Experiments in simplification
A shark attack on a chart

New York Post simplifies a chart

Speaking of experiments in simplification (see here), I found a perfect example in the New York Post. (Courtesy to their marketing team who had the bright idea of handing out free copies of the paper a few weeks ago.)

Calculatedrisksimplified

The chart on the left bas been a staple of the Calculated Risk blog; it contains a wealth of information and by itself, it is a well-made chart. When the New York Post reported the November job loss statistic, the editors simplified the chart, which is shown on the right. When I saw this chart, I applauded: by reducing the picture down to its essential elements, they succeeded in getting their message across more proficiently.

Here are the changes that make the chart:

  • Focusing on the last three recessions, as opposed to all past recessions
  • With only three lines, there is no need to use a rainbow of colors
  • Eliminating the minor tickmarks and labels on the time axis; this has the extra benefit of drawing attention to the zero line, which is the anchor of this chart
  • With fewer labels competing for real estate, the labels could be turned around so readers don't need to turn their heads around
  • Removing the graph paper background
  • Keeping the tickmarks but omitting some of the labels on the vertical axis. I'd however put a -2% instead of the -4% label

Credit: NYU librarians who tracked down a scanned version of the NYP chart.

Comments

Basil

NYT did an excellent job on simplifying the chart.

Chris Pudney

The previous blog post I read was by Stephen Few on the "eloquence of simplicity". Thanks for the concrete example.

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With fewer labels competing for real estate, the labels could be turned around so readers don't need to turn their heads around

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