Visualization as an analysis tool
Ruining the cake with too much icing

English donuts rival Spanish donuts

On my holiday travel, I found a disguised donut chart in the Delta Sky Magazine (Dec 2010), talking about manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Then, flipping through the Spanish section at the back of the same magazine, I found the translated article, plus a translated chart. To my surprise, they look different:


Surprise No. 1: the sizes of the cog wheels are different. Even though the color is still mapped to year in the same way, somehow one of these authors decided to take liberty with the relative size. The suspect is the Spanish author who decided to make 2009 much larger and Jan to Dec 2012 much smaller.

Surprise No. 2: the use of commas within a number, and the format of dates differ by culture. That explains why the Spanish author removed the commas from the numbers, making it harder for me (English-speaking) to comprehend. Also, the swap from "01/12-09/12" to "Sep. 2012" suggests that Spanish speakers don't like the month/year formatting of dates. It also suggests that the Spanish readers have no trouble inferring that the "Sep. 2012" data point refers to "Jan. 2012 to Sep. 2012".

Surprise No. 3: The Spanish author improved the chart in one way. He grouped the annual data together via overlapping, leaving the 2012 partial-year data point by itself.


There are some problems with both charts. The most serious is the failure to project the 2012 jobs number. The chart seems to indicate that 2012 is a lackluster year, at best level with the previous years but in fact, the number of jobs in three quarters has already exceeded the full-year count of 2011, 2010 and 2009. Unless the fourth quarter is a particularly bad quarter for manufacturing jobs, it would seem that the message should be that 2012 is a great year of recovery. You can't tell from these charts: in particular, the Spanish author decided to shrink the 2012 cog wheel into insignificance.

The issue here is providing context for comparison. Even if the projected 2012 full-year number is provided, that may not be enough to judge whether manufacturing is healthy. Other useful context can be the growth rate of manufacturing versus other sectors of the economy; and the growth rate of jobs in relation to the population/work force growth rate.

As usual, a simple line chart displays the time-series data more clearly. (I simply linearly extrapolated the 2012 full-year number, which is probably an over-estimate. In practice, you can look up the data and figure out the ratio of Jan-Sept jobs to full-year jobs on average and inflate the number that way.)






Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.



Does the chart inform about the number of new jobs created within a year or about the total number of jobs in the industry at a given point?


I would call this a disguised bubble chart, not a donut chart (bubbles disguised as donuts perhaps?).

Either way, it is nearly incomprehensibly bad, and I just can't fathom why we keep seeing charts like this published in major publications.


Wondering about the number translation...

"11,528" in english is "11.528" in spanish (also 1,234.56 would be 1.234,56). I wonder if the translator left the periods off in order not to confuse readers.

The issue with that is that although the conventions differ Spanish readers accustomed to read English-written newspapers are used to seeing one form or the other.

If only all languages expressed figures the same way.

The comments to this entry are closed.