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EX 2  Replace inappropriate visualizations


Inappropriate visualizations make it hard to perceive the message. Knowing the correct usage of object types helps in replacing inappropriate visualizations, such as pie charts, speedometer visualizations, radar charts, and spaghetti charts, with those chart types better suited.


EX 2.1  Replace pie and ring charts

Pie and ring charts are circular charts dividing some total into sectors of relative proportion, but there are better ways to illustrate the numerical proportions of segments, e.g. bar charts or charts with stacked columns, see figure SUCCESS rule EX 2.1.


Pie charts allow for one-dimensional analyses only, and therefore seldom convey revealing insights. However, some useful applications for pie charts exist, for example when market sizes and/or market shares for one period need to be allocated to certain regions on a map (see the CHECK rule CH 3.3 "Avoid misleading colored areas in maps"). As opposed to column or bar charts, pie charts can be positioned on a specific point on a map.


EX 2.2  Replace gauges, speedometers

Often found as part of a so-called dashboard, speedometers are probably one of the most useless visualizations out there. They take up way too much space and have often confusing color coding and scaling. In general, bar charts showing the respective structures or columns charts showing the respective development over time are better choices, see figure SUCCESS rule EX 2.2.


EX 2.3  Replace radar and funnel charts

So-called radar charts (also called net charts or spider charts) are frequently used for evaluating purposes. Having no advantage over bar charts and having, actually, many weaknesses, use them only for two-dimensional analyses (e.g. comparing young-old with rich-poor). Willard C. Brinton wrote almost 100 years ago[1]: “This type of chart should be banished to the scrap heap. Charts on rectangular ruling are easier to draw and easier to understand.”


Of course, if the circular arrangement has meaning (such as the compass direction), this kind of chart can be very valuable, but these types of analysis are not typical in business reporting.


Funnel charts are misleading when the size of the area displayed does not correspond to the respective numerical values – an issue applying also to other artificial chart forms (e.g. spheres) in which the length, area, or volume do not correspond to the numerical values.


EX 2.4  Replace spaghetti charts

A chart with more than three or four intersecting lines (“spaghetti chart”) can be more confusing than several smaller charts with one line each placed next to one another (small multiples), particularly when evaluating the shape or the trend of the lines, see figure SUCCESS rule 2.4.


However, when needing to compare exactly the height of data points of several lines, spaghetti charts cannot be avoided.


EX 2.5 Replace traffic lights

“Traffic lights” with green, red, and yellow areas are a popular form of visualization but contain little information per area used. However, they can be used for analyses showing “yes or no” decisions or situations similar to real traffic lights. In all other cases replace them with more suitable means of (analog) representation such as bar charts, see figure SUCCESS rule EX 2.5.






[1] Brinton, Willard C.: Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts, 1914(!), page 80



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