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Works in Process: Minute by Minute, Nation to Nation

Works in Process is a continuing series exploring the process work that goes into a finished project as it develops. In this installment, we examine Minute by Minute, Nation to Nation, a data story and visualization exploring the breakdown of food related household labor. Nation to Nation is an expansion on work for a previous project.

Getting ready to approach A4, our last data visualization story, I was lucky enough to have some incredibly helpful feedback on changes from our professor. Getting a list of considerations and recommendations really helped to wrap my head around how data can be visualized better. Seeing a path to get from something I've made initially to a more polished version, and how changes could be made for clarity, really helped me appreciate all the elements that go into making a data story. I used to do a lot more design work either with a point person or department head giving feedback on work based on our target audience and best execution, so getting that kind of feedback but now for data vis was really helpful, and a bit nostalgic. 

My approach for how to expand my A3 story for A4 came out of talking in class one day, when I started wondering why I thought the data on food-related labor would show a larger difference between men and women. I thought perhaps it had something to do with my background. Having grown up in the US, a lot of my perspectives are informed by that context, and while I've lived in Canada for long enough now that I'm generally used to a Canadian context, I thought that might be worthy expansion in exploring food-related unpaid labor to compare the two. 

I was baffled to find just how much less time the average American spent on meal prep than the average Canadian. I ran the numbers again and again, made sure I wasn't doing anything wrong. After creating all my data, I did one more search and found the original data within the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), and sure enough, even in 2019 the average American spends 0.56 hours (just over half an hour) a day on meal prep and clean-up total. 

During my thesis work this year, I learned just how beneficial putting together a spreadsheet of all the thing you need to do to accomplish an assignment is. Since I was able to find such a good data set so quickly, I was able to conceptualize how to adjust my previous work and expand it for A4. Organizing this was really helpful in getting work done.

Within A3, I created the convention of the hour glass symbol to stand in for one minute of time as a spatial representation of unpaid labor. Since I was expanding this work to a US/Canada consideration, I thought it appropriate to extend that idea by creating nation specific symbols. 

To make my data story more easily understandable, I made a number of changes based on suggestions from my prof on A3. One of the main suggestions was in regards to the general structure throughout the story. I formalized some of the columns so data was shown on the same axis, making it easier to interpret, and made sure order of information by color was consistent throughout. 

Another suggestion was to find some convention to easily tell 60 minutes (1 hour) from the individual hour glasses. I decided to go with a convention of allowing space (75% of one row) breathing room at the point across the data where the time passes the one hour mark, which I indicated in the first graphic. This adds an easier shorthand in reading the data. 

Another small detail that I didn't realize might cause big confusion was the positioning of the titles of each data visualization. I had originally designed a convention where the title is at the bottom of the visualization, but I think it may cause confusion as to what each section refers to. I moved the title of each visualization to the top, and added some sub-text to give context to what the data was speaking to. 

In the end, I was completely surprised how much of a difference where was between my US and Canada data. I think that result shows just how valuable data stories can be, that even once I saw my own story designed within Illustrator I was blown away by the difference. Having the opportunity to take a previous work and consider it again for clarity, stronger argument, and expansion was a really valuable opportunity, and certainly one that helped me understand information visualization better. 

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