Most everyone can relate to having a meeting with someone speaking in acronyms and abbreviations that make little sense to anyone outside of the industry. If planners don’t consider how to visualize demographic data in the best way, they can cause the same confusion with numbers.
Not everyone can follow along with important numerical statistics, even if they are needed to make decisions about the future of a community. So transportation planners must try to offer the information in the clearest way they can. Otherwise, residents, stakeholders, and decision-makers may misunderstand or disregard the data.
Graphic designs concepts are a far better way to show facts about demographic groups in a community than listing numbers. By best understanding how to visualize demographic data, it’s possible to keep people engaged longer. This, in turn, helps create better transportation mapping.
Demographic data is the statistical information on the people living in an area, typically collected by sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the U.S. Census Bureau.
For example, let’s say the recreation department of a small municipality had the budget to build a new community playground. They would want to look at the area's demographic data first, to see where young families lived. Otherwise, they may build the playground in a part of town where it wouldn't get much use, like near retiree homes.
Demographic data is fairly straightforward. It’s usually quantitative, rather than qualitative. These facts should not be at the center of any debate but should be available so planners can make informed decisions.
Before mastering how to visualize demographic data, planners must first learn to recognize this data within their presentations and analysis. Demographic data can fall into five broad categories:
This is the most straightforward demographic data. People simply do the math from the day they were born to the present day. If someone was born in 1980 and it’s 2021, they’re 41.
This is useful because different generations have differing viewpoints, priorities, and habits. Generations usually last between 20 and 30 years, but these groups — such as Generation X, Millennials, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation — should only be considered shorthand for cultural discussions. The age range is a more accurate way to describe this kind of data.
A few years ago, there were two categories for gender: male and female. While this breakdown is still biologically true, there has been a big cultural shift since then.
Especially in younger demographics, gender has become a more fluid concept. More than double the percentage of Millennials (born from 1980 to 1999) identify as LGBTQ+ than people born in Generation X (from 1965 to 1979).
For planning, it still may be simplest to split gender into two categories. But when considering how to visualize demographic data, planners should still take into consideration this cultural shift toward non-binary genders.
Understanding how people make their money can give planners a better idea of residents' daily habits. Knowing the kinds of careers people have in a certain location can help support statistics about annual household income and daily habits.
For example, a city may have a “bedroom community” of people who sleep there but drive elsewhere for an office job. A planner may use this information to show that the city should focus on infrastructure for commuters or activities the community may do on the weekends.
When planning infrastructure, the average household should be considered. This includes the average number of children per house, as well as the marital status of the people in the area. This helps understand residents' habits. For example, single people may be more likely to rent an apartment and may move more easily or often than married couples.
Finally, planners will also consider race and ethnicity. Like age, race isn’t always easy for people to share. Today, many people identify as multi-racial. However, for planning purposes, cultural demographic data usually divides people into categories such as:
With this information on the general population of an area, planners can quickly explain what kind of people live where. From this, they can determine the needs of an area.
There are many methods for how to visualize demographic data well such as:
Some data visualization can be more creative. For example, planners may present a page full of icons, each representing a specific number of people, to suggest a crowd.
Whatever method someone uses, the information they are showing should be clear to everyone.
Clear data visualizations are especially crucial for the planning phase of transportation mapping projects. Planners can use these visual tools to make their data easier to understand, but there are further benefits, as well.
It is not easy to make sense of a list of numbers. Charts and graphs can help provide more clarity. With visual representations, it’s possible to combine and analyze data sets to discover new trends.
Especially if a concept is controversial, it helps to share personal stories — and data visualization can help. Once stakeholders learn what type of people live in an area through clear graphics, planners can create compelling stories to support recommendations for transportation mapping. This data can also help someone target their story to their community, making it more relatable.
Getting ideas off the ground can be one of the biggest challenges for planners. The extra effort and creativity that goes into strategic visualization can make a presentation more engaging. This can result in better-informed discussions and faster decision-making.
Of course, many planners aren’t also graphic designers. It can be challenging to learn and figure out how to visualize demographic data along with other daily tasks. That’s why transit agencies, planning organizations, and governments of all sizes partner with Remix.
For example, King County Metro Transit turned to Remix to have 39 different municipalities agree to add 2.5 million new service hours in Seattle. But a stack of bus route maps would be unclear and confusing. Remix made the maps interactable, letting stakeholders see how routes would work together. Instead of 2 years, this task was accelerated and completed in 9 months.
To learn how to get help visualizing data, reach out to the Remix team here.
Read Capital Metro's story on leveraging a collaborative approach to transit data to implement transit prioritization.
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