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Lessons from Visualized: Cutting Through Hyperbole With Data Visualization

Dan Barrett

published on November 29, 2012 in Design

At the Visualized conference on November 9th, Neil Halloran posed an interesting question: Can DataViz lead to a data savvy society in the same way that the printing press lead to a literate one? One that is prepared to make tough decisions on complex issues? Neil Halloran thinks so. That’s why he created to cut through hyperbole surrounding the what may be the most frequently misunderstood and pressing issue facing Americans today, our massive $16 trillion dollar deficit.

“Unless we take bold action to reduce the national debt, a major economic catastrophe is imminent. The good news: we have new tools that let us visualize and explain the budget like never before”

– Neil Halloran

But how is a modern citizen supposed to make an informed decision on issues of tremendous scope and complexity, such as the fiscal cliff or the growing budget deficit without falling back on sound bites and punditry? Neil Halloran’s solution is to tell a story. Rather than simply presenting a static infographic or a set of tabular data on federal receipts and expenditures, takes you on a interactive tour.

Not only can you drill down into detailed summaries of each category, you can also compare our spending in that category to other nations or historical data as well. Unlike other visualizations that attempt to crowd the screen with each layer of hierarchical data, VisualBudget makes heavy use of the CAAT javascript library to provide pleasant focus shifts that allow you to easily traverse back and forth between sections.

The goal is to make the U.S. federal budget exciting, engaging and easy for everybody to understand for everyone from policy makers to high school students. So the next time you find yourself in a debate over the marginal tax rate or cutting spending, head on over to While it’s still in beta and invite-only, just submit your email for an invite code.

Some Other Excellent U.S. Federal Budget Inforgraphics

Dan Barrett is a senior software engineer for Contently, with degrees in GIS and Urban Planning. When not writing about data science & visualization, he is busy building statistical analysis tools for evaluating authors and their written work. Follow him on Twitter.