Map Critique: Serge Seidlitz/Red Lobster - Everybody Loves Endless Shrimp
I originally was just going to post this map with a few stray thoughts, but as I kept looking at the map I kept discovering more and more compelling things to remark on. So, I am bumping this post up to full-on Map Critique level, which is nice because I haven’t done any in a good long while.
A good map critique should start with an explanation of who made the map, and why. This one may speak for itself in that regard, though. The map was commissioned and published by the Red Lobster restaurant chain as part of a social media content strategy (see also this infographic [shrimp-ographic?]). It was designed by worldly Illustrator Serge Seidlitz, whose portfolio includes an impressive body of cartographic-related design.
Now, onto the map itself. This is one of the most fascinating maps I’ve ever encountered, for multiple reasons.
First, we have to examine the symbology, which in this case is graduated symbols (graduated shrimp-bols?), with changes in saturation and value, for effective redundancy. A cursory glance at the geographic distribution, and… what do we have here? Yes! This data isn’t normalized: it’s a raw count of shrimp lovers, making this one of the more exotic maps to demonstrate the furry pornography problem.
Upon closer inspection, though, there is actually even more to the data representation than what it looks like. What do the number and placement of the shrimps mean? At first, I figured it was just arbitrary, but there are some weird specifics visible in the data: mainland Michigan appears to be in the high-shrimp lovers category, while the upper peninsula is medium-shrimp. There’s a large shrimp that seems to encapsulate both southern California and Arizona, which… wait a minute… Arizona supposedly has 481 shrimp lovers, but it’s surrounded by shrimp in the ‘1,000-2,000’ shrimp lovers category. The same disparities exist for Washington, Illinois, Georgia, and Florida, the last of which actually has a number of shrimp lovers that exceeds the upper bounds of the legend.
What on earth is the provenance between the original data and its graphical representation?
Amusingly, the best way to fully account for the disparity is to assume this isn’t a choropleth, but rather that the specific locations of shrimp lovers have been aggregated up into arbitrary geographical units. This is an increasingly popular cartographic technique called binning. I have no clue if that is what actually is occurring here… and given the source and purpose of the map I humbly doubt it. But it is amusing to consider. Incidentally, data bins are sometimes referred to as ‘buckets’, and rest assured that I have already delighted at the prospect of making a ’buckets of shrimp' joke.
Let me make something clear: Cartographers love to sit on our high-horses and pick on poor data representation, which is not something I want to perpetuate. It’s an illustrated map of shrimp lovers, I don’t think anyone expected incisive statistical analysis. But nevertheless I’m always interested in case studies of data representation, and maps like these offer very teachable moments.
Closing with a few non-data related thoughts, it stands to say that this is a very attractively designed map. Striking color palette, nice layout, and a hip aesthetic that doesn’t even feel too “chart-toon”ish.
By far, though, you gotta love how this map is honest. All maps try to sell us something: usually, they try to sell us on a cause, or try to sell us on an idea, or just try to sell us that what’s on the map is the inarguable geographic truth. And we have developed an entire visual ecosystem that helps transform the map into a salesperson.
This map isn’t trying to sell you on a geography, though: it’s trying to sell you (endless) shrimp. And it never pretends that it’s doing anything other than trying to sell you endless shrimp. There’s the corporate logo, front and center: down below are all the little testimonies, and out in the edges there’s little shrimps with Americana-themed marginalia, for crying out loud. Behold, a map that may finally embody no subtle lies. No hidden biases. No bait-and-switch. There’s just shrimp.