Beyond the Knee-Jerk Reaction

Hard Work, Wired September 2014

There is a tendency to just reflexively make fun of certain types of charts, in particular pie charts and 3D charts. While that is often justified, there are also exceptions. Not all pie charts are bad, and not all 3D charts are terrible. But to spot those outliers, we have to suppress the knee-jerk reflex and give them a moment of thought before ripping them apart.

The Semantics of the Y Axis

Up World Cup stats

The vertical axis is not just important because it embodies one of the most important visual properties, but also because it is much more semantically loaded than the horizontal. Not only does the right choice of mapping help with reading a chart, it can also be confuse people if done wrong.

My Favorite Charts

Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller?

There are many charts I hate, because they’re badly done, sloppy, meaningless, deceiving, ugly, or for any number of other reasons. But then there are the ones I keep coming back to because they’re just so clear, well-designed, and effective.

All of these are a few years old. Like a fine wine analogy that I could insert here, it probably takes a while for a chart to come up again and again in conversation and when looking for examples to realize how good it is.

What is Data Journalism?

NYTimes, Your Jealous Dog

Is a data journalist one who unearths the data, who finds the insights in the data, who finds the right way to visually communicate the data? The answer is, of course, all three. But let’s tease them apart and look at each separately.

Putting Data Into Context

xkcd Heatmap (cropped)

Raw numbers are easy to report and analyze, but without the proper context, they can be misleading. Is the effect you’re seeing real, or a simple result of the underlying, obvious distribution? Too many analyses and news stories end up reporting things we already know.

Review: Kraak, Mapping Time

Kraak, Mapping Time

Can you write an entire book about a single chart? Even if that chart is supposedly the best one ever? Menno-Jan Kraak’s new book, Mapping Time: Illustrated by Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812, discusses the historical context of Minard’s work, his, life, and walks through a number of design exercises to show the same or similar data in different ways.

When Bars Point Down

Simon Scarr, Iraq's Bloody Toll

It’s so simple it feels entirely trivial: bars in a bar chart pointing down instead of up. But the effect can be striking. And it’s not as obvious when to show downward-pointing bars as it might seem.

Data Stories Episode About Data Storytelling

Data Stories, Episode 35

How is it possible that it has taken a podcast called Data Stories 35 episodes to get to the topic of data storytelling? Alberto Cairo and I helped get the topic straightened out, and I think we even convinced Moritz that stories are not the enemy of exploration. It was a fun episode to record, and it touches on many interesting topics.

Story: A Definition

dictionary

What makes a story? What does a story do? In part one of this little series, I argued that stories and worlds are not opposites, but complements. In this part, I try to explain the differences between worlds and stories, and present a definition.