Cashing in good
Jan 23, 2010
A superb effort by the Wall Street Journal.
This chart tells us corporations are hoarding cash, and the level of stashing varies by industry.
The article is here, and the interactive version of the chart here.
Clicking on each small multiple reveals the detailed trajectory over the 20-year period.
In the print version, the trajectory is printed in faded white within the larger plot.
Both online and in print, the designers were thinking about foreground / background.
Most impressive is the highly successful attempt to simplify the data, or equivalently, to elevate the trend: each trajectory is represented by three points, with straight lines drawn between those points. The points chosen were a decade apart so the lines represented straight-line growth/decline within a decade.
Can three points truly represent the 20-year trajectory? You bet. Clicking on each of the industry charts, I found that the only one industry for which the three points did not adequately capture what happened was the Energy industry.
The three-point summary obscured the increase in the cash stockpile for Energy companies in the early 2000s which peaked in 2004. Simplifying anything runs the risk of misrepresenting specific elements; however, a simplified message is much, much more likely to affect readers than inundating readers with too much data.
I do have reservations about the use of color and the legend. The industry names could be printed at the bottom of each chart and it would be clearer. For such a well-designed chart, color is not necessary either.
Reference: "Jittery companies stash cash", Wall Street Journal, Nov 3 2009.
Corporations hoard cash (WSJ, via JunkCharts): http://bit.ly/4E5G9k
Posted by: Darbsnave | Jan 24, 2010 at 11:12 AM
The energy curve could be described reasonably well using five points, at five-year intervals. As long as there are obvious markers (like these), I'm usually not too concerned that the in-between range has been ignored. When people draw straight-line segments without the markers, or worse, smoothed curves that connect the points but hide their position, I become concerned.
Posted by: Jon Peltier | Jan 24, 2010 at 05:20 PM
That's a cool chart. It took me a bit of playing around to work out how to get back to the original chart once you had expanded one of the series. I tried clicking on the arrow button next to the 'Show All'label, without realising that the 'Show All' label itself was a control.
Posted by: Jeff Weir | Jan 24, 2010 at 06:09 PM