Food Flow Mapper

Network Visualization


Food is highly related to everyone. This visualization is designed to help explore the food flow within the USA.

The potential users are farmers, citizens and food managers or officers.


Design Process


The data comes from the “Commodity Flow Survey”, which is done through a partnership between the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The survey is administered every five years, which are 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2012.

The data provides the following information:

Potential Questions

What would the farmers, citizens and food managers want to know about the data?

Design Challenges & Solutions

Representation for 10 Food Categories

Several attempts have been done to choose a right color palette for the representation of 10 categories.

First, I attempted to group categories. The problem is there is no scientific classification could be applied on the foundation of current food categories.

Current 10 Food Categories

My second attempt is to use Color Brewer, which offers pre-made color schemes to use based in cartography. However, the colors are too common. The color scale should show a customized aesthetic to be recognizable.

Thus, I decided to customize the color palette. Three important considerations that I adhere to are:

  • Use qualitative color schemes to highlight qualitative categories.

  • Have a wide range in both hue and brightness to increase accessibility for color blindness.

  • Use a gradient instead of choosing a static set of colors to feel natural.

Chroma.js is used to get a set of colors with linear lightness curve, which can improve the differentiability of the resulting colors.

It's important to respect color blindness.

Representation for Flow within States

Arc Diagram does well in visualizing flows among different states, but how to represent flow within the same state?

Representation for Long Data Label

How to show long data label in limited space is also a challenge in common data visualization.

Design Details

Default View

Default screen shows the overview of food flow in U.S.

One State Highlighted

This screen shows the relationship between Georgia and other states. When clicking any state, that state would be highlighted.

Color by Food Types

Users can also color-code the arc diagram by food types and transportation modes.

Interesting Findings

After exploring the visualization, we found some interesting insights:

  • GA stops importing “cereal grains” in 2002 due to the economic recession during that time. Kentucky was replaced by Illinois for cereal trade in 2007.

  • GA uses more trucks to ship “cereal grains” in recent years around 2012. Most of the truck shipments stayed within GA.

  • Even though GA is adjacent to the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean, GA only used waterways in 2012 to import “agricultural products” from Louisiana. Also, Louisiana is the only state that primarily uses water to transport its food.

  • Even though the total amount of food flow within US in 2012 is significantly less than the food flow in 2007, its connections between states are more than the connections in 2007. This may indicate we tend to ship smaller amounts of food and to connect with more states, thus we became less vulnerable to the changes of food supply from our main import states or food demands of our main export states.

  • CA is the only state who ships “animals and fish” by air.

  • The food trade between Alaska increased with time, and is almost not affected by the economic recessions. Alaska tends to connect with more and more states in the US mainland, especially in 2012.

Explore it Online: