My talk at Parsons seemed like a success, based on the conversation it generated, and the fact that people stuck around till the end. One of my talking points is that one should not pick a tool before having a design.
Then, last night on Twitter, I found an example to illustrate this. Jim Fonseca tweeted about this chart from Business Insider: (link)
The style is clean and crisp, which I credit them for. Jim was not happy about the length of the columns. It seems that no matter how many times we repeat the start-at-zero rule, people continue to ignore it.
So here we go again. The 2015 column is about double the height of the 2013 column but 730 is nowhere near double the value of 617.
The standard remedy for this is to switch to a line chart, or a dot plot. Something like this can be quickly produced in any software:
Is this the best we can do?
Not if we are willing to free ourselves from the tool. Think about the message: NFL referees have been calling more penalties this year. Compared to what?
I want to leave readers no doubt as to what my message is. So I sketched this version:
This version cannot be produced directly from a tool (without contorting your body in various painful locations).
The lesson is: Make your design, then find a way to execute it.