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July 17, 2017

Makeover Monday: Comparing White House Salaries

Politics is always a risky topic. but what the heck! Why not? This week for Makeover Monday we are looking at the salaries of White House employees for the past two administrations. Let's first review the original visualisation from NPR:

What works well?

  • Binning the salaries makes it easy to see the distribution
  • Colors are consistent across the charts
  • Including summary numbers for context
  • Including a note for the outlier
  • Linking to the source
  • Titles clearly show me that we're only looking at one year for each President
  • Charts are consistently formatted and scaled
  • Light grid lines help guide the eye
  • Good title and subtitle

What could be improved?

  • Are the bar chart colors necessary?
  • Overall, the chart is misleading as the maximum allowable salary has changed.
  • Comparisons are harder than necessary.
  • What does the Y-axis mean?

What were my ideas?

  • Adjust the salaries so that they account for the change in the maximum allowable salary.
  • Bucket the employees by how far they are from the max salary
  • Keep the idea of binned data from the original and play with the bins to see what works well.
  • Use color to highlight
  • How can we add context?

With that, here's my Makeover Monday week 29. Click on the image for the interactive version.


  1. This might look even better if the axis was vertical rather than horizontal.

    1. I tried it like that first and didn't like it as much.

  2. I would argue that comparisons on the original would be significantly more difficult without the colors. Easier to pre-cognitively index and match those colors than it is the specific position of each bar.

    I'd also say that it can be reasonably inferred from the context what the y-axis represents - though I would certainly never argue against labeling it clearly.

    The one thing I am having trouble with on your remake is how thin the bars are. Seems odd, especially with so much empty space between them. Ok, two things - having red bars hanging off of the bottom makes it hard to divorce them from the concept of being negative. So, struggling with this one.

    1. I was thinking the same thing about the thin bars Jamie. Honestly, when I first saw the thin bars, I thought the looked ok. I tried making them bigger and I didn't like the aesthetic. Plus, we were doing MM live with the Data School and I was down to my last 30 seconds.

    2. Considering being on the spot with a strict time limit, nice work :)

    3. Thanks! Always add a bit of pressure.

  3. Thanks Andy, always great content. I just had a question on the labels marks for each administration. I have not been able to figure out how to make them line up to the top and bottom of the chart without dragging them to a new location. Any tips?

    1. I used two axes, which gives me two marks cards, which gives me two fields to control the placement of.