One for the cutting room floor
Sep 02, 2005
This chart comparing U.S. and China garment markets really calls for mixed metaphors: it should've been left on the cutting room floor.
The two intended messages are simple: the U.S market is much larger but the China market is growing much faster. But the chart manages to confuse us all the same.
First, the China market is tracked for 14.5 years versus 3.5 for the U.S. market, without explanation. By stacking these bars together, the chart creates a false impression of exponential growth.
Then, the data from 2002-5 are enclosed in gray boxes of arbitrary heights, interfering with our ability to read the trends. While I don't like gridlines on bar charts in general, their appearance in these redundant gray boxes really beggars explanation.
Even the vertical scale needs re-editing. Why can't they halve the line segments and place the numbers next to the lines? The omission of the zero-dollar line may mislead some into thinking that the $10 billion line represents zero.
Last, but not least, the black, half-baked bars (representing the first half of 2005) impair our comprehension. Their presence adds nothing to the graph at all. Indeed, if the reader is to pick up the fast growth of the Chinese market, seeing the plunging and darkly accented last bar surely doesn't help. Here, the chart designer has two choices: draw the projected full-year 2005 data or omit 2005 altogether.
I suspect that the bar chart format was selected, partly in order to accommodate these half-baked bars. Otherwise, a line chart would work nicely in this context. As an alternative, the following conceptual graph (since I don't have data) brings out the two messages much more clearly.
The gap between the two sets of points illustrates the relative sizes of the two markets while the steeper line for China shows its much faster growth.
Reference: "Chinese Apparel Makers Seek the Creative Work", New York Times, Sept 1 2005.
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