Hi, I agree with Rolf, I think the "lollipops" are correct. I have noticed that some people are still using the old notation from 2013 with the markers colored in red/green (it used to be called "Needles") or even an older one, where the drop line is black and the markers are red/green (do not do that please...)
Since I was the one who suggested that this is not OK and am thus responsible for this change back in IBCS 1.0, I am uploading the original PowerPoint file with a more detailed explanation:
PS. I have struggled to post my comment. I guess it was too long or had too many links and pictures. I try again to post the original PowerPoint file (some 5 years old...) with the ideas described below:
This is an impressive proposal. However I must say I am not in
favor of it for the following reasons:
1. It's too complicated (SIMPLIFY!)
2. It interferes with semantic design that has
already been well accepted (red/green for variances, open/closed for AC/BU,
3. It's not intuitive. Why would "open"
shapes suggest "flow" and closed shapes suggest "stock"?
Why is volume round and value rectangular? After all, the coins (value) are
round and the number of pcs (boxes) are rectangular...
4. It's too symbolic (I would prefer a more perceptual solution).
It could work as a pictogram system where icons are placed in front of
the measure name, but not inside charts.
I do like the idea of beginning, average and ending periods.
Only, I think the shapes should in fact be reversed: "down" triangle
for ending of the period and "up" triangle for the beginning of the
Let me propose for discussion a few alternative ideas (in order
1. Volume vs. Value
In most cases, the volume measures (quantities, units sold, pcs,
etc.) are integer numbers, so I think we need a solution that suggests counting.
Visually, this would mean repeating the same shape:
As shown in the above picture, the system works for scenarios as
well. It has it's cons and it's not very practical to implement. On the other
hand, it has been used quite often in datavis (most notably in the brilliant
work of O. von Neurath).
More importantly, this method of repetition reduces the need for
visual variables. As a consequence, we can now use the shape for
even more detailed semantics, for example: "circle" =
"headcount" (after all, our heads are more-or-less round) and
"rectangle" = "boxes" (pcs, units sold, production, etc.):
2. Good vs. Bad (Refered to as positive,
negative and neutral in the above proposal)
Good vs. bad is one of the world's oldest dichotomies. While it
could arguably be presented as red vs. green, the light vs. dark or white vs.
black is a much stronger archetype:
Not using light vs. black colors is in my personal opinion one
of the most important opportunities currently missing in IBCS.
Which brings me to the "forbidden" topic of colors ;)
Many times before I have proposed to use lighter colors for
"good" KPIs like Revenue or EBITDA and dark or completely black
colors for "bad" KPIs like Expenses. In the current IBCS version, the
"calculation" waterfall charts in EX 1.1 are still rendered in this
We had many discussions about this, I say it's time we fix it.
The color of the same KPI simply cannot change from one chart
The key argument against the use of light vs. dark colors for
good/bad is the PY notation. And while I absolutely agree that using a lighter
color for PY - I prefer to call this "faded" color - is a very smart
idea, it does present problems. The main one is that we are using two different
visual variables to code business scenarios: (1) color hue in
case of PY and (2) pattern in case of AC, FC, BU. That's the
original sin. If we would use only pattern for scenarios, then
this problem would fade away.
An absolutely trivial solution of this problem is to use the color
hue dimension for good/bad. For example using bluish or beige color
for good and spot black for bad. Then you can still apply e.g, 50% lighter
color for PY and still get visually distinct picture. Has this gone too far or
The proposal of "SEMANTIC NOTATION OF BASIC MEASURES"
completely omits the ratios. But it should not, as ratios are extremely
important KPI types in business. They are defined in UN 3.1 separately for column
and bar charts as "1/3 of category width" and "thin lines"
in line charts. I do not agree with this definition for the following reasons:
1. If possible, we should not separate the design
definitions based on chart types. Rather, we should strive to find universal
solution that work across different chart types.
2. It recommends the same visual design for Value/Volume ratios
(e.g. "Sales per capita" or for example "Price") as well as
pure Value/Value ratios (e.g. "Profit as % od sales"). This is not OK,
because in the first case the unit is for example USD/person or USD/unit, while
in the second case there is no unit, just a % value (e.g. 18% EBITDA margin).
3. In reality there are many quite different types of
ratios in business reporting, most notably:
(1) Structure % ("Portfolio
Share"): division of an element (Part) by the Whole within a category
dimension of exactly the same measure (either a volume or a value). Example: %
of Net revenue of Laptops within the total Net revenue.
(2) Pure ratio in %: Division of
two different measures of the same unit. Examples: EBIT% = EBIT in USD / Net
Sales in USD, Value market share in % = Sales in USD / Market size in USD),
Volume market share = Sales in units / Market size in units
(3) Volume/Value: "per unit"
measures, such as prices (e.g. USD/unit), Sales per capita, EBITDA/Employee,
etc. These KPIs are very different from previos two, as they have the unit,
while above two do not have a unit. This, they should not look
(4) Percentage points: The difference
between two percentages. These should be covered somewhere in UN 4.1., but I
can't find it online at the moment. As far as I know, they are supposed to have
50% column/bar width, but in my opinion this is also not OK. To be discussed.
Here's an old idea how to differentiate between the KPIs:
This proposal still seems interesting to me:
On the left chart we have revenue per unit (box or package,
that's why it's rectangular) and on the right we have revenue per
This system clearly
distinguishes between prices (value/volume) and pure ratios (% margins):
The left chart is Gross Profit (in USD) per "head"
(unit is USD/Employee) while the right one shows the Gross margin in % (Gross
Profit in USD / Net sales in USD) - no unit, pure % value.
4. Stock vs. Flow
In my opinion this one is most controversial and perhaps even
the least important. Why?
Reason #1: What exactly is flow?
Reason #2: Is "Stock" the right term?
Arguably, we do not really have any "flow" data
at all. Continuous data simply does not exist. We only have measurements in a
certain point in time. The "flow" of an indicator is just an
approximation of a series of discrete measurements, which is now explained in
EX 1.1 under Line charts.
For practical reasons: What is the real difference between
monthly values of, say, Net sales and Inventory? There is only 1 measurement
per month in both cases, however the true difference in the nature of these
KPIs, as defined in terms of business intelligence, is:
- Net sales is a (fully) additive measure
- Inventory is a semi-additive measure
(aggregatable accross all dimensions except time)
The idea of using lines and areas for "flow" and
discrete visuals like columns or dot-plots for stock appears compelling at
first sight, but how would you visualize daily inventory vs. quarterly sales?
Probably lines for daily inventory and columns for quarterly sales, right?
This will make a very interesting discussion in Barcelona. My
point is that "flow vs. stock" is not a property of
"continuum" vs. "point in time", but rather just a
different aggregation type in the time dimension ("beginning value"
vs. "end value" vs. "sum" or perhaps even
"average" or "YTD"). This is why I have mentioned in the
beginning that the idea of marking the beginning, avergae and ending points in
time looks very promising. Can we simplify it to show small dots at
the left or right side (under the chart axis) for opening/closing values,
[Of course all ratios are totally non-additive, but this is
probably not relevant for "stock vs. flow" discussion.]
May the force be with you and I'm looking forward to discuss all
this stuff in Barca (even though they're sadly out of the UEFA championship)!