Inaugural Words

Ever wanted to read every single inaugural address ever given in the history of American presidency? Me neither, but the New York Times created an interactive graphic that lets you get the jist of each speech right off hand, utilizing word clouds, a clickable/slide-able timeline and a photo of each president. If you want to read each speech in its entirety, you can view the full text version and even occasionally a PDF of the New York Times article that accompanied the speech.

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The design itself is very minimalistic and doesn’t do much to catch the viewer’s eye. The word cloud itself isn’t particularly attractive, but the size gradation of each word does give you a sense of what was important to the speaker. I thought that the word cloud was an interesting choice for visualizing the speech, since I was able to clearly see which points were most important. The purpose of the yellow highlighting of certain words wasn’t immediately clear, and I had to search the page before I found their description, hidden in the tiny blurb underneath the story title.

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The cluster of words definitely give you a sense of what each president felt was necessary to focus on. Years when a president was reelected were especially interesting, as you could see how the country had changed in the president’s first term. The difference between Abraham Lincoln’s first and second inaugural speeches looks particularly striking when visualized in this way.

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If I had been working on the design of this website, I probably would have wanted to rely less on text and more on pictures to draw the viewer’s attention. The cluster of heads at the top of the scrollbar, the general wordiness of the page and the lack of color didn’t make me want to stay and explore very long, which is a shame, because there’s a lot to be found here: for instance, out of all the presidents in the past 30 years, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama are the only two to significantly mention women. I would have loved to see a map with each president’s image located on the state where they came from that could be clicked on to lead to this page. I also think it would have been great to color-code each president based on which political party they belonged to, so you could see when older political parties such as the Whigs became extinct, and when there were patterns of electing more democrats or republicans in history. I think that would have been an easy way to add another layer of information to the project without overwhelming the viewer.

Overall, the design was clean and not distracting. The heavy reliance on text was unfortunate, but I definitely preferred that than if they had chosen too many images and cluttered up the page. I think viewers would rather put up with a boring page design than an overwhelming one, since it’s still coherent. The minimalism is in keeping with the NYT’s style, but I know they have the talent to do more. I mean, look what they did with Snowfall.

-Lizzie Tontz


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