Representation of taxation

Regular readers of this space may recall that I’m partial to tax-related infoviz. So imagine my excitement in coming across this beaut from the Washington Post:

How the fight over tax breaks affects your bottom line

Here in the US, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire soon, and the government has several possible courses of action. This graphic interactively depicts three scenarios, and the impact that each would have on the federal budget as well as the taxpayers’.

Why it’s great:

  • Clean, spare, streamlined. The options are clearly delineated (via tabs) and the change in outcomes is evident and easy to understand.
  • Needless details about taxpayer cohorts (homeownership, filing status, that sort of thing) are wisely avoided; the captions on the vertical axis provide the necessary macro context.
  • The attractive tan-to-red color scheme/progression is subtle yet distinct; though the colors hang together to keep the graphic unified, each of the seven subsets is quite distinct.

Putting on my critic’s hat, I’d also point out some stuff that’s a bit confusing:

Most often with line charts, the x-axis is a timeline. So it was hard for me not to automatically interpret the vertical gray dividing lines as year markers and see the horizontal lines as temporal indicators.

But this graphic is actually a matrix masquerading as a line chart. In truth, the format is column-centered; rolling over each label at bottom brings up the relevant pop-up and percentage figures… So if the labels are where the real action is, why put them at the bottom?

Alternatively, I imagined separating the columns from one another, with a little white space between. That would lessen the momentum and power of the horizontal lines.

Also, I have a personal thing about bubble charts – it’s hard to compare the relative size of circles. (Take, for instance, the difference between the circles for $583 and $1016; does the lower one really look like only 60% of the one above?) Comparing rectangles is much easier, according to the reports I’ve seen.

In the scheme of things, though, these are minor matters. Congrats to the WaPo for this nice piece of infoviz.

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