Checking the scale on a chart
Graphical advice for conference presenters

Some Tufte basics brought to you by your favorite birds

Someone sent me this via Twitter, found on the Data is Beautiful reddit:


The chart does not deliver on its promise: It's tough to know which birds like which seeds.

The original chart was also provided in the reddit:


I can see why someone would want to remake this visualization.

Let's just apply some Tufte fixes to it, and see what happens.

Our starting point is this:


First, consider the colors. Think for a second: order the colors of the cells by which ones stand out most. For me, the order is white > yellow > red > green.

That is a problem because for this data, you'd like green > yellow > red > white. (By the way, it's not explained what white means. I'm assuming it means the least preferred, so not preferred that one wouldn't consider that seed type relevant.)

Compare the above with this version that uses a one-dimensional sequential color scale:


The white color still stands out more than necessary. Fix this using a gray color.


What else is grabbing your attention when it shouldn't? It's those gridlines. Push them into the background using white-out.


The gridlines are also too thick. Here's a slimmed-down look:


The visual is much improved.

But one more thing. Let's re-order the columns (seeds). The most popular seeds are shown on the left, and the least on the right in this final revision.


Look for your favorite bird. Then find out which are its most preferred seeds.

Here is an animated gif to see the transformation. (Depending on your browser, you may have to click on it to view it.)



PS. [7/23/18] Fixed the 5th and 6th images and also in the animated gif. The row labels were scrambled in the original version.



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Kaiser, love the walk-through. Somehow the row labels (birds) got jumbled in the penultimate step.


Doug: thanks for the note. It's now fixed.


I was waiting for the reordering stage :-) very useful. But let's give credit where it's due, that's famously a thing that comes from the great Jacques Bertin. The colours and grid thinning are more Tufte.


I forgot to say, you can re-order the rows, too, and put some popular seed columns on the right instead of the left, by virtue of being popular with different birds.

I wrote a couple of pieces on my blog a few years ago, about reorderable tables in Excel tables

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