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In response to my recent blog post about Tableau 8, largely a critique of packed bubble charts and word clouds, Chad Skelton of The Vancouver Sun wrote a rejoinder.
Skelton’s assertion suggests that there is a hierarchy of interest among graphs, perhaps based on shapes and colors that are used to encode data. A lot of people who create data visualizations—whether reporters, non-profits or governments—are fighting tooth and nail to get people to pay attention to the data they’re presenting in an online world crowded with endless distractions.
Apparently, this quality of visual interest has nothing to do with the information that’s contained in a chart. In a world of noise, screaming louder and louder is not an effective means of cutting through the noise and being heard. It assumes that you cannot draw someone’s attention to a data display without using an inferior chart, one that is visually eye-catching but information-impoverished.
Regarding the first error, when people get tired of looking at lots of pretty-colored circles randomly arranged on a screen, what will we be forced to do next—make the bubbles constantly move around and spin? This chart addresses a potentially interesting topic to Vancouver’s residents, but it reveals very little. I wrote to Skelton and offered to demonstrate that a bar graph of this content need not be boring if he would kindly send me the information on which his packed bubbles chart was based. A chart that displays a rich set of interesting data will not be boring, even if it is a humble bar graph. This enriched set of information, displayed in a way that is easy to read, lends itself to more than a glance.
For news organizations, this constant tension—between excitement and accuracy—is second nature.
When did it become the job of journalism to manufacture interest and excitement that doesn’t exist and isn’t warranted?
I think that’s a point worth debating because arguably it has always been a journalists job to drum up interest and excitement in issues they find worthy. I think that some more allowances for various types of interaction (and media) should be made. If the goal is to catch someone’s attention from 10 to 15 feet away, there are better ways of doing this than a packed bubble chart. Those of us who have the privilege of working with information to find and report the truth should not waste this opportunity by feeding people the information equivalent of Lucky Charms, even if they love those marshmallow hearts and stars.
A friend just emailed me to say that the fabricated information in my illustration doesn’t add up. Also, I have no doubt that my illustration could be improved in many ways, and that you might find it useful to give it a shot, taking the discussion in that direction here in response to the blog post would derail it.
I hope your not too disappointed Stephen, but that post actually convinced me that bubble chart had their place (though they should be used wisely). In essence : to initially draw the reader attention, you must not provide an *answer*, you must ask a *question*. Now, of course, once you have drawn the reader in, you must actually answer his question, and that is where your own graphic must be put into play.
They are various kind of people that read chart, and depending on the level of engagement, you must use various artifice to draw their attention.
In your post above, are you aware that author James Frey famous for fabricating a story about his “troubled” life and then selling that fiction as fact (then getting caught and embarrassing Oprah Winfrey in the process)? So a better analogy might be a bar that offers, instead of alcohol, a sharpened stick in the eye, which is likely to ruin your evening whether or not the bar keeps the lights off and blasts music at desirably-many decibels. As for Stephen generalizing his knowledge of data visualization to domains that have different problems and requirements: why shouldn’t he?
Despite the fact that you quoted James Frey, a notorious fabricator of truth, I agree that questions can be used to invite people to find answers. If you want to begin with only a little information to whet the reader’s appetite for more information, then give a little information, but do so clearly.
Actually, Laurent, in this case it is you who is generalizing principles to areas outside of your expertise. So as a starting point I have learnt from you and agree with the majority of what you say – but as a good student I value thinking for myself and maybe having a respectful difference of opinion.
Thanks for your response, I’m struggling with the concept that words are better than graphs to pique interest. Personally it’s challenging to question my core assumption; however also enlightening and thought provoking (maybe even “mind-catching”) so thank you for the time you take to respond to my original question.
I wouldn’t be a fan of a news publication that used titles solely as a means of generating ambiguity instead of giving me a quick sense of the article’s contents. Thanks Stephen, I appreciate you are a busy man and I have gone off on a tangent from the initial blog.
I’m going to keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks to see if Titles in publications actually summarize the content at an ultra high level. Is a bubble chart a candidate for a dashboard especially if it is “tightly” packed? Geeks and spods seek useful information to inform wise decisions, just like Sherlock Holmes and Spock.
Another great post from an author that actually responds to comments (even the not so great ones). In an effort to utilise this area to its maximum, some of the top online retailers in the world, Amazon, Ebay, Flipkart, and Snapdeal are offering computer training programmes to small traders to introduce them properly to the world of digital markets.
According to the industry experts, this training programme not only helps these traders new to the computer world to manage an online store, but also provides an insight to understanding their customers better and gaining full knowledge about the competition they face. Flagstaff Business News is a newspaper and online news source covering Northern Arizona's most influential business leaders and delivered to high income residents and local businesses. Flagstaff streets are getting a long overdue facelift thanks to an effort spearheaded by city officials and overwhelmingly approved in a tax referendum by Flagstaff voters last fall. Historically, funding for Flagstaff’s road maintenance has come from the state’s gas tax that comprises the Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF), designated for use by cities and counties around the state to help fund street repairs. In relatively short order, city staff called for a tax referendum that the City Council unanimously passed. Oravits explained that a large percentage of the work will happen toward the beginning of the project.
While some roads will just need cosmetic enhancement via resealing or resurfacing, others that are beyond simple repair will have to be ripped up.
The work will not only address the streets themselves, but also adjacent crosswalks, curbs and sidewalks.
The project will not only result in road improvements, but also a certain financial influx into the community. While Oravits expects the community to be happy with the improvements, he realizes that such work comes with a certain level of frustration for drivers.
A prominent former Flagstaff attorney and community leader, Doug Wall, is still widely known in the greater Flagstaff area even though he retired and now lives in Prescott Valley.
It’s always good to ask for feedback from the people you serve to gain an accurate perspective on how you are doing and what improvements can be made in your service delivery. The European Commission has launched a tool that should help online retailers, especially small and medium enterprises, with selling online and going cross-border. When you want to start selling online in Europe, especially if you dream of selling cross-border, you might feel held back by all those different rules and regulations. By using a Non-Disclosure Agreement you can protect your business idea before the product or service is ready for the market. This page tells you all about how you should pay careful attention to the development and maintenance of your website. Customers sometimes share their personal data very easily, but as an online retailer you must protect their data from misuse and also respect their right to privacy when you process said data.
The Watify tool also shares some insight on what you must keep in mind when you make use of commercial communication to promote your online store. According to this page, making it easy and smoothing for your customers to pay, reduces the risk of the shopping basket being abandoned.
When you sell online you must deal with tax paid on consumption, better known as value-added tax or VAT.


After you protected your business idea, set up your online store, promoted your offer and started selling to your customers, you’re still not there.
Can we place value-encoding objects such as rectangles (as in bars), lines, individual data points (such as dots), and circles (as in bubbles) on a continuum from boring at the low end of interest to eye-popping at the high end?
And when you’re trying to make someone take notice—especially if the subject is census data or transit figures—a little eye candy goes a long way.
They’re often also the flashing billboard you need to get people to pay attention to the data in the first place.
Instead, in this case interest is a measure of someone’s willingness to look at a chart. Regarding the second error, a graph that gets attention by displaying data in a manner that ineffectively informs is an unnecessary failure of design. Only a few of the agency names are recognizable and only six of the bubbles include values. I requested all of the information that was available (apparently this information about public servant salaries resides in a publicly available database) about these agencies, salaries, etc., both current and past. To illustrate this fact, I began with the data that Skelton provided, and then added to it the kind of information that a journalist could include to engage the reader’s interest. The most accurate way to portray a council meeting might be a photo of a bunch of bored looking seniors waiting in line to speak.
I believe they can only do this in a lasting way by consistently providing content that is interesting, accurate, clear, and useful.
But I imagine that your chart is going to have a much harder time catching someones eye 10 or 15 feet away. Pretty much any time you want to talk about data people want to listen – that is an enviable position. A lot of these writers have bosses, and while there are issues of journalistic integrity worth going to the mat and fighting tooth and nail with your boss over I am pretty sure that bubble chart isn’t one of them. Personally, I think that part of the problem is that we are trying to elevate basic graphics into the land of enriched data visualisation, and I believe that endeavour will always fail. This is not the same, however, as saying that one should be unclear and inaccurate to create a demand for clarity and accuracy when it can be provided immediately.
The limited information that was generated by the packed bubble chart was a fraction of what the chart attempted but failed to communicate. A graphic designer should be given a tool with flexibility to create any visual effect that’s required. I believe that words will always provide the best medium for titles, which need to summarize the content at an ultra-high level. Think of charts as all forms of graphical display that convey information (graphs, diagrams, Gantt charts, illustrations, infographics, etc.). Regardless, packed bubble charts such as the one that was featured by The Vancouver Sun are not designed to create ambiguity to pique interest. I can assure you than no one felt robbed of joy by the principles and practices that I taught. No one interprets them or draws conclusions from them, they just use them to confirm their own beliefs.
Alas, most people are not like that, despite our desire for them to be more rational and objective. Here is a sales enterprise dashboard packed with plenty of sales and marketing KPIs to study. You must take a look at Sales Forecasting Management: Understanding the Techniques, Systems and Management of the Sales Forecasting Process. As his about page states, The Dashboard Spy is just a guy interested in the design of enterprise dashboards. A wide knowledge of the landscape is critical when it comes to the technology and vendor selection phase of your executive dashboard project. In today’s world that is mostly run on the speed of the internet connection, the stores across the world are becoming obsolete and in their place now stand the online marketplaces. The sellers interested in collaborating with these digital world giants have to undergo this training, followed by which they must clear a test, and only then they are allowed to handle the online business. With more than 10 lakh online retailers already in India, the future looks very promising indeed. Through the next 20 years, $100 million will go toward evaluating each of the city’s more than 1,000 streets – totaling in excess of 660 lane miles – and repairing them as needed. But, according to former Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke, in a November 2014 public presentation, this tax has not been adjusted since 1991, despite inflation, an increase in road use leading to an acceleration of road deterioration, more efficient vehicles that don’t use as much fuel and thus generate less tax revenue, a 34 percent increase in the number of roads in Flagstaff, and increases in the cost of repairs.
Just five months later, the Road Repair and Street Safety Improvement Program officially commenced as city leaders gathered on Sitgreaves Street, just north of Santa Fe Avenue, to ceremoniously help construction workers begin repairs.
Safety is of paramount concern, but city officials also understand the need to make modifications in order to comply with current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessibility. With this in mind, Coconino County recently completed its 2016 Citizen Survey in order to measure our ability to meet the expectations of our citizens. The tool provides guidance on what the legal rules are and what steps need to be taken to be compliant with certain laws and regulations. Luckily, the European Commission agrees and set up a page where you can easily access information on legal rules and obligations. It goes on about how cybersecurity incidents could have a high impact on your business or brand.
One of the things this page teaches you is that you may not process sensitive data unless you have explicit consent from the data subject. For example, if you display discounts or promotional offers online, you must clearly indicate on whose behalf the commercial communication is provided, the offer you are advertising and any qualifying conditions, e.g.
You should know that different rules apply depending on tho whom, where and which goods you sell or services you offer.
You should provide your customers with good after-sales service as this enhances customer loyalty and encourages people to visit your website to make even more purchases.
Back in the 1980’s, William Cleveland and Robert McGill proposed a hierarchy of graphical methods based on empirical research, but theirs was a hierarchy of perceptibility—our ability to perceive the values represented by graphical objects easily and accurately.
Skelton graciously responded by sending the data, but only what he used to produce his own chart: the list of agencies and number of employees in each who earned the top 100 salaries. But most newspapers would run the photo of the one, animated speaker waving their finger and shouting. I share Skelton’s concern that it is getting harder and harder to be heard in a world of increasing noise. If I see your chart (as value laden as it may be) from across the room I am going to get nothing from it.
Also remember that you are in the relatively rare position to be able to dictate methods, a lot of people can’t. It is the responsibility of a software vendor and a news editor to give people what’s useful. If the point of my blog post were to report top salaries paid to public servants in British Columbia, I would have used real data, but that wasn’t the point.
If The Vancouver Sun didn’t put your more detailed graphic after they used the bubble graphic, then yes, they did a disservice to their readers. One asks questions to get people to think about issues on their own before providing answers, because thinking on their own will help them better understand the answers once they’re provided. A simple sentence would have provided this information more clearly, accurately, and efficiently and could have generated just as much interest in more information.
A data analyst, however, should not have his time wasted by features that will never help him make sense of data.
I, in contrast, am applying my specific expertise in data visualization to the specific field of data visualization, not generalizing to other areas in the least. Frey is a respected author and teacher and is not the James Frey that notoriously wrote A Million Little Pieces.
It must be horrible sharing the same name and profession with someone whose work is notoriously suspect. They don’t create ambiguity, they simply say little and say it in a way that is difficult to understand.


Their words for, broadly, how something makes you feel as opposed to how it enables you to achieve a practical goal. An excellent example was in the UK a few years ago when the Guardian newspaper published a big bubble chart of all UK government department spend.
I see too often data visualizations or interfaces that are convoluted just for the sake of being flashy and novel.
He could not find any executive dashboard design source books (or even screenshots of real business dashboards) and so set about creating his own.
The e-commerce business is growing and establishing its hold on every sector, be it clothes, jewellery or accessories. The initiative, called the Road Repair and Street Safety Improvement Program, is good news for business owners, residents and tourists who depend on reliable and safe travel throughout the city. Plus, in recent years, the state has swept significant portions of HURF money into the state’s coffers to cover budget deficits. Oravits’s prodding eventually led to comprehensive studies and public education efforts, led by Burke and his team at the city.
Officials estimated this would result in $5 million per year and $100 million during the proposed 20-year span of the tax. Most recently, he was recognized by Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng for “…many years of service to NAU and later, as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) for his unwavering support of and contributions to higher education.” Wall served on ABOR from 1988 to 1996. This page tells you more about using a NDA, selecting protection for your IP and how to make your ownership rights clear on your website.
It also gives information on how to follow personal data protection requirements and where you should go to if you want to notify your national supervisory authority (because you must when you process sensitive data!).
This page tells you what information is necessary on your website, how you should inform your customers before they place an order and how you can make sure the order is confirmed. In order to make the right choice, you should first understand what your customers’ expectations are. This page explains how you must provide customers with information about guarantees and how you can offer an easy-to-use complaints procedure on your website.
The utility of their hierarchy was obvious, because our ability to understand the information contained in a graph is directly tied to our ability to clearly and accurately perceive the value-encoding attributes (positions, lengths, areas, angles, slopes, color intensities, etc.). It is meaningless to catch someone’s eye, however, if you fail to reveal something worth seeing.
The size legend (0 through 10) on the bottom left cannot be used to interpret the values that the bubbles represent because it is one dimensional, based on length, which applies to the diameter of the bubbles, but the values are encoded by their areas, not their diameters. Not every message is worth hearing, however, and when the message is worthwhile, cutting through the din in ways that rob the message of clarity and accuracy only adds to the noise. Just as a journalist should never lie to please people who find the truth uncomfortable, he should never present information in inaccurate and uninformative ways just because people would rather waste their time looking at pretty colors than finding out what’s actually going on in the world. Although I would always prefer to use real information or fabricated information that at least seems real when examined beyond a superficial level, I also have to manage my time based on priorities. Reading the paper is the relaxing moment before a hard day of work, and thus the information presented must be more narrative driven and more entertaining. Yes, in Tableau 8, those option should not be put forward too much, and be more hidden so that people don’t misuse them.
Speaking incomprehensively does not generate the kind of thinking that is helpful; it only creates confusion. There are better ways to grab readers’ interest than by wasting their time with poorly designed charts. The only bars that I’m designing are those that display data in graphs, not the kind that serve alcohol. In other words, a packed bubble chart is like a speaker who can’t speak the language of the audience, resulting in only a few words out of many coming through. Completely pointless and utterly incomprehensible, but printed and put up in every public sector office across the land. Finally convinced to post his extensive collection of dashboard screenshots online, he was amazed to find how popular it has become. The NAU honor took the form of branding the new 120,000-square-foot aquatic center and tennis complex as the Douglas J.
This page also shares information on how to register a domain name, why you should integrate a disclaimer on your website and it shares which countries in Europe allow you to adopt the opt-in approach when it comes to asking permission to use cookies. But you should also make sure you are familiair with national and European rules in terms of customer rights and shipping goods across Europe.
So, back to Skelton’s suggestion, is there a hierarchy of interest among graphical value-encoding methods, and, if so, does it trump perceptibility? I have no problem with the fact that packed bubble charts are eye-catching; they trouble me because once they catch your eye they have little to say for themselves. As a Vancouver resident, I would want to know how this year was different from the past and not just the numbers of people, but also the amounts that they were paid. I subscribe to this publication to show my support for expert journalism and to do what I can to keep it alive. They could be very specific in the headline, tell you the gist of the story in a few words and put that on the front page, but they don’t. What the bubble chart is saying is “Hey, it seem the health care is very big, want to know more?
But its okay to include them, and a great designer should not be denied those tools even if they are very easy to misuse. Be always wary, Stephen, of generalizing too much your knowledge of data visualization to domain that have different problems and requirements.
You don’t need to generate demand for an informative chart by first showing one that is uninformative. I should let you know, however, that when I visit a bar, which I do to drink wine with friends quite often, I go to one that is well lit, with comfortable seats, and quiet music so we can enjoy one another without distraction. Dress the speaker up in a clown outfit and have him do a dance and I might find him entertaining, but not in a way that provides anything useful beyond entertainment. What’s odd is the fact that Amanda is one of the few infographic designers who are capable of displaying data in ways that are beautiful without compromising the integrity of the data. When pointing out to my fellow management consulting colleagues how rubbish it actually was (ie had no utility), I received much skepticism — they *liked* it (ie it had significance), therefore it just had to be useful.
That didn’t happen and it is in such poor condition that it will now have to be completely pulled up, and at an exponentially higher price than if we had kept up with it,” said Oravits.
Then you have the tourists in town, all of which means some potential longer waits in traffic.
If a reporter expressed information this miserably in words his job would be in jeopardy, but we give graphics a pass, treating them like decoration rather than content.
They are trying to engage you and draw you in with *just enough* information to pique your interest, but not enough information to satisfy your interest. Perhaps Skelton displayed it as packed bubbles rather than a bar graph to camouflage the fact that the information is rather limp. I would argue that they should even have made the graphic less clear, by removing the scale and using more muted colour for the other departments : they are not here to be evaluated themselves, they are only here to provide a point of comparison. Similarly, people who actually use data to better understand the world prefer charts that present information clearly, accurately, and richly over those that leave us with a hangover the next morning, wishing we’d used our brains instead.
Cheng introduced Wall, a former Flagstaff resident, to the crowd of hundreds at the grand opening. Dressing up a chart in glitter and spangles to generate interest that doesn’t exist in the information itself treats readers disrespectfully. Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours later praised Wall, saying, “When I graduated from law school, I went to work for Doug [at Magnum, Wall, Stoops and Warden PLLC]. Likewise, a powerpoint slide that is shown for only 5 seconds don’t have the same requirement as an annual report.



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