Bad Visualizations

Bad Visualization

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By Andrew Disselkoen

Part of creating a good visualization involves knowing a bad visualization when you see one. 

While style is subjective, some visualizations cannot avoid leaving the viewer befuddled.  Here’s one example:


Gas Giants

David McCandless
GE (data sourced from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2010)
GE Visualization


What’s Wrong?

The only way to understand “Gas Giants” is by reading the text - the graphics lend nothing to understanding.  Differing size boxes distort the comparison between countries.  The chart intends to measure percentage of gas reserves within a country - one data dimension.  Yet, the graphic changes across two dimensions (height and width). Naturally, the mind attempts to compare volume - but this is a more difficult comparison to make.  Any comparison that could be made is confused by the arrangement of the boxes.  The white space in the lower right-hand corner leaves the viewer wondering if the designer made a mistake. 
In the end, the viewer must read the numbers to have any idea what the visualization attempts to communicate.  Since the viewer cannot understand the graphic without reading the numbers - a simple bar chart or list of numbers would have presented the information much more clearly. 

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