The Design of Information

Information Design

This blog is focused on information design, the creation of infographics for visual understanding of complex processes, data and ideas.

Too Light a Burden

I’m working on a project aimed at illustrating dramatic changes in the way we live now compared to the not-so-distant past. One startling statistic is the change in outstanding consumer credit in the United States. That’s the amount of money people owe on credit cards, car payments, etc. (not counting home mortgages – that’s another story).

Here’s one attempt to illustrate the change over the past 30 years. I don’t think it’s getting the point across. The gut reaction seems to be excitement that she gets to take home so much stuff. I acknowledge that representing debt with shopping bags is a step removed from most people’s perceptions. But if they were more closely connected in our minds (shopping and the cost of buying on credit), maybe we’d be healthier consumers.

The truth is, debt is a crippling burden for many in America today. Maybe she needs to be crawling in tattered clothes, dragging the heavy bags along behind her. Uphill. In the snow. Back to the drawing board.

Data illustration for outstanding consumer credit

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2 Responses to “Too Light a Burden”

  1. April 25th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Neal says:

    I laughed out loud at the part about people’s reaction being excitement that she gets to take home so much stuff. Yes, I can see that potential reaction.

    I read an interesting comment on the Wall Street Journal blog from an economist about how he tended to calculate the future value of cash he was thinking of spending. So that means, for example, that a $600 iPad may cost $2,000 in potential savings. I think you could go a little crazy with this kind of thinking but it is still a sobering thought. Probably the sort of thing I would say to my kids in that annoying parental way.:)

  2. April 27th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Erik Jacobsen says:

    @Neal That reminds me of the young man who ran home behind a bus and was proud to have saved the $2 fare. Just think how much he could have saved if he’d been running behind a limo!