Missing data, mysterious order, reverse causation wipes out a simple theory
Second Dataviz Workshop Soon to Start, and Feedback from First Workshop

A reader submits a Type DV analysis

Darin Myers at PGi was kind enough to send over an analysis of a chart using the Trifecta Checkup framework. I'm reproducing the critique in full, with a comment at the end.



At first glance this looks like a valid question, with good data, presented poorly (Type V). Checking the fine print (glad it’s included), the data falls apart.


It’s a good question…What device are we using the most? With so much digital entertainment being published every day, it pays to know what your audience is using to access your content. The problem is this data doesn’t really answer that question conclusively.


This was based on Survey data asking respondents “Roughly how long did you spend yesterday…watching television (not online) / using the internet on a laptop or PC / on a smartphone / on a tablet? Survey respondents were limited to those who owned or had access to a TV and a smartphone and/or tablet.

  • What about feature phones?
  • Did they ask everyone on the same day, random days, or are some days over represented here?
  • This is self-reported, not tracked…who accurately remembers their average screen time on each device a day later? I imagine the vast majority of answers were round numbers (30, 45 minutes or 2 hours). This data shows accuracy to the minute that is not really provided by the users.

In fact the Council for Research Excellence found that self-reported screen time does not correlate with actual screen time. “Some media tend to be over-reported whereas others tend to be under-reported – sometimes to an alarming extent.” -Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research for Ball State


The visual has the usual problems with stacked bar charts where it is easy to see the first bar and the total, but not to judge the other values. This may not be an issue based on the question, but the presentation is focusing on an individual piece of tech (smartphones), so the design should focus on smartphones. At the very least, smartphones should be the first column in the chart and it should be sorted by smartphone usage.

My implementation is simply to compare the smartphone usage to the usage of the next highest device. Overall 53% of the time people are using a smartphone compared to something else. I went back and forth on whether I should keep the Tablet category in the Key though it was not the first or second used device. In the end, I decided to keep it to parallel the source visual.


Despite the data problems, I was really interested in seeing the breakdowns in each country by device, so I built the chart below with rank added (in bold). I also built some simple interaction to sort by column when you click the header [Ed: I did not attach the interactive excel sheet that came with the submission]. As a final touch, I displayed the color corresponding to the highest usage as a box to the left of the country name. It’s easy to see that the vast majority of countries use smartphones the most.



Hope you enjoyed Darin's analysis and revamp of the chart. The diagnosis is spot on. I like the second revision of the chart, especially for analysts who really want to know the exact numbers. The first redo has the benefit of greater simplicity--it can be a tough sell to an audience, especially when using color to indicate the second most popular device while disassociating the color and the length of the bar.

The biggest problem in the original treatment is the misalignment of the data with the question being asked. In addition to the points made by Darin, the glaring issue relates to the responder population. The analysis only includes people who have at least a smartphone or a tablet. But many people in lesser developed countries do not have either device. In those countries, it is likely that the TV screen time has been strongly underestimated. People who watch TV but do not own a smartphone or tablet are simply dropped from consideration.

For this same reason, the other footnoted comment claiming that the sampling frame accounts for ~70 percent of the global population is an irrelevance.


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Alexander Mosquera

Nice! May I ask what tool you used to create that last chart? Tableau? Excel?

Darin Myers

The last chart was created in Excel using conditional formatting to build the bars. I used VBA to add some simple interaction (you can click on the headings to sort by a different device)

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