U.S. Manufacturing Challenge Winners

U.S. Manufacturing Challenge Winners

Despite appearances, manufacturing still constitutes an important sector of the U.S. economy and has been the target of much government stimulus spending. Last year, however, China usurped the United States' 110-year reign as the world's largest manufacturing country (by output). So is manufacturing declining into obsolescence, or ripe for potential growth and renewal?

We partnered with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in challenging you to answer this question. Using responses from the “Made in the U.S.” survey of manufacturing executives, as well as economic data from a variety of government sources, we asked you to visualize the dynamics of U.S. manufacturing.

Congratulations to A. Duek and M. de Franceschi of VisualAssement.net for their winning entry, The Past and the Future of US Manufacturing. This infographic provides a comprehensive comparison between manufacturing in the United States and in China. Alongside the numbers are business leaders’ opinions from the EIU survey that suggest ways the U.S. can improve its manufacturing base.

An honorable mention goes to Nick Diakopoulos for his project, A Binary Balm for Bruised Manufacturing? Building its argument through a series of slides, this infographic shows the decline of U.S. manufacturing employment and explores the role of robots in global industry.

A big thanks to all the participants in this challenge and to our partner, the Economist Intelligence Unit, for providing the data.

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jpo645's picture

I strongly but respectfully disagree with your choice of winner for this contest. The winning entry – The Past and Future of US Manufacturing – while *arguably* useful as a brochure of graphics on industry facts about the United States, significantly falls short when judged as an analytical visualization of data. Most important is that this entry and Visualizing.org's affirmation of it as a quality and award-winning product reflects a grave, if fundamental, misunderstanding of this growing field (and its research).

The visualization does not answer the question if "manufacturing [is] declining into obsolescence, or ripe for potential growth and renewal" in any meaningful way. Nor does it provide "a comprehensive comparison between manufacturing in the United States and in China" as Mr Lee suggests. The "Role of the Industry" section (presumably where this "comprehensive comparison" takes place) compares OTHER sectors of the US and Chinese economy with (1) superfluous and confusing shades for each country (a legend would be useful here) and (2) a misleading part-to-whole relationship (is 41.8% in 2008 in Value Added by Sector supposed to be 41.8% of 77.4%?). This makes no sense visually or analytically. Indeed, these visual facts show us little, if anything, specific (or comparative) about the future of manufacturing; they say even less about themselves.

And there's the word cloud, which emphasizes certain phrases but we're left wondering if this is just the author's opinion. In the question on what "manufacturers can do to improve the status of the U.S. as a manufacturing base" we don't know who is answering the question (managers? experts?) nor we do know what any of the percentages mean (did 39% of managers "strongly agree" with this statement? Do 61%, then, disagree?). The question below it not only has the same issues but it also incorrectly compounds answers from two different survey questions. The shaded-region chart mixes two different types of graphs which obscures information in some years (i.e. 1992) and gives the misleading impression that more manufacturing/service jobs were created than what is in the data (the fat rectangle consumes undue visual weight from the triangle). The Labor Productivity and Current Account Balance charts are "stacked," but I'm not sure what important information is gained through this composition. I have to crane my neck to read certain parts.

And there are careless errors: "MANIFACTURING [sic]" is clearly misspelled. Current Account Balance has "% of gdp" on its axis but does not measure percentage units. "Individuals in Science & Engineering (S&E) and Computer Specialist…" lists 2006 in its title but does not show data for 2006. In fact, that question about science and technology jobs, and the large reform act banner, appear seemingly irrelevant to overall point.

This isn't a critique on the creators' artistic abilities – their other work demonstrates design expertise. But the problems with this visualization are glaring, and, in this practitioner's opinion, very unprofessional. A good deal of research speaks to the charting problems above and proofing for careless errors should be routine. This is more than just a contest: if we are to present data visualization as a respectable means to address serious issues, we must be willing to apply serious scrutiny.