Monthly Archives: August 2011

Information Graphics: Effort to Create vs. Effort to Interpret

Kaiser Fung (from Junkcharts) posted this comparison of Creation vs Interpretation on the Statistics Forum.

This resonated with me since a colleague at work and I were having a debate about whether the plethora of toolsets for visualization are really ‘good’ for the data professionals.  My contention is that certain tools just make it easier to make horrible charts.  I think my quote was:

“This is like (possibly) giving young children access to chainsaws”

Just because you can use a given type of chart doesn’t mean you should use that type of chart.  Tools like this can make it even easier to generate horrible visualizations like:

Sometimes making things easier to do is not always the best answer.  (“Now you too can run your own nuclear reactor, with three simple controls!”)

Return on Effort Matrix

Kaiser Fung's "Return on Effort Matrix

But I digressed from Kaiser Fung’s point..  His point is that different information/statistical charts have much different ‘usability’ factors for the reader, along with different levels of effort for the creator.  He turned this into a simple quad chart which I think is pretty reasonable (even though I really am not a fan of the Napoleon’s March chart).   I think one central theme to most of the complaints about ‘bad graphics’ is either a total lack of a point or where the point is so obscured by the details of the graphic.  The one exception to that is really the high effort, high reward space — graphics which try to tell several stories or illuminate several key points often are complex in nature.  The exploratory-type analysis graphics need significant skill and background to interpret and find the information in the ‘haystack’ of the graphic.


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