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November 07, 2006

Prepare for another round of red vs. blue horror

red and blue voting districts

Today is election day in the U.S., and for graphic designers and cartographers all over the country it's a day of horror and revulsion as...just like cockroaches crawling out of a drain pipe...thousands of hideously ugly Red vs Blue maps begin to appear.

They will be everywhere in the next few days...on our TV screens, our websites, in magazines and newspapers. Each and every one of them further proof (as if further proof is needed) of why red and blue should never be used side by side.

But then it gets even worse. Many map makers decided to mix red and blue together in different proportions to represent the degree to which a voting district sways Democrat of Republican. A clever idea in theory, but one that leads to horrible crappy messes of red, blue, and purple like the one above (*). Why, on the one day when all Americans could really use great information graphics, are we subjected to this garbage?

I bet up in heaven Josef Albers spends every election day with his eyes closed.

(*) The thing that pisses me off about this so much is that there are many red-to-blue gradients that can be quite lovely, if you just pick a different intermediate color. Want to experiment? I made a gradient picker tool for you to play with.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at November 7, 2006 06:36 AM


When did the definitive assignment of Republican-Red / Democratic-Blue happen? I seem to remember many (many) years ago seeing electoral maps, for instance, in Newsweek and Time, where the Dems were red in one and blue in the other. And the terms "red state" and "blue state" feel relatively recent (where "relatively recent" is defined as "since Reagan"). Does anybody know how and when the assignments got made?

Posted by: G. L. Dryfoos at November 8, 2006 05:32 PM

According to this very informative article on Wikipedia, the red-blue color scheme got locked down during the 2000 Bush v. Gore election. Gore used a blue background on his signage, Bush used red. All of the TV networks went with the red v. blue motif, and the weeks of dispute about the outcome of the election kept the red/blue maps in front of TV viewers for an extended period.

Posted by: Chris Spurgeon at November 9, 2006 09:00 AM

I'm going to use this obscure discussion to launch an improbable theory: that the GOP did themselves some unintended harm when Homeland Security launched their terror alert scale. They've spent the last few years pounding a Pavlovian respondent conditioning into the American psyche, where blue and green are safe and restful while orange and red are stressful and scarey. Did this inadvertant cross-assignment cost them a single vote? I don't know, but I wouldn't bet against the power of the subconscious.

Posted by: G. L. Dryfoos at November 10, 2006 01:13 PM

When did the liberals switch from red to blue? it seams none of the conservitives watching the hen house were awake at the gate I consider this a major mistake that should be rectified.


Posted by: Ray Sales at December 17, 2006 09:56 PM