Found dataviz: How Different Groups Spend Their Day

This visualisation represents how Americans spend their time. It is an area chart with the 24 hours of a day on the horizontal access and the proportion of the population on the vertical axis. Detail is provided when the mouse is moved across the chart or when a series is clicked.

The Data

The data come from the American Time Use Survey. Neither the data nor the source is linked from the article but a quick search finds the source website with data files back to 2003.
The unit level of the data is the individual respondent and the data are available in numerous formats for download at this level at the source site.
The visualisation shows the data aggregated to various demographic subgroups. Time appears to be recorded in 10-minute intervals, although the tick marks on the graph show 3 hourly blocks. As the data are represented as proportions, the various activities add to 100% at each time slot (an ‘other’ category is provided).

Visual Variables

Position indicates the time of day (x-axis) and proportion of the population (y-axis).
Size of the area shows the proportion of the chosen population undertaking the activity.
Colour is used to distinguish the various activities.

Visual Mapping

A single area chart represents the data. Area charts are appropriate for time series data with a number of categories (in this case, activities). This type of chart is criticised for the low ‘data per pixel/ink’ ratio. It uses considerable ink when printed. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate and effective in this case.

Information Seeking

There is good differentiation in the chosen colours without being jarring. Text labels are only shown for large categories, which is appropriate and reduces clutter. The ability to compare subgroups across times of day would be a useful addition.


Interaction is provided by clicking various subgroups in the top left, by moving the mouse across the graph and by clicking on the chart.
Clicking on the chart brings up details of the particular activity for the demographic group selected and provides a comparison of the demographic subgroups. Hovering over the chart brings up additional information in a floating text box.
Shneiderman’s ‘visual information seeking mantra’ is held to a reasonable extent. The main graph provides the overall, a click provides the zoom and selection of a demographic subgroup provides the filter. Further details on demand (for example, demographic comparisons over time) would enhance this visualisation.


New York Times

Shan Carter, Amanda Cox, Kevin Quealy and Amy Schoenfeld

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