I follow some of the top blogs-about-blogging and they often come up with advices that I can relate to when thinking of information visualization: simplicity, consistency, go to the point, remove clutter, tell a story…
Problem is, bloggers about blogging fail to follow their own advice when they attempt to graphically display the results of their online surveys or other quantitative data. This is something that I’ve been planning to write about because it is recurrent, but last week both Darren Rose and Chris Garret decided to offer me very good examples…
Anatomy of a bad chart
I’m afraid to say that in Darren’s chart almost everything is wrong:
- No scale: A chart is about trends and patterns, but you must give the reader at least some quantitative reference;
- Unnecessary multiple colors: If you are displaying a single series, it doesn’t make sense to vary colors by point;
- No sort: sorting the data establishes a pattern and helps the reader to immediately see the relative importance of each item;
- Unmanageable legend: since there are more data points than you can store in your working memory, the chart forces a pendular movement from the legend to the chart and back;
Pies, Arab countries and eight decimal places
Chris likes pies. 2D, 3D, it really doesn’t matter. But sometimes he gets tired of them and uses a bar chart. For very similar data and similar messages, you should use very similar charts, right? It’s called consistency (tip number 8 for a successful blog). But you don’t find consistency in these charts.
From the pie chart “Blogger Ages” and the column chart “Year Started Blogging” I infer that Chris lives in or wants to target some Arab country, since they read from right to left.
Chris infers from the survey results that “most bloggers live in the USA”. I would say that “most bloggers that [read English blogs and happen to read Chris'] live in the USA”.
And at the end you’ll find that table with eight decimal places.
Blogging, information visualization and information management
This is not about Darren or Chris or some irrelevant charts. They are great bloggers, better than I aspire to be. But why do they fail to meet their own standards when dealing with quantitative data?
Of course they would replay to me “you fail to meet your own standards when blogging”. Yes, I do. We all know the basic laws. We know they apply across several knowledge fields, but many of us only recognize them and make use of them inside our little silos.
But I would really like to see at least some decent charts and good information assessment in these top blogs. We desperately need higher numeric and graphic literacy to handle all this amount of data, and they could help to set better standards.