Sandford Design and Illustration

Balance of Congressional Power Chart

Balance of Congressional Power Chart

It's amaz­ing the story a few lines can tell. A few years ago, I attended a sem­i­nar by Edward Tufte on data visu­al­iza­tion, a pio­neer in the field, author of numer­ous books on the sub­ject, and designer of some pretty amaz­ing info­graph­ics. He talked about the human capa­bil­ity of absorb­ing large amounts of con­cen­trated data, skill­fully pre­sented in a visual way. Graphs with thou­sands of data points can be under­stood at a glance, the story of the infor­ma­tion emerg­ing sud­denly from the com­plex­ity.

I had a chance to work on such a project when a col­league at Hillsdale College asked me to pro­duce a chart for one of his his­tory classes. He gave me an Excel file with the num­bers of mem­bers of Congress from each major American polit­i­cal party in each 2-year elec­tion cycle, and he wanted to show the trends through­out the years and the bal­ance of polit­i­cal power. Since the emer­gence of the Republican party in the mid-nineteenth cen­tury, Republicans or Democrats have held every pres­i­dency and the vast major­ity of con­gres­sional seats. Mapping out their alter­nat­ing peri­ods of dom­i­nance and the speed and inten­sity of power shifts, and then relat­ing all that infor­ma­tion to key his­tor­i­cal events, was a fas­ci­nat­ing study. I loved the chal­lenge of trying to reveal as much of that infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble in an attrac­tive, digestible format.

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