Lunar eclipse
Two books

Trying too hard

In the course of business and governing, a lot of charts are generated.  An anonymous tipster pointed us to a set created by the "Communities and Local Government" division in the UK government.  Judging from the content, this division has responsibility for economic development in local neighborhoods.

Below are a pair of exhibits.  Truly they are trying too hard!  What we see is a hybrid scatter-bubble chart.  Between the jargon, the acronyms (LAD, LSOA), the boxed text, the multi-color circles, the colored axis labels and lack of title, the reader is plunged into a state of confusion.


The chart can be unraveled.  Each district was evaluated based on two measures of "gaps in worklessness".  The vertical axis compares each district to the national average; positive numbers indicate an above-average district relative to the nation.  The horizontal axis compares the most deprived 10% neighborhood within each district to the local average; positive numbers indicate worst neighborhoods improving. 

Thus, the policy goal would be to move all districts into the upper right quadrant.  The multi-color bubbles were designed to show us the state of the nation.  On the left chart, 41% of the districts (or population?) reside in the improving districts while 19% live in deteriorating areas.

The following strategies can help improve readability:

  • Redo_communities3use English on the axis
  • relegate technical definitions to the legend
  • add succinct title to tell the story
  • use color on the data rather than on axis or data labels
  • use color to draw attention to the upper right quadrant
  • remove bubbles
  • define acronyms



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Did your informant say where the graphs came from? I checked out the general site, and it's the sort of froth New Labour specializes in: an apparent wish to engage with the public, combined with a nightmare accumulation of obstructive jargon-filled crap that makes the engagement impossible in practice.

Somewhere in that structure it should even be possible to find the data the graphs were based on, but damned if I can find it.

Sean Carmody

I'd be interested to know your thoughts on treemaps/market maps like the one I used in this blog post. Too busy or useful?

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