The United States of Natural Disasters by Atlas Guo

MEDIUM: Map, Poster

This map presents an innovative and comprehensive visualization of U.S. natural disasters of various types, allowing the map readers to acquire information from both overview and spatial-semantic specific perspectives. The major eye-catching elements in this map would be the multivariate symbol design, which is inspired by the halftone printing technique. To evenly divide the space with rooms for multiple visual vehicles, the 1000-sq-mile hexagon unit is chosen, balancing the functionality and aesthetics. The general idea is to split each hexagon unit into 7 parts, associated with different color hues all around the color wheel. Due to the natural of different colors, the lightness (HSL) or value (HSV) are carefully controlled to minimize the other potential variations as visual variable.

There is arguably barely a perfect solution to arrange 7 disaster types in the order of color wheel, but efforts are still made to maximize the potential cognitive association. For example, red color for wildfire, yellow for drought, blue for hurricane; while flood appears at the bottom, earthquake comes from the core, etc.

The design inspiration comes from the dots in halftone printing. In CMYK printing, especially those in worse quality, we can still see the colorful dots when close enough. But if we take a step back, the dots work organically to display an image. After many tests in printed version, I got the current configuration with partial overlapping, keeping a good balance between a clear overall pattern and capability of individual variable retrieval. Unfortunately, with major designs highly relying on color-hue (even the entire color wheel), this map is probably not targeting at communities with color blindness.

Besides the color hue, the opacity of each sub-symbol also variates from full to half, representing the record number from FEMA disaster declarations of relevant disaster type. To better understand the impact, the population density is illustrated in different shade levels of hexagon edges. Additionally, univariate maps are also provided on the left side for further exploration. The statistical units in 1000 sq mile hexagon are generated under North America Albers equivalent projection, targeting at presenting both the contiguous part and two outside states. Some computing strategies are applied during the data processing procedure of disaster related variables and the population density.