. Squint your eyes (or just take your specs off, nerds) and you’ll see that the most noticeable part of that key is a whole load of white.
The relevant information in that third of the screen should be the colours used on the map and what they represent. But the colours that they’ve used on the map are shown on the bracket-y end bits of their Terminator-ish graphics. Those end brackets contain the most important information for understanding the map, yet they are almost invisible.
Look closely at those faux-shiny brackets: they’re not even the same shades as those used on the map. This graphic used blues and reds that are too close to each other. It’s difficult to differentiate between “leaning” and “heavily,” even if you did manage to figure out that the brackets on the partial-logo cartouches are the whole key to the map.
One last thing: The Red Sox’s home city and state and region is, as we all know, in the north east of the United States. The whole map is tilted away from us. Massachusetts and the rest of New England are already small states, in terms of land area, compared to the states in the west of the country. In fact, both of the teams’ home states are in the half of the map tilted furthest from us. If Fox Sports absolutely must tilt the map, it would’ve been preferable to flip the elements of the graphic, so the map could be titled with the east coast closest to us. This is if and only if you insist on tilting the map at all.
The failures of this map irked me so much that I spent almost ten whole minutes on remaking it. Imagine this quick Tumblr post as me showing you the plans of a house. I’ve not put the sofas, carpets and curtains in. Despite the knocked-off-in-ten-minutes-ness of this, I think it’s already a heck of a lot easier to read.
Whether you like my choices of colour, or my somewhat tedious tendency to always use Gill Sans, or the flatness that banishes all reflections and light source tomfoolery, I think it’s a lot clearer. I have made the map flat so that New England is a lot easier to see. Because we read left to right, the key is on the left so it’s the first thing we look at. There’s space at the top left where you could place the words “World Series,” “Fox Sports,” and “Facebook Fandom Map.”
Because of our familiarity with temperature gauges going from hot to cold, or map topography colours on regular maps, I’ve re-ordered the key from being most pro-Cardinals to least pro-Cardinals (that is, most pro-Red Sox), rather than Fox’s heavily-leaning-heavily-leaning ordering. Our brains are impressive things, and we pick up how to read graphics over the years. It’s only when people do things that confound our knowledge that data visualisation gets confusing. I mean, how else would we know that the Cardinals are popular in the Midwest?