11 Replies Latest reply on Sep 19, 2013 9:36 PM by Alex Spiewak

    Some planets are larger than the Sun.

    Toby Erkson

      The title of this post came from my 6.5 year old son (BTW, the ".5" is significant in the eyes of a child ).  His statement came from looking at a diagram of the solar system from his older sister's science and art magazine.  Oddly, my daughter seemed to accept this logic somewhat so I had to correct them.  It was a difficult task trying to explain "not to scale" to a 6.5 year old between him trying to karate-chop his sister, me making their lunch for school, and the cat weaving between my legs in an obvious attempt to make me fall and thus drop the sliced ham.

       

      What does this have to do with a business intelligence community?  Everything!  It's a great example of how a seemingly innocent, simple illustration can convey totally incorrect information.  Not only were the planets and Sun not to scale, neither were their axis of rotation, orbits around the Sun, and the distance & slope between their orbits.  The only thing the picture was good for, if we're gonna get critical, was their order in closeness to the Sun and their over-all general coloration.  Roughly.  The rings of their orbits was truly useless fluff.

       

      Remember this when you've been given the reins to build a graph or someone wants you to add extra 'stuff' to their chart without thinking about the consequences.  Size, color, even shapes (a plus sign vs. a minus sign ) can convey significant meaning to an audience and with our multi-cultural business world not everything is as universal in definition as we think.

       

      I don't know if there's a term for this condition (but I'm sure someone will chime in if there is), where one gets completely wrong information from a simple chart/graph/visualization, but if anyone out there doesn't mind I'd like to call it Ronin's Causation.

        • 1. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
          Dustin Smith

          Toby Erkson wrote:

           

           

          What does this have to do with a business intelligence community?  Everything!  It's a great example of how a seemingly innocent, simple illustration can convey totally incorrect information. 

           

           

          This little .gif made it's way around Tableau today.  I thought it fit in the vein of this conversation.

           

          http://i.imgur.com/WntrM6p.gif

           

          WntrM6p.gif

          • 2. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
            Toby Erkson

            Dustin, I agree the final chart looks better than the original but it also ends up looking a tad plain.  Would it be wrong to spice it up by using an image of each item to populate the colums like what can be done in Excel? terkson - Thursday, September 19, 2013 7_52_40 AM - Microsoft Excel - Book1.jpg

            I guess it could depend on where the chart is used (food/heath magazine for children vs. medical journal)?  Hmm...would then need to explain that each icon represents 100 calories and NOT serving size.

            • 3. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
              Toby Erkson

              Like this:

              terkson - Thursday, September 19, 2013 8_11_23 AM - Microsoft Excel - Book1.jpg

               

              I dunno.  Trying to make it a little more interesting for the target audience (kids).  Or maybe I just don't want to do some real work...

              • 4. Re: Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                Dustin Smith

                Toby - Love your version!  I think the question of audience is super critical since visualizations only work when people look at them.

                 

                There was some follow-up commentary internatlly as people around the company talked about the.gif. The below response added a lot of good contenxt for me:

                 

                Tableau Employee (in reference to this .gif):

                 

                While I agree with this for the most part, the last few steps actually make the chart worse.

                • Since they keep the highlight on Bacon, the idea is presumably to compare to that as a baseline. Moving the numbers into the bars does nothing to help with that, but only clutters up the chart for no reason. It also makes it harder to figure out what is even shown, since the connection that the axis on the left provided is gone.
                • I also think removing the gridlines is a bad idea. While I’m not generally a fan of gridlines, they help here because some values are very close together, so they let me judge the difference with more confidence.
                • Also, adding a reference line to sit at the top of the Bacon bar would have helped, and would have even allowed them to remove that bar.

                 

                Less is not always more. You need to exercise some judgment and have an idea what you’re trying to achieve.

                • 5. Re: Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                  Jonathan Drummey

                  I think if the chart is for kids, then 100g is likely too abstract. I'd have a picture of each food item taken at the same scale with some common reference (like the same plate) showing how much 100g of that food is, and then put the bar chart above that (or even have the bars extending below). For an interactive chart, then I'd have a slider for "how much do you usually eat?" where they could move the chart and then the pics and bars could resize.

                   

                  Jonathan

                  • 6. Re: Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                    Dustin Smith

                    This conversation makes me realize that the concept of data visualization for children/young adults is something I'd never deeply thought about before.

                     

                    I'm remembering my days in AmeriCorps trying to teach nutrition to kids in NYC and them looking at the Food Pyramid and other charts and having no frame of reference for what it was or what was important.

                     

                     

                    P.S.  Anyone have any objections to me moving this thread into the VizTalk forum?

                    • 7. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                      Toby Erkson

                      JD, I don't understand what you mean by "interactive chart", would you please attach a working example?

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                      Just kidding, I understand!

                       

                      Yeah, there are several factors that influence the chart like the audience, age (I think the above would work for middle schoolers but not elementary), etc.  The creativity level of the author, their experience, and how 'pure' they are towards charting (.gif example shows a good progression of purity) will affect it.

                       

                      Just like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaran, and Pagani make some of the world's best exotic super-cars no one is superior to the others because of the human variance; each has its own appeal.  Same goes for charting; many ways to communicate the same thing that ends in the same result, getting from A to B.

                      • 8. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                        Toby Erkson

                        Dustin Smith wrote:

                         

                        This conversation makes me realize that the concept of data visualization for children/young adults is something I'd never deeply thought about before.

                         

                        I'm remembering my days in AmeriCorps trying to teach nutrition to kids in NYC and them looking at the Food Pyramid and other charts and having no frame of reference for what it was or what was important.

                         

                         

                        P.S.  Anyone have any objections to me moving this thread into the VizTalk forum?

                        Not I said the fly

                        • 9. Re: Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                          Jonathan Drummey

                          No objections...and I hadn't thought about dataviz for that population that much either, until I had a population of 1 in my house (my daughter turns 6 on Monday). It's fascinating working on graphs with her and seeing how marks and affordances have equal weight until I explain what each element is for.

                          • 10. Re: Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                            Shawn Wallwork

                            You need to exercise some judgment and have an idea what you’re trying to achieve.

                            Hear, hear.

                            • 11. Re: Some planets are larger than the Sun.
                              Alex Spiewak

                              Nice gif.  Actually that little gif would be perfect as an Excel plug-in, maybe with a link to the TS site.   Seriously the industry/department/role are an important factor in designing.  And less is usually more, but not always.  e.g.  We had a developer that just did an amazing job in a media company- working with marketing. But when he started working with the CFO he did not do so well.  When I was called in to help  -the first thing we did was get ride of the bubble charts and put labels on everything.  He hated it, I did not love it either, but the CFO- his first comment was "now that's going into the right direction".  I think he learned a lot.   .