Death & Taxes 2014 Poster and Interview
The new 2014 Death & Taxes poster has been released, and it is fantastic! Visualizing the President’s proposed budget for next year, each department and major expense item is represented with proportionally sized circles so the viewer can understand how big they are in comparison to the rest of the budget.
You can purchase the 24” x 36” printed poster for $24.95.
Since 2004, Death and Taxes has been depicting the federal budget and has grown into a powerhouse of information.
For the FY2014 budget, this poster contains over 500 departments, agencies, programs and just about everything else the government can spend money on. It is still the single most open and accessible record of government spending ever created. All in six square feet.
Previously, the Death & Taxes series has been a project of Jess Bachman (ByJess.net), but this year the series has been taken over by the great team at Timeplots. Owner Nathaniel Pearlman graciously spent some time answering some of my questions:
Cool Infographics: What’s new in the 2014 design of Death & Taxes?
Nathaniel Pearlman: Timeplots is continuing the Death & Taxes poster franchise, taking it over from its creator, Jess Bachman. We agreed to do this before the scheduled release of the FY2014 budget. To produce the poster efficiently and meet the expectations of an audience already familiar with its look and feel, we minimized big changes and largely stayed with Jess’s design aesthetic. We kept the location of departments, labeled and colored expenditure numbers in the same format; and, the Office of Governmental Ethics is still the smallest circle plotted on the poster. We did, however, make some subtle design changes.
In the bottom-right corner we converted pie charts to a bar chart. We also changed the “For Comparison” section bubble charts to horizontal bar charts. Bars also serve as a visual clue that the information here is different and you see immediately that they differ from the bubbles depicting the discretionary budget in the main area of the poster. We also unified the presentation style throughout the poster. We also omitted the “How much does it cost you” section.
Cool Infographics: The Death & Taxes poster design is now being made by the team at Timeplots, what are the major differences from the prior posters that were designed by Jess Bachman?
Nathaniel Pearlman: Timeplots has a four year history of visualizing complex data with compelling design. We have diverse skills and resources and may introduce changes in future posters like dark type against a lighter background for ease of reading; advancing visual unity either by replacing the photos with icons, or by making all color photographs more duotone, or monochromatic; and finally, crafting the type in the header section so that it has more personality. We are also thinking about how to improve the substance of the poster. We would love to hear feedback or suggestions for improvement from your readers.
Cool Infographics: When did the 2014 data become available, and how long did it take you design the poster?
Nathaniel Pearlman: The data was released on April 11, 2013. To prepare, we wrote some data queries and scripts based on the 2013 data about one week before the release. Once we got the 2014 data, we just ran the 2013 scripts. It took about two days to get all of the circles in place on the poster. The design and crafting took longer. The poster went out for review to experts about a month after the we got the data. Of course we were working on many other projects in between as well.
Cool Infographics: What software applications were used for the Death & Taxes poster design?
Nathaniel Pearlman: Scripting and plotting were done in R—an open source statistical application that we have used for other Timeplots posters. The design completed in Adobe Illustrator. Jess created the previous Death and Taxes with Excel and Photoshop, so there was no code or design template we could borrow or reuse. Our programming and design process was new to Death & Taxes, but we decided to go this route because this process would present data more accurately and make future updating much easier.
Cool Infographics: What’s the most interesting thing you learned from the 2014 data?
Nathaniel Pearlman: We guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, but data shows how trivial in the context of the whole budget are some of the biggest political tangles. Things like the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are very small by comparison to big ticket items. The nice thing about the poster is that each viewer will be able to reach their own conclusions, based on the area of they wish to investigate or focus upon. Each department, each item, has its own story.
Cool Infographics: Where do you have them printed, what are the printing specs and why?
Nathaniel Pearlman: The 2014 poster is on a 36” by 24” sized, 80 lb. cover paper. We use a local printer for offset printing and through a process of several proofs we have more control over the colors and the final look and feel of the print. The 2014 poster is slightly lighter than the 2012 one. The lighter paper can roll more easily into tubes without getting creases.
Cool Infographics: Social media has always been a big part of marketing the Death & Taxes poster. What are your plans to promote the 2014 poster?
Nathaniel Pearlman: Social media is important to us. We have been receiving supportive comments and thoughtful suggestions through a number of channels. Death & Taxes has its own Facebook channel: (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Death-and-Taxes/373639641532). You can also follow Timeplots on Twitter (@timeplots) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/timeplots) to receive notice of latest news. Keep your eyes open to these places.
Graphicacy, (the consulting arm of Timeplots) is also working on an interactive version using the same budget data to pair with the poster. That interactive, presenting the same information, will enable interested viewers to explore the federal budget online.
Cool Infographics: Prior versions have been available online in a zooming viewer. Is the 2014 version also available in this format? What zooming tool is being used?
Nathaniel Pearlman: Yes, you are able to zoom on a watermarked version of the 2014 poster on our Timeplots site. The zoom tool is the default for our shopping content management system, and it allows for crystal-clear views of the information, watermarks aside. While you will have a good sense for the design and presentation of the poster by viewing it online and zooming-in on its details, we believe the print poster will surprise you with its vibrant colors on smooth paper, sharp type, and scale.
You can also check out Jess Bachman’s thoughts about the new version in his blog post on Visual.ly