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Effective Demography Map in Seconds: 3 Elements of a Successful Visualization

TUESDAY, NOV 20, 2018

If you want to tell an effective story through data, Social Explorer provides you with everything you need to set up data-packed, attention-grabbing maps to convey your message efficiently. We put together a list of things you’ll want to keep in mind the next time you create a map for your project, paper or website.

Three Elements of an Effective Demography Map

Whenever you sit down to create a map, there are three vital elements you’ll need to keep in mind.

  • Purpose (Why?)
  • Content (What?)
  • Structure (How?)

An Effective Demography Map Starts with the Why

Data visualization helps you summarize information, reveal patterns, notice outliers and deviations, spot trends, compare datasets, and much more. To get started, ask yourself what are you trying to achieve with the map. Define the narrative you’re trying to build and think about the emotions or understanding you’re trying to evoke. Once you know what you’re trying to show with your map, you can move to the next step. 

We’ve all stumbled across visualizations that instantly grab our attention with appealing design, but fail to tell a coherent story. However, no matter how appealing your map might be, if it doesn’t tell a story, your audiences are bound to forget about ever seeing it. This is why you need to start with the why when working on a map. 

Let’s take a look at a real-life example. Considering immigration is a burning question in the United States, as well as across the world, we’ll see if we can tell a meaningful story using only Social Explorer.

Pick the Best the Content

Whether you’re creating a map for your next meeting, a business pitch, or your blog, you’ll need data, and all good data start with a trusted data source. With so many datasets available on the web, it’s important to understand how to evaluate data sources.

Make sure the data is original and from a reliable source

If you come across an interesting article or a dataset online, track down the source and get hold of the original dataset before doing anything else. For instance, here at Social Explorer, we offer the original tables for all surveys, but we also prepare our own tables using the American Community Survey (ACS) featuring preprocessed data with the most popular variables. Keep in mind, though, that while we have an entire data team dedicated to data entry and data checking, other data providers may not be as thorough, so you’ll want to research the data and the source before creating your demography map. 


Another major issue is the actual data source. Look for trusted, on-topic, and as impartial as possible data sources. This is why we offer our users data only from reliable sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, FBI, World Bank, Eurostat, to name a few.

Is the Dataset You’re Using Appropriate and Up-to-Date?

Different sources may offer data that’s seemingly identical, but collected using different methods, sample sizes, or time periods. For example, Social Explorer offers both Decennial Census data and American Community Survey data. Both surveys come from the U.S. Census Bureau and include similar questions, but one might be more appropriate than the other for your purposes. 

Decennial Census data are based on actual counts of people residing in the U.S. and they’re collected every ten years. ACS data, on the other hand, are based on a sample of the U.S. population and are collected on an ongoing basis.

ACS is not only different from the decennial censuses, but it includes two different surveys: 1-year and 5-year estimates. For example, 1-year estimates are collected during a single year for areas with population of more than 60,000, whereas 5-year estimates cover all geographic areas using an average of data over a period of years. If currency is more important than precision and you’re analyzing areas with larger populations, 1-year estimates will suffice. However, if precision is more important than currency and you’re analyzing areas with populations smaller than 60,000, you’ll want to use 5-year estimates. 

The world changes quickly and you’ll want to make sure the data you’re using in your visualizations is up-to-date as well. A dataset from ten, five, or even two years ago can be obsolete, so use discretion and be upfront with your audience about how old the data is. Social Explorer updates decennial census and ACS data as soon as the latest surveys are released from the U.S. Census Bureau, so you’ll always have access to the most up to date data with us, as well as a collection of data going back over 200 years.

We recently published ACS 2017 1-year estimates, so let’s compare those latest data to Census 2000 and see where and if there were an increase in immigration during this period and how different parts of the country varied. Keep in mind that we’re comparing it to Census 2000 because ACS started in 2005. We’re looking at a single variable (Foreign born) from 2000 and 2017 to spot any differences. 

How Your Message Is Delivered Is Just as Important as the Message

Now that you know what you’re trying to say and you have found the data to help you tell your story, it’s time to move onto the final step: creating the map that will convey your message. There are many map types, but today we’ll cover only the most commonly used map types on Social Explorer.

Shaded area (also known as choropleth maps) is used to represent quantities on a map using colors and shades. This type of visualization is best used when visualizing normalized values, such as percentages, medians, or averages. Values are grouped into classes, and each class is represented by a particular color. 

Bubble maps are used when you want to represent quantity using symbol sizes. For example, you might use larger circles to represent areas with larger population. Just like with the shaded area, values are grouped into classes, and each class is represented by a particular bubble size. Unlike shaded area, all circles are usually the same color. However, Social Explorer supports shaded bubble maps for certain variables. 

Dot density maps are used to represent an amount within an area. Each dot represents a specified number of variable items, and they’re the same size, unlike bubbles in bubble maps. Dots are usually positioned in the middle of the area they’re representing - in other words, dot position is random and doesn't represent actual locations.

Since we’re analyzing normalized values, we’ll use shaded area maps. Now, you’d usually create two separate maps in other tools and then combine them in photo editing-software. However, in Social Explorer, you can compare different maps in two modes: swipe and side-by-side

Let’s check out the map we’ve created below. Click between the maps and explore the U.S. or zoom down to an area you want to explore. Keep in mind, though, that the data aren’t available for every geography level listed in the Show data by menu.


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