Wednesday, March 03, 2021

I Am Not a Dot, I Am a Free Man

Last week saw the release of two excellent dot maps, Kenneth Field's Presidential Election 2020 map and NBC's coronavirus deaths map 500,000 Lives Lost. My only problem with these two dot maps is that they both fail to acknowledge that using a dot as a mode of representation is an inherently political act. To paraphrase The Prisoner, 

I am not a dot, I am a free man.

I for one don't want to be represented on a map as a derogatory dot. Surely we can all agree that in these enlightened times people should be not be represented as dots on maps but as real people. 

For example William Davis's Beach Crowd interactive map shows a crowd of people on a Miami Beach not as small dots but as tiny little people. To simulate his crowded beach scene William has used Propublica's Wee People font, which is a typeface which uses people shaped silhouettes, "to make it easy to build web graphics featuring little people instead of dots".


Putting my cartographic wokeness aside for a moment I don't think that Wee People would actually work as a replacement for dots in most actual dot maps. For example Kenneth Field's 2020 American election map uses different colored dots to show Republican and Democratic voters. Readers of the map are able to spot patterns in the vote based on the density of these colored dots. I believe that these patterns would be less legible if voters were represented on the map using Wee People silhouettes instead of dots. The different shaped silhouettes would result in a less legible map.

Which doesn't mean that the Wee People silhouettes shouldn't be used on interactive maps. William's Beach Crowd map shows that the Wee People font is very effective in visualizing crowds. As we emerge from lockdown I suspect that a lot of event planners will be thinking very closely about crowd numbers. Simulating crowd numbers within an event area using Wee People on an interactive map could be very useful for visualizing how many people could safely attend a post-lockdown event.

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