Reader Aaron W. came across this "Facts and Figures" infographic about Boise State University that seemingly is aimed at alumni of the school. Given that Boise State has a good reputation for analytics, Aaron found it disconcerting to see such a low-quality data graphic. (click on the image to see it in full size).
There are numerous little things to grumble about in each section of the chart. The larger issue though is the overall composition. When assembling a chart like this, it is important to provide a navigation path for readers, whether explicitly or through cues.
It's difficult to discern the organizing principles of this chart. Aaron felt this way: "the total information flow is haphazard, if not entirely incoherent. There is some valuable information here, but at best it gets lost in the shuffle."
For example, some statistics are for undergraduate students only, some are for graduate students, and some are offered in aggregate.
Confusion reigns. We learn that the school has total enrollment of 22K students but it's a little math quiz to learn how many are undergraduates. In certain sections, data about faculty members are mixed with those about students.
Not breaking out undergraduates from graduates is a particular problem when presenting demographics, such as age distributions, ethnicity, etc.
It's odd to present this distribution of age without remarking that the undergrads are shown on the left and the graduate students are shown on the right.
Then, the sections presenting counts of students, faculty, degrees, etc. overlap with sections presenting financial data.
A rethinking of this page should start with identifying the key questions readers would be interested in learning, and then organizing the data to suit those needs.
What makes this work is that the picture of the running back serves a purpose here, in organizing the data. Contrast this to the airplane from Consumer Reports (link), which did a poor job of providing structure. An alternative of using a bar chart is clearly inferior and much less engaging.
I went ahead and experimented with it:
I fixed the self-sufficiency issue, always present when using bubble charts. In this case, I don't think it matters whether the readers know the exact number of injuries so I removed all of the data from the chart.
Here are three temptations that I did not implement:
Not include the legend
Not include the text labels, which are rendered redundant by the brilliant idea of using the running guy
Alberto Cairo left a comment about "data decorations". This is a name he's using to describe something like the windshield-wiper chart I discussed the other day. It seems like the visual elements were purely ornamental and adds nothing to the experience--one might argue that the experience was worse than just staring at the data table.
It just happens that I have another example of such a chart, submitted by Xan. This one is from Consumer Reports, and illustrates some findings from a recent survey on what things air travellers hate most. Good luck figuring all this out!
A few of these ideas work, such as the complaints about leg room being tied to the seated passengers inside the plane. But then, the data about people hating middle seats is placed on the upper left corner between the left wing and the tail. All of the atypically shaped charts (the cloud, the triangle, the octaogon) seem to use the oft-criticized convention of coding the data onto just one dimension of these multi-dimensioned objects. I just find the organization of the text confusing and poorly structured.
Xan pulled something from a much older Consumer Reports. And they dared to use a boring bar chart:
A nice compromise would be to create some subsections under Airlines to group different types of complaints (stuff relating to seating, stuff about service, stuff about punctuality, etc.). Ask a designer to draw some icons (remember the NYT dog graphic!)
The New York Times graphics team shows us how to do infographics poster the right way. They recently put up a feature showing how the repeal of helmet laws is linked to increasing vehicle fatalities. The graphic is here.
One of the key charts is this one (second to last screen):
The graphic tells the story, no additional words are needed. (Actually, you'd have to come from the prior page to know that the white vertical line represented the year in which Florida repealed its helmet law.)
Of course, one state does not prove a trend. It appears that other states face the same situation. It would be nicer if they could start this next chart at an earlier time.
I'm surprised by how much these lines fluctuate given that the raw counts are in the hundreds.
I wonder if there is any active debate in Florida or elsewhere as it would appear that the helmet law repeal may have caused hundreds of unnecessary deaths. Have people been coming up with other explanations for the sharp rise in motorcycle fatalities involving those not wearing helmets?
Some graphics are made to inform, some to amuse, some to delight. But the following scatter plot makes one wonder why why why...
What does the designer want to say?
I saw this chart inside an infographics titled "Where in the World are the Best Schools and the Happiest Kids?", via the Cool Infographics blog. The horizontal axis is happiness and the vertical axis is average test score.
So it appears that happy kids can get the best and the worst test scores, and kids with the best test scores can be both happy and sad.
That means the happiness of kids does not depend on their test scores.
Notice the inspired touch of the black circles to trace the outline of Blackberry's market share. They are a guide to experiencing the chart.
I wish they had put the Palm section above Blackberry. In an area chart, the only clean section is the bottom section in which the market share is not cumulated. Given the focus on Blackberry, it's a pity readers have to perform subtractions to tease out the shares.
I also wonder if the black circles should contain Blackberry's market share rather than the year labels.
But I enjoyed this chart. Thanks for producing it.