The first thought that came to mind after browsing through all the charts was: what a great job they have done to generate interest in food data, which has no right to be entertaining. Specifically, this is a list of things I appreciated:
- An obvious effort was undertaken to extract the most thought provoking data out of a massive amount of statistics collected by various international agencies. There weren't any chart that is overstuffed, which is a common problem.
- It would be somewhat inappropriate to use our standard tools to critique these charts. Clearly, the purpose of the designer was to draw readers into statistics that they might otherwise not care for. Moreover, the Wired culture has long traded off efficiency for aesthetics, and this showed in a graph such as this, which is basically a line chart with two lines, and a lot of mysterious meaningless ornaments:
- A nice use of a dual line chart, though. It works because both data series share the same scale and only one vertical axis is necessary, which is very subtly annotated here.
- The maintenance of the same motifs across several charts is well done. (See the pages on corn, beef, catfish)
- It would be nice if Wired would be brave enough to adopt the self-sufficiency principle, i.e. graphs should not contain a copy of the entire data set being depicted. Otherwise, a data table would suffice. The graphical construct should be self-sufficient. This rule is not often followed because of "loss aversion"; there is the fear that a graph without all the data is like an orphan separated from the parents. Since, as I noted, these graphs are mostly made for awe, there is really no need to print all the underlying data. For instance, these "column"-type charts can stand on their own without the data (adding a scale would help).
- Not sure if sorting the categories alphabetically in the column chart is preferred to sorting by size of the category. The side effect of sorting alphabetically is that it spreads out the long and the short chunks, which simplifies labelling and thus reading.
- Not a fan of area charts (see below). Although it is labelled properly, it is easy at first glance to focus on the orange line rather than the orange area. That would be a grave mistake. The orange line actually plots the total of the two types of fish rearing, not the aquaculture component. The chart is somewhat misleading because it is difficult to assess the growth rate of aquaculture. Much better to plot the size of both markets as two lines (either indiced or not).
Reference: "The Future of Food", Wired, Oct 20 2008.