5 Incomprehensible NYT Infographics We Wish We Understood


We are a little obsessed with infographics. And we freely admit that just about no one does them better, at least on a consistent basis, than the New York Times. As music lovers, we’re especially fond of Andrew Kuo’s ArtsBeat images, which dissect various aspects of his listening experience. But yesterday, we have to admit, he confused us a little. “Chart: Glo-fi” compares four new bands… including Sleigh Bells, who, last we checked, are sort of the opposite of glo-fi, chillwave, or whatever other shudder-worthy term we’re using this week. And what is this about The Blind Side? Is this just your cute way of saying “I like some new music and don’t like some other new music”? Does the NYT readership understand Pitchfork jokes? So many questions!

Out of our confusion came the realization that this was not the first time we’d seen this happen. Infographics are supposed to illuminate complex statistics and relationships, not add to our befuddlement. But it doesn’t always work out that way. After the jump, check out five more potentially fascinating infographics that have thrown us for a loop.

1. “Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options

Everyone wants to understood Facebook’s current privacy boondoggle. But these tiny, multi-colored blocks look more like a secret code than a way of breaking down the many layers of settings. Perhaps the point was to mirror readers’ confusion, rather than alleviate it?

2. “Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal: How It’s Spent

In this infographic’s defense, it is interactive. If you click over to the Times site (link above), you will be able to zero in on each tiny box and find out what line item it corresponds to. But if some of the boxes are so small you can’t even see where one begins and another ends… that’s less helpful.

3. “The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986-2008

We’re not saying this one (which is clickable and scrollable at the NYT site) isn’t gorgeous. It’s just that it makes it difficult to figure out what movie earned what amount of money when and what that meant for the industry as a whole at any given time.

4. “The No Votes

Again, to be fair, what you’re seeing here is significantly smaller than the chart on the Times website. But even in the full-size rundown of which Democrats and Republicans voted against 2008’s bank bailout, it’s hard to see many of the numbers and delineations on the map. Even the tiny sections that have been blown up a bit can look blurry.

5. “The Fall of the Mall

Here, you read the explanation that goes with this infographic:

“The theoretical mall maps below show 27 companies with stores or restaurants in malls across America. (In some cases, these companies own more than one chain of stores.) In the bottom map, the change in the size of the stores is determined by sales in the first quarter of 2009 as compared to the same quarter in the previous year. Color in the bottom map is meant to indicate the depth of the drop — or the height of the rise — in sales. The deeper the red, the steeper the loss.”

Once you parse that, please let us know why you think the Times elected not to put any kind of info in the top image, rather than on the list at the bottom? You could go cross-eyed trying to compare the three elements.