Data Viz Done Right

July 18, 2016

Makeover Monday: Home of the Free - Land of the Walking Dead

Click for interactive version

This week’s Makeover Monday is a bit morbid, as pointed out to me by David Pires. Regardless, it’s a fascinating data set and often a devisive political topic in the United States. The data for this week come from The Death Penalty Information Center Exectution Database and the charts of reference come from The Marshall Project.

I’m going to review all three visualisations. Let’s start with this map:

What works well?

  • Clearly shows which states have carried out executions most recently
  • Easy to understand
  • All states are given equal weight
  • Neatly organized

What doesn’t work?

  • No sense of the number of executions
  • States are weirdly placed (e.g., Why is West Virginia so far south)
  • Doesn’t provide much context

Next up is a stacked bar chart of executions by race (or method) over time.

What works well?

  • Great summary and explanation above the chart
  • Easy to understand
  • Neatly organized
  • Flips neatly between race and execution method

What doesn’t work?

  • Colors are a bit tough to see against the dark background 
  • Stacked bar chart makes the trends hard to see except for the overall and whites (for the by race view)
  • For the by method view, it would be better to have lethal injection at the bottom of the stacked bars since it’s the largest. 

The third chart is a line chart showing the volume of exections by state. This is the chart that first caught my attention.

What works well?

  • Nice summary table
  • Easy to understand
  • Nice description to go with the chart

What doesn’t work?

  • The logarithmic scale is very misleading and isn’t called out.
  • The colors are way too hard to see against the dark background.
  • My eyes have to go back and forth between the chart and the table to know which state is which. 

As for my visualisation, I decided to take some advice from Rob Radburn. At a recent London TUG and against during the Zens on Tour event, Rob spoke about how he gets inspiration from visualisations and how that influences what he designs. In essence, he says to “Steal Like an Artist”. So that’s what I did this week. A quick Google search for “death row infographic” and I had three visualisations that I could borrow from and combine into my final version. They are this one and this one from Huffington Post and this one from

I felt an infographic was the best way to tell the story this week. I hope you like it.


  1. Great Viz! Thank you for sharing your knowledge Andy!
    In the summary you have mentioned "Just 2% of counties in the United States are responsible for 73% of executions .... " however the viz shows "5% of the U.S. Counties performed 73% of all executions". Just wanted to let you know.

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  3. Wow, that map and donut chart pairing are really attention grabbers!

    I think one minor modification to the Executions by Race chart would be informative. If you could overlay, or use some other method, to depict the distribution by race in the US POPULATION, it would be apparent that blacks are the ONLY race that are over-represented in executions.

  4. Another thing I'd be very interested to see (although it wasn't in the dataset you had at hand) would be a comparison of violent crime rates juxtaposed against execution rates. Has Texas' execution spree even been effective in reducing crime more than the change in states that don't have executions?

    1. All great ideas Ann! Have a go at it!