Ghost Counties

Earlier this year, and Eyeo made an open call for designers and developers to create an interactive portrait of America by visualizing the 2010 census data. Jan Willem Tulp, a freelance information visualizer based in The Netherlands has recently published his submission for the competition called Ghost Counties. The visualization, developed in Processing, analyzes the numbers of homes and vacant homes in proportion to the population of all counties in the United States of America.

The data itself was not very complex, but rather big, and the biggest challenge was to find a creative approach to visualize this data, but without using a map (which would be rather obvious since it’s about locations).

The counties are represented by two concentric circles and the size of the outer bubble represents the total number of homes, the size of the inner bubble represents the number of vacant homes. The y-axis shows the population size on a logarithmic scale and the x-axis of the bubbles shows the number of vacant homes per population. Furthermore, each bubble is connected with a line to another axis that shows the population/home ratio. The exact numbers for the selected county are shown on the top right.

The visualization achieves to clearly show exceptional states of counties. For example, when a county has more vacant homes that citizen the bubble is shown in red and on the far right with a line connected across the scale to the far left. One thing that isn’t as straight forward is the duplicated use of the x-axis. The missing label of the x-axis for the bubbles (represents the number of vacant homes per population) made me go back to the description multiple times. Also a clickable navigation to switch between states (maybe two small arrows beside the state name?) would prevent the user switching between mouse and keyboard. That said, I really enjoy the visual aesthetic of the visualization and how Jan experimented with alternative visualization methods.

Ghost Counties Jan Willem Tulp is a freelance information visualizer based in The Hague, Netherlands. He shares insights into his thoughts and works on his blog over at

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