The meaning of most
Conceptual colors, negative proportions, mysterious axes, and all that

Does this need fixing?

Reader John B. tried to improve Minard's famous chart of the Napoleon Russian campaign (link). Ed Tufte declared this chart the best ever.


Here is John's alternative. The biggest change he made was to discard the geography and emphasize the chronology.


 John also points us to this page which includes a number of different re-makes of the famous chart. (link)



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Fantastic chart, but I do agree that it could be improved. I would keep the map, but I would make the causes of the loss clearer. On the way to Moscow, it is not clear why so many have died. I would explore ways to use colors for the cause of attrition (captured/killed/hunger/sickness/cold). They could also write directly on the chart. And to communicate time, I would explore the use of shading: darker when they were slow, lighter when they were fast.

Jon Peltier

There's room for improvement, but replacing the map with a circle didn't improve it.


Nice try, and looks appealing. But the loss of the geographic information is a disadvantage. The original one has the advantage (rarely seen even these days) that's it's a mixture between something lie a bar chart and a map, with the advantages of the latter: distance, orientation, rivers, cities...


The circle is not a great idea because, except for the top and bottom, opposite sides of the circle don't represent the same positions east and west. The journey there and back had a mirror symmetry, not a rotational symmetry. Once again our culture's obsession with circles makes the designer fall into a trap.

Better would have been a matched pair of bar charts, one going left to right from France to Moscow, and one below it from right to left from Moscow to France. The problem with this is that the genius of Minard's map would be immediately obvious, that he added so much extra value for so little extra investment. Can't have that: the whole exercise is to improve on Minard!

If you go for a bar chart and abandon location, you should abandon it completely. Have the bars (or a line) go from left to right from beginning to end in time and do no reversing, just ignore the space element. So the improvement becomes the classic (supposedly "boring") time series bar or line chart.

I had a similar problem put to me at work recently. My enquirer wanted to show progress against time, and progress against work-to-be-done, for a large number of projects: effectively three dimensions to be graphed, just as Minard graphs the three dimensions of time, space, and army strength. I sketched some possibilities, but they were too scary, and my client eventually chose to abandon the time element and just graph progress against quantity of work, with a written comment on time.


what does the use of a circle add to this?

Minard's L to R then R to L emphasizes how dreary the few survivors must have seemed relative to the grand armee that had past that way going east.


Hmm, I think there's a strong case for getting rid of the geography, because there's not very much geographical information in the original and what there is, is chartjunk.

What do the movements towards the top and bottom of the chart (i.e. North and South) actually tell you? There aren't any geographic features you can relate them to, neither can you see the Russian armies, so they're not very useful. And they mean overloading the vertical axis with yet another scale (N-S, strength, and temperature). Further, without any physical geography or political borders, it doesn't give the viewer any orientation in space.

Really, the organising principle of the chart is distance in a straight line. The river crossings and placenames are more like labels on a timeline than markers on a map.

You could perhaps draw it with time as the basis - it might be interesting to see how fast they were moving.

Also, the temperature could be shown using colour and a legend key. I think I'd go with a vertically stacked bar chart, with the outbound data points as positive values and the inbound as negative, the bar spacings proportional to time from the outset, and the colours keyed to the temperature.

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