I chose HIV as my project topic based on the article, HIV's Southern Trap in The New York Times. While I had heard and read about HIV and AIDs in the ’80s, it was when I went to undergrad (and outside of my suburban bubble) to study photography and film in Philadelphia where I was made more aware of HIV and AIDS. HIV’s Southern Trap awakened me to the startling reality for many men of color. I felt compelled to understand how HIV had changed in twenty years.
This was one of many questions I had as I read HIV's Southern Trap.
In exploring these questions, more questions came to the surface and I used these questions to build and sketch potential outlines for a narrative. Writing words, phrases, questions, and ideas on paper helped me to see threads and possible connections. Would the data help to answer my questions? Would data disprove some of my assumptions? Would the data support the NYTimes story?
Initially I had plans to present how rates of HIV changed over twenty years — 1998 to 2018. But I soon discovered the data wasn’t nice and clean or even consistent. I downloaded twenty years of PDFs from the CDC, extracting the data using Tabula and while converting numbers to rates per 100,000 people, I discovered the data in 2007 was rather odd.
I'm not an expert on HIV data reporting so I don't know exactly why data in 2007 created a visual dip, but my guess was that in 2008, HIV reporting to the CDC became standardized. Based on this quirk, I decided to modfiy the direction of the visualization to show approximately 10 years of change from 2008-2018.
Designing my first information design taught me to explore data by experimenting with different types of visualizations. Tools such as Flourish, RawGraphs and Adobe Illustrator allow me to quickly see patterns, outliers, missing data and gives me a sense of whether the encoding is the best or could even be pushed further.
Because there is a lot of data about HIV, I used this exploration stage to determine what threads, if any existed between them. How does each visualization present something new? Is it clear? How does the size and shape impact the overall structure, flow and narrative? What assumptions did I make? What edits need to be made? What relationships exist between them? What is missing?
Critique was essential. Each iteration incorporated feedback from classmates and Alberto.
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