Jun 29, 2011

The article about football (soccer) analytics discussed at the sister blog contains a few pictures.

Here is an example:

And here is the legend made legible:

Too much art, not enough science. (See this post.)

I wish the designer lost some of the data. The graphic would stand a better chance of succeeding if the unimportant bits were not shown, or faded out. Giving every piece of information equal status, whether it's a shot on goal or a dribble, is another way to distort information. It downplays the important information while overstressing the filler materials.

Colors shouldn't be assigned at random. They should surface patterns. Make the Barca data visually distinct from Man U's data. Similarly, unify the numerous statistics on goal-keeping.

A more subtle misstep is mixing up whites and blanks. According to the legend, blank means ball out of play while white means offside (for either team) but readers can't tell these two apart. The whitespace looks like gaps.

For me, this is a lost opportunity. Visual exploration of data is a very powerful concept; it can guide further analysis and even guide the construction of mathematical models. But the visual has to help organize the information. Here it didn't.

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Very nice find. This is Hall of Fame junk. Does this site have a HoF? Can we start one?

I guess what I need to know to start is, what does the sphere shape do other than make things hard to see, make it impossible to compare like time periods due to changes in circumference as the game progresses, and otherwise make the chart less readable as the game progresses and the sphere gets filled in?

Also, the colors. Oh god, the colors.

I guess what I'm saying is, here's a chart displaying the % of views of this chart during which my brain threw up:

........... 0%----------------100%
Puke .... |-----------------|
No Puke|

The dots are a measure of my desire for fixed-width fonts, and each dot represents one unit of desire. I was going to paint it on the outside of a 3-D model of my head, but decided against it because that would be stupid.

I think that soccer is art, not science. That is, more art than in basket and baseball.
Anyhow, here is one more chart:
http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/visualizations/champions-league-final-in-data
from
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/may/30/champions-league-final-data

While I agree with your overall critique -- these renderings fail as data visualization -- I think you're missing the larger point that these were commissioned as art, NOT as data visualization. The editors wanted something shiny and pretty and data-based to accompany the piece, and that's what they got. Nobody is saying these graphics represent the future of sports data visualization. The article doesn't even talk about them.

I agree that there is a missed opportunity here, in that they could have featured some useful visualizations of football data. But critiquing these renderings as if they were charts seems kind of pointless. It's like enumerating all the ways an apple fails to be an orange.

Although the more I think about this the more frustrated I become. The missed opportunity here is enormous. Why would the FT editors inject "art" into an article about data? Why not come up with some killer visualizations that convey the power of that data?

Beyond that, if you're going to use "art," why would you use plastic 3D-renderings that look like they spawned from a mid-90s screensaver? What's the point of 3D renderings in a primarily 2D publication format? If you're going to go 3D, why not at least make them marginally interactive so that you can spin them around and look at all their sides (those two half-arsed "movies" don't count)? Why, above all, would you design ANYTHING for which the interesting bits are turned inward, out of sight of the viewer (top sphere graphic on this page)? Gah.

I assume we are to trace the progress of the game by spiraling from pole to pole. This seems to distort the linearity of the game's flow. It also turns events (goals, offsides calls, saves) into durations, unless the duration includes the downtime between the event and resumption of play. There are too many types of event being tracked, with too many arbitrary and too-similar colors in the graphic.

It downplays the important information while overstressing the filler materials.

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