Economic Development
Beauty versus utility

A bad graph obliterates your message

A bad graph can be lethal, burying a good message six feet under.  The following graphic appeared with a McKinsey article on outsourcing.  Its message is purportedly that multi-nationals can't find sufficient qualified local talent in low-wage countries -- a message of hope for U.S. job-seekers.

The graphic, however, only manages to express gloom, despite the promising title "Fewer than you'd think".

Mckoutsource1_1The angry red lines immediately dominate our attention.  They run off the page, giving the impression of impressive magnitude.

Meanwhile, the authors focus on the "weighted averages", which are politely labelled in black.

There is a lot of verbiage on this chart, much of it perplexing.  "Weighted average" based on what weights?  "Average for university-educated young professionals" stick out like a sore thumb from the other categories of occupation.

Interesting phenomena are left unexplained.  Why are employers more reluctant to hire these people as "generalists" than for more demanding jobs?  Why is the bar for the "average" so much shorter than the other bars?



Here is my junkart version, which solves some of the problems:

  • I muted the high/low lines, shifting the focus onto the averages.
  • I expanded the scale to 100% so nothing flies off the page, and now the 10-19% averages truly express the headline: fewer than you'd think.
  • I banished "weighted average" to the footnote where it is clearly explained that the averaging is over 28 countries
  • The legend is placed helpfully next to the data, so the reader does not need to search for it in the corner.

The idea behind this data is extremely simple and we have shown two charts here, one being more effective than the other.

Reference: "Sizing the emerging global labor market", McKinsey Quarterly, 2005 No. 3.
Thanks to Annette for tipping me to this chart.



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