Friday, May 18, 2007

The good, bad and ugly graphs

In his May 2007 newsletter Stephen Few, a data visualization guru with an expertise in business data, created the The Graph Design I.Q. Test. "This brief I.Q. test leads you through a series of 10 questions that ask you to choose which of two graphs presents the data more effectively".

I took it myself (and Stephen is probably tracking my answers!) -- it's very cool and quickly teaches a good lesson in good vs. bad graphics and tables. You will be strongly discouraged after it to abuse color, 3D, etc.

If you got hooked, Stephen has a big bag of goodies for those who want to learn about creating good graphs and tables. He wrote a beautiful book called "show me the numbers"

His website's Library also included an abundance of useful articles.


Mehul Shah said...

Very interesting Test.
It rewards Simplicity over anything and thus enforces the belief "simple is beautiful", most of the times.
But this raises one question: majority of the chart data can be represented using line, bar or pie charts.But still we see lot of products out there which support lot of fancy charts like 3D,Tree Map, Spider ,etc. Does that mean these features are useless or sparsely used.

Galit Shmueli said...

Mehul, let me first comment on "simple is beautiful". In data visualization we do not strive for "beautiful" but rather "effective" or "informative". The confusion between the two leads people to use all kinds of fancy backgrounds and other bells and whistles that shadow the information.

Regarding other types of plots in software (and that you see used in practice): some are indeed just bad practice (like 3D and pie charts), while others are useful and needed for data with special structure (like Treemaps).