Articles

  • Viz Cup Winner Makeover – Do You Agree?

  • Posted on May 12, 2014
  • Facebook’s data visualization contest Viz Cup gives me mixed emotions — excitement about the growing interest in smart data visualization, and sadness about the poor data viz practices among the entrants.

    Case in point is last year’s winner, Eric Rynerson, with this entry. Now, to be fair, Eric only had an hour to put this data viz together (he studied the data the night before) and there are a lot of good practices here. But as an educational opportunity for you, dear reader, I want to point out the weaknesses in this data viz and suggest a makeover.

    Here’s Eric’s winning entry:

    1. Bubble Chart

    Let’s start with a critique of the bubble chart in the upper left. What I like about it:

    1. a. The graph title summarizes the main point, requiring less work for the reader
    2. b. It’s a good choice for comparing two groups. You can tell from the slope if there is a bias toward penalizing the Away team
    3. c. The graph is relatively subdued with light gridlines whispering in the background and muted colors for the bubbles

    But here’s the things that don’t work

    1. a. First, the graph title is too small. It’s the same size font as the axes numbers. It should be more prominent
    2. b. The bubbles are different colors but I don’t know why. Is this so you can distinguish the tiny bubbles clustered in the lower left? Or is it to add variety to the graph? Generally, the reader will assume the colors have meaning. In this case, I’d avoid the randomness of the many colors and use red for the refs that hand out more red cards to Away teams, and gray for refs with no apparent bias
    3. c. And I’m not going to just use any red. I’m going to use the exact red on a penalty card because those who are familiar with that red have learned a subconscious reaction to that particular shade of red. And I want to generate that reaction
    4. d. The bubbles are also different sizes. Again, it isn’t clear if this is supposed to mean something or not. If it does, indicate that somewhere on the graph. If not, then keep them all the same size
    5. e. Eric has added a regression line to the chart. But a better option would be to add a 45-degree line, showing the expected position of refs who penalize Home and Away teams evenly
    6. f. You should also add text labels to each half of the chart, so readers clearly understand what it means to be above or below that line
    7. g. The annotation explains there is a similar but weaker bias for yellow cards. But the extensive text clutters the graph unnecessarily. Better to remove that annotation, or minimize the amount of text

     

    So my makeover of the bubble chart would look like this

    2. Column Charts

    The column charts in the upper right are intended to appear as you click on each bubble. I like a couple of things about these charts

    1. a. First, I like that we’re seeing some trend data tracking how a referee’s bias may, or may not, change over the years. The basic format of a story is a beginning, middle and end and so a timeline graph gets us closer to a story
    2. b. Eric shows the absolute number of cards for Home and Away teams, but then he also explicitly calculates those differences and plots them on another chart
    3. c. The mirrored bar chart is generally a good choice for showing how two data series compare

    What I don’t like

    1. a. The text block to the left of the graphs is supposed to invite the reader to click. But it’s too much text to draw attention. Better would be to use an image with a prominent call to click
    2. b. Almost always, time series data should go left to right. The reader intuitively understands this. A top to bottom timeline is less intuitive
    3. c. When comparing two data series, and one is clearly larger than the other, I prefer to use an overlapping column chart
    4. d. The legend at the bottom should be integrated into the graph, where it’s easier to read, and not set outside the graph
    5. e. The two charts should use a similar scale. Right now, the differences look enormous compared to the absolute values, just because that scale is stretched out
    6. f. I’m also not a fan of the monochromatic purple for the mirrored bar chart. The purple doesn’t complement the red and seems to be chosen at random. Better to select from our current red color palette and complement it with a strong but otherwise neutral black.

    We end up with a graph like this:

     

    3. Layout

    Finally, we study the overall layout, including the title, pictures and flow through the piece. I like

    1. a. The attempt to add a (clip art) picture next to the title, increasing visual interest and suggesting quickly the topic of the data visualization
    2. b. The title summarizes the conclusions of the graphs, not leaving that work to the reader
    3. c. The use of faces is especially effective at drawing the reader into the data visualization and adding some human drama and emotion to what would otherwise be emotionally inert data

    What I’d improve

    1. a. This clip art is weak, has no emotion and generally trivializes the importance of the piece. I’d choose an image with more emotion, like a referee forcefully holding up a red card
    2. b. The title is a bit vague. I’d write it more directly
    3. c. The face images below are good, but they are a bit remote from the column charts. In this case, the data in the column charts applies to only one referee — the one in the pictures below. We need to link this more clearly perhaps using a color band

    Adding all these elements together gets us a final data visualization that look like this, and tells a better story too, don’t you think? (Hover over the image to compare with the original).

    What do you think? Is the story clearer? What other changes would you make? Leave a comment in the comments section. And if you’re interested in knowing when my new book “Storytelling with Graphs” is available, just sign up for my LinkedIn group or subscribe to this blog.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

  • Conflict or Curiosity: What drives a story forward?

  • Posted on January 20, 2014
  • Does a story need conflict? We’re taught that the standard story structure is Situation – Conflict – Resolution. And Hollywood has made good use of this story format.

    But it’s not the only story format, and indeed, conflict is not even a necessary component. For example, I love this commercial, which I discovered over the Christmas holidays in Canada. It’s a good example of storytelling, not because it has conflict, but because it has curiosity.

    Curiosity means raising a question for the audience and keeping them hooked: “Will these two people ever get together?”

    Conflict doesn’t necessarily hook the audience. The Seattle Seahawks pounding the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the 2014 Super Bowl has conflict. But it doesn’t have much curiosity. We know how this story will end – the Hawks will win the game. And so it doesn’t hold our attention to the end.

    Curiosity drives many stories, more so than conflict. Think about the great Hollywood movies of our time and you will see they are driven forward by an overall question:

    Rocky: Will Rocky beat Apollo Creed?
    Castaway: Will Tom Hanks ever get off the island?
    Life of Pi: Will Pi and the tiger learn to get along, and eventually be rescued?
    Bridges of Madison County: Will Francesca leave her husband?

    We hear a lot about conflict in storytelling. Conflict is just a way to spark curiosity. But it’s not the only way to drive curiosity.

    The Twilight Zone television series is a good example of how a story can be spurred forward by curiosity. Think of the typical Twilight Zone story: a man wakes up and finds his entire town deserted. Where did everyone go? Are they coming back? What’s happening? Not conflict, but curiosity.

    Watch the first minute of this video. Are you hooked, even though there’s no conflict? What question is raised in your mind?

    So keep that in mind as you’re building a story. What question will keep the audience hooked and drive the story forward to its ultimate conclusion?

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

     

  • Graph Answers the Question: Do Christians Divorce More than Average?

  • Posted on January 6, 2014
  • In 2008, the Barna Group released some troubling statistics: 33% of Christians are divorced versus 30% of atheists/agnostics. This caused some teeth-gnashing among religious leaders as they sought to understand and explain these numbers.

    In theory, Christian marriages should last longer. The bible says “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) and teaches husbands and wives to live together in “mutual submission” (Ephesians 5:21), loving, sacrificing and forgiving one another as God does for us.

    So is it true? Do Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians?

    Well, no. Because that same research also shows that Christians marry more often than atheists and agnostics. 84% of Christians are married, or have been married, versus only 65% of atheists/agnostics. So when comparing marriage rates and divorce rates, you can see that only 40% of Christians who marry also divorce, versus 46% of atheists.

    Research by the National Opinion Research Center confirms this: 42% of Christian marriages end in divorce vs 50% of non-Christian marriages.

    Even this doesn’t tell the whole story. According to the Oklahoma Marriage Study, among those who are still married, Christians say they are more committed to their spouse, more satisfied with their marriage and less likely to discuss divorce.

    The moral: percentages only tell half the story. To understand the full story, ask “what makes up the rest of the 100%”? That may uncover more interesting stories, and the full truth.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

  • Great Example of Making a Message “Stick” Using Analogy

  • Posted on December 18, 2013
  • Whenever you find your ideas are not landing, the problem is probably because they are not concrete enough. That is, people cannot imagine what your ideas look like.

    The answer to this problem: analogy.

    Here’s a great example I just discovered recently. What if you’re talking to a group and want them to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy? You could explain it verbally using this description from Dictionary.com:

    Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally ‘feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person. You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.

    Not that helpful, actually. But put that idea into visuals, using an analogy, and the idea comes to life. In general, whenever you find your ideas aren’t “sticking”, an analogy is probably the solution.

     

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

  • The Greatest Storyteller of all Time

  • Posted on November 28, 2013
  • It’s Thanksgiving and what better way to celebrate than to recognize the greatest storyteller of all time. No, it’s not Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King Jr. It’s Jesus Christ.

    Consider this story, told in Matthew 25:31-40. Jesus is speaking to his assembled people and thanking them for the kindness they’ve shown to him.

     “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    Notice how Jesus uses an analogy – serving the needy is the same as serving him. Analogies are a form of storytelling that are proven to make an audience more likely to agree with you. Jesus uses analogies throughout the Bible, and very effectively.

    I’m off to serve meals to the homeless in downtown Seattle. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

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