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Sergei Larionov, Schema Design, LLC, designer
Christian Marc Schmidt, Schema Design, LLC, creative director
John Wilkerson, University of Washington Center for American Politics and Public Policy, director
Nicholas Stramp, University of Washington Center for American Politics and Public Policy, researcher
Schema Design, LLC, project design and development
University of Washington Center for American Politics and Public Policy, client

Launch Site

“Synthesizing impossibly complex data into a beautiful, meaningful experience, this site is accessible and evokes curiosity and learning.” —juror Tali Krakowsky

“Data can be hard to make sense of, and political data can be even tougher. Legislative Explorer turns that data into a simple, sticky experience that helps users make sense of all those numbers.” —juror Jon Jackson

Overview: Lawmaking is a complex process that can be difficult to explain, whether the audience is the general public, students or researchers. Legislative Explorer visualizes the progress of more than 250,000 congressional bills and resolutions introduced since 1973. It allows users of all levels to explore patterns of lawmaking in Congress and discover how bills become law, by comparing bills and resolutions as well as filtering them by topic, legislation, party or member of Congress.

Legislative Explorer was a collaboration between the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at the University of Washington and Schema, an information design studio.
The site was written using HTML5 and JavaScript and leverages the HTML5 Canvas element for hardware-accelerated graphics.
Web scrapers run nightly to collect all of the actions associated with each bill from the Library of Congress’s THOMAS website and import the data into a MySQL database.

Comments by John Wilkerson, Nicholas Stramp and Christian Marc Schmidt:
What is the purpose of the project? “Interactive visualizations of large datasets are used widely in the natural sciences to facilitate discovery. Legislative Explorer applies the same approach to politics, with the goal of promoting public understanding of political processes. The data are updated nightly so that users can follow current legislation. A wide range of users, from researchers and students to the general public, can dig into large volumes of data without prior training, which promotes greater interest and engagement in our world.”

Are there any special navigation features? “The central navigational interface is an interactive time line from which users can select any Congress from 1973 to the present. Clicking a play button initiates an animation of the selected Congress with thousands of particles, each representing a bill or resolution, moving across the space—a big-picture view of Congress in action. Users can zoom in to get a close-up view of any particular stage of the process. Hovering over a bill displays its number and title, and clicking on the particle itself reveals more information, such as the introduction date, the sponsor, the sponsor’s ideology, the number of co-sponsors and a link to the full details of the bill at the Library of Congress website. Users can compare House and Senate bills, bills sponsored by Democrats versus Republicans, and bills addressing different major policy topics and can filter by state delegation, individual member, type of legislation and stage of legislative process.”

Did you learn anything new during the process? “A central premise for the project was that lawmaking in Congress is nonlinear, contrary to how it is usually taught or thought of. The cognitive model we developed is based on spatial proximity and interactions familiar from geographic maps, such as panning and zooming. The takeaway for us was that metaphors from representations of the physical environment could also be applied to conceptual models and they could help make those models more intuitively understandable.”


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