A day in the life of Americans: a data comic

The partner wasn’t sleeping all day, they kept themselves busy taking care of family members.

Supplementary information

Work comprises the following categories of the American Time Use Survey: “household activities,” “working and work-related activities,” “caring for and helping others,” and “educational activities.”

Free comprises “eating and drinking,” and “leisure and sports.”

Other includes “purchasing goods and services,” and “organizational, civic, and religious activities.”

The original data was collected from 2011 to 2015 by the Census Bureau and describes the proportion of Americans involved in an activity at each hour of a day.

Data comics?

Data comics provide an avenue for engagement with, not just communication of, quantitative information. The use of abstract characters in familiar situations can allow the audience to identify with the story, sparking self-reflection: “Is this how I live my life? How am I different?” Such self-reflection can lead to elaborations about patterns in the data.

There are three settings in this comic (a bedroom, an office, and a bar), each serving as a metonym for an activity (sleep, work, and leisure). I have also included colors and positions as redundant, but clarifying, codes of classification. Such scenes allow for a novel method of highlighting data; a setting inside a panel is “lit up” by a light source if the activity for which it stands occupied those two hours of Americans the most.

Gutters (the space between panels) in comics provide for another novel grouping technique. I have used them here to accentuate a visual order. Exaggerating the horizontal gutters while minimizing the vertical ones pushes the secondary activities in each time interval further to the background.