Archive for the ‘Graph Fail’ Category

As part of our continuing series to critique a selection of graphs and charts, we have selected this wonderful pyramid column chart, based on an actual graph we saw in a real report prepared by another firm we are too polite to name.  The Bunker takes a lot of pride in reporting and data visualization, and every now and again we’ll come across an item that makes us cringe.  On that note…

There are a couple different things that immediately popped to mind when taking a look at this graph:

  • The numbers don’t add up – There are only two numbers displayed and they don’t add to 100%.  It’s likely that there were ‘no replies’ in the question and they weren’t removed from the ‘total responses.’  If for some reason you really don’t want to calculate your percentages that way and your graph doesn’t add to 100% as a result – you should at least footnote the reason why.
  • Two extra columns – There are two unexplained blanks columns in this graph (on the right side).  This is probably a copy and paste job from a question that originally had four columns.  When someone spots something as simple as a formatting error, they might question what else is wrong in the report.  Always double-check your graph formatting.
  • The 3D Graph – This is more of a personal opinion, but many analysts feel that the 3D graphs take away from the data presentation.  While they might look cool, they can sometimes be misleading or hard to read (especially depending on how much the perspective/angle is changed to make the graph appear to be 3D). Ultimately, these 3D graphs are a bit more difficult to read/comprehend than a simple 2D graph.   While this one isn’t particularly bad as some others we’ve seen (at least we can see the data), we feel this simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question might be better displayed with a 2D Pie Chart, and you won’t have to pay extra for 3D goggles.  Pie charts are usually great for displaying a few categories that add to 100%.

Here in the Bunker, we’ll always stress the importance of data visualization and continuously work to improve the way we present our data to clients.  The whole reason we use graphs instead of plain numerical data in the first place is so that the data can be understood easily and put into perspective by the reader.  Developing a report is arguably the most important part of the research process, especially from a client perspective.   It is the final deliverable they are expecting from your market research firm and it’s the keynote product of a service-based business.

Do you have some graph fail suggestions for the RMS Research Bunker to feature?  Leave them in our comment section below.

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This post is the second in a new series on the Bunker Blog. Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is featuring some select charts and graphs that we come across in our daily routines that we believe represent failures in data visualization. As always, we have reconstructed these graphing disasters and generalized the titles and labels to shield the original perpetrators from shame and ourselves from hate mail and lawsuits.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will state upfront that I have a general personal bias against 3D effects in graphs. I believe they tend to call too much attention to the graphic elements to the point of distracting from the data. I think they also give reports cornball, “Gee whiz, look what I can do with PowerPoint!” feel, much like the person who uses 15 different fonts of assorted colors and type sizes in a document just because they can. And being a child of the 70s and 80s, it’s impossible for me to see really obvious 3D graphics without being reminded of the original Superman movie opening credits.

That said, I fully admit that my bias against 3D graphs is largely a matter of personal taste. Many will disagree. But one type of 3D graph that I have issues with, beyond mere aesthetics, is the 3D column graph that finds its way into many research reports and PowerPoint presentations. I was reminded of these issues recently when doing some online research and coming across such a report. There are a couple of problems with this graph format:

  1. They are often complicated and cannot be processed intuitively in an immediate first glance; and
  2. The data often gets obscured amid all the multi-dimensional clutter.

The first point speaks for itself, but I want to elaborate on the second. Below is an example of a 3D column graph that displays some fictional survey results from a series of rating questions about various restaurant attributes. This is a slightly exaggerated version of the real graph that inspired this post.

Graph Fail

The columns in the front are in the way of the ones in the back. It’s impossible to see some of the results as displayed here. But, if we rotate the axes around, it should fix the problem, right? Well, here’s a rotated view of the same data.

Graph FailThis is better, but we still have some of the taller columns blocking our view, like the guy in front of you at the concert who insists on standing on his seat the entire show.  If we rotate it again, we can make the view a little better, but we’ve still got some hidden data. In the graph below, how many survey respondents rated the atmosphere as “good” or “okay”? It’s very hard to tell.

Graph FailThe bottom line? If you like 3D effects and feel the need to use a 3D column graph in a report, just be careful that you’re not hiding important information toward the back of your graph behind a skyscraper column up front. And even if that isn’t an issue, think about how easy the chart will be to interpret  for the end-user, who is seeing the data for the first time. Just because a graph looks cool doesn’t mean it’s an effective way to make your data tell a story.  In the end, a simple, well-presented two-dimensional graph should be enough to make your findings jump off the page all by themselves.

Have a nominee for a Graph Fail?  Contact us by clicking here.

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As part of a new series on the Bunker Blog, Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) will feature some select charts and graphs that we come across in our daily routines. Data visualization is one of our strong interests here on the RMS Analytics team and we take a lot of pride in making our graphs and charts visually appealing, easy to understand, and designed to drive home key points. Every now and again we will run across charts and graphs that are equivalent to a Graph or Chart Fail. We most commonly come across these charts and graphs through secondary research online.

We have reconstructed these graphing disasters and generalized the titles and labels to protect the innocent (or the guilty depending on how you look at it).

Market Research Pie ChartThere are a few reasons that we think this qualifies as a graphing disaster. First, there are just way too many categories/slices in this pie chart.  We try to limit our pie charts to three or four slices at the max, if you have a need for more than three or four, you may want to think about using a bar chart or grouping the smaller percentage categories into ‘other.’ Subsequently, the color choices for the chart seem to be all over the board because of the number of categories.  The three 0% slices for ‘Radio,’ ‘Email,’ and ‘Facebook’ are needless. There is too much information displayed here and clearly the pie chart is not the best option. Another minor tip would be to use white font as labels for the darker portions of the pie chart. I’m also not quite sure what the 3D effect adds to the viewer’s experience either. On the positive side, at least the aggregate adds to 100%, something we’ve seen other pie charts unable to accomplish.

What is the key point from this chart for your client? For instance, if the business spent $100,000 on a series of newspaper advertisements and PR activities to generate newspaper stories as means to build awareness and sign-up, it would appear the campaign did not do very well (as only 3% mentioned those sources combined). Or another key takeaway could be that a total of 60% of respondents stated that either a friend or family member were the motivator to sign-up – so it appears that grass-roots campaigns contribute to the majority of sign-ups.

Let us know what you think of our first graphic disaster in the comment section below. We’d welcome your opinion(s)!

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