Sunday, June 17, 2012

the power of simple text

When we think of showing data, typically our brains go first to tables and graphs. But let's not forget about simple text. When you have just a number or two, showing the numbers themselves can be much more powerful than burying them in a table or graph: beyond potentially misleading by doing so, putting just a couple numbers into a table or graph causes them to lose some of their "umph".

For a quick case in point, let's look at an example. Let's say we just surveyed our users on whether they'd like to see us make changes to our services. There are a number of ways we could visualize the responses to these questions. In Excel, we might end up with something like this:


Not surprisingly, I wouldn't recommend a pie here (or in general). But rather than the horizontal bar chart you see me  so often replacing them with, in this situation I'd recommend skipping your graphing application altogether and opting for simple text. Perhaps something like the following:



Note how the pie chart underemphasizes the piece we want to focus on, since the 9% who responded yes are dwarfed by the 88% who don't see a need for change. When we use simple text on the other hand, the number 9% can be emphasized with preattentive attributes (color, size) to make it clear both that it's important and the focal point of our story.

2 comments:

  1. This is, I think, one situation where a pie could be useful, though not as presented here. If you called out the 9% in one color and the other two in muted greys, it could provide a clear visual impact to go along with your statement.

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