Competent with media

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

It’s the school’s fault. They say so. But not here: most information designers create junk charts when using areas. In 7th grade kids learn how it is right and wrong. It makes them competent with media.

Fl├Ąchengrafiken in der 7. Klasse
Lambacher Schweizer: Mathematik für Gymnasien 7, p. 122. (click for translation)

Teachers have their book with solutions. On page 81 it says:

left: essentially a column chart – one car symbol represents 10,000 cars; reasonable
right: length and height increase by 66 %; perception is distorted, because the area is doubled

Now, I wish more competent media to all kids competent with media.

Listen to the pattern II

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Johannes Kreidler gives time series a sound. I did that two years ago. In fact, I copied it from him*.

I guess Johannes wants to make fun of the crisis. Businesses take this very seriously. Your human ear is a lot faster than your eye. The eyes see what the ears have already heard. Such as a ranking with one high, some middle and a lot of small values. A very characteristic sound pattern. Possibly irritating. But that is good. You think about it.

This is the sound of some of the data from his video without fun:

Lehman Brothers

General Motors


My old sparklines with new data:

Click on the speaker symbol to hear the crisis.

* Source: Bissantz, Nicolas: Innovative Produkte: DeltaMiner. In: WIRTSCHAFTSINFORMATIK 43 (2001) 1, pp. 77–80.

Deceiving with diapers

Monday, March 30th, 2009

The magazine CHIP from Munich reports:

“Believe it or not, most discount stores put beer and diapers fairly close to each other.”

That’s due to Data Mining. Because: Young men come. Sent by young women. They forgot to buy diapers. The men find that inane and take beer with them. Wal Mart has known that for a long time. And put the beer close to the diapers. And made a fortune.

I don’t get it. Beer and diapers used to sell together. Before they stood together. Why should they be together now? Earning money only with beer and diapers? Why not beer on every shelf? What do women do now? How do they find diapers?

He says (and he has won again because of Data Mining) that it’s all a lie, CHIP is hallucinating. So I explored a discount store in Nuremberg.

Beer and diapers in a discount store
In this discount store (Aldi), beer and diapers are placed together. Because of Data Mining?

Aha. Believe it or not, beer and diapers are located just opposite each other. Bicycles and toothbrushes, too. Then I went to the next discount store. There it is 23 meters from diapers to beer. I wanted to take a photo there as well. But I was thrown out.

Then I asked him. He says: Data Mining is about correlations in shopping baskets. But that doesn’t say anything about placement. Some things bought together are better placed far away from each other. People then pass by lots of things that they might also buy.

That sounds good: a bicycle for example.


Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I like the German journal Auto Motor Sport. First I liked the chart from Thursday (6/2009, p. 130), too. Then it felt strange: arrows for security at Mercedes and quality at Opel indicate nearly identical relative changes (-26 % and –25%). But they are so different. I painted them correctly in orange. I used 45° degrees for a change of 100 %.

I fear for the designer. He won’t get a job with Daimler. Although with Opel. But they don’t have any. And Toyota’s Ninjas are on his heels.

In case he survives: arrows are reserved for trends. What was in 2006, 2007, 2008? And: all arrows seem to start from the same level. But that is not true. I offer 5 $ compensation for this wreck.

Africa Reporting Standards

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I visited my friend Namib. He lives at the Epupa Falls. They are in the North of Namibia, on the border to Angola. By day he tends goats. In the evenings he thinks about visualization.

Namib at work The village's soccer stadium Frankfurt, Germany, straight on for 8951 km

Bella, symbols are for worse, you say. That is why we create them as analog as possible. You cannot misinterpret:

Elephants might cross anytime Warthogs might cross anytime Springboks might fly over anytime

Our design is simple, organic and as close to the object as possible. Left: markings for road workers. Middle: a signal that this Himba village does not welcome visitors. Right: sign for a tire repair station.

Not larger than this Leave us alone Tire repair shop in Puros

We adhere to your Bella Reporting Standards and label directly, without decoration:

Find the cash box below the arrow Barber's shop in Opuwo The bigger of two shops in Palmwag

Understanding outplays beauty:

Still 36 km of gravel to go Sesfontein gas station

Sincerely yours, Namib

Double spam

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

At November 18th I received this email. Unasked. They cannot blame Excel’s diagram wizard for that. It likes to chop axes. But not always. And not with this data.

The eigth commandment is our first

Monday, December 15th, 2008

On November 18th, msn news asked me: “How well do you score in the PISA test?” I click and answer questions on caries, evolution and the Earth’s rotation. My brain hurts. Poor students.

After wind turbines and slivers of marble in vinegar: question 6 on Windows, question 7 on Word. At the end, antibiotics and dancing bees. 2 out of 9 questions on Microsoft. Peesa in Amerieca? Dear Microsoft, did you cheat?

Question 6 in the German msn PISA test: Does PISA ask for Windows?

A German one without Microsoft here. I got 16.

Flashy? Not with the Journal

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Obama times: Yes we draw. Bars as long as they actually are. No problem at all in Obama country:

The Wall Street Journal draws them over the whole page (click for full view).

In the German newspaper Die Welt, the chart has been struck by lightning (left: original, right: me). The flash makes the chart absurd. A table would be better. On the right I drew how it should be.

Wall Street Journal, 2006–11–21, p. C4; Die Welt, 2008–08–13, p. 26.

Symbols for worse

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Symbols are difficult. In most cases they don’t work. Some of them have to be learnt. It takes longer than reading something you already know – e.g. a word.

Awkward symbols make me sad. The arrow is beside the beautiful river Saône, in beautiful Burgundy:

Source: me

Should you follow the arrow?
Do you have to follow the arrow?
Are you allowed to, if you are careful?

And here from the magazine “Der Spiegel” – oh boy:

Source: Der Spiegel 29/2008, 2008–07–21, p. 65

Oh boy, because: Americans are rigorous with everything concerning their flag.
For instance: whoever wants to be president needs to wear it on the revers.
I don’t think that the editors of Der Spiegel are allowed to enter the US any longer.
Even my flag looks best non-shrunk and non-stretched.

And that:

Source: Wirtschaftswoche 27, 2008–06–30, p. 104

From now on: whenever we see three stars, we know the company will soon be part of the DAX stock index.
One means: probably not.
Says the German magazine “Wirtschaftswoche”.
I am not sure.
Will that be accepted?

I believe for most symbols the rule is:
No entry.

Paper too short

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

More than 70 percent of German citizens are satisfied with Angie. With Guido Westerwelle 39. With Oskar Lafontaine 19. Helmut of Focus magazine likes Angie. A lot. That’s why Focus calculates 71 divided by 19 as 6.7 and not 3.7. The 19 of Oskar is 1 cm from the bottom line. If drawn correctly, Angie’s 71 percent would have been at 3.7 cm of the scale. They are not. They are at 6.7 cm. Exaggeration factor 1.8. Nearly double wrong. If the paper is too short, you can scale down. You must not chop.

This is Angie - Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. This is Guido Westerwelle, leader of the German party FDP (Free Democratic Party). This is Kurt Beck, leader of the German party SPD (Social Democratic Party). This is Erwin Huber, leader of the German party CSU (Christian Social Union). This is Oskar Lafontaine, leader of the German party Die Linke (Left Party).

Angie, Guido, Kurt, Erwin, and Oskar
Source: Focus 20/2008, May 10th, 2008, p. 16.

I prefer that over Sudoku: Take any newspaper and estimate the exaggeration, then measure it.

The labels are odd, too. Guido is not labeled. Kurt is labeled Guido. Erwin is labeled Oskar. Oskar is labeled Erwin. (Hover over the portraits to see who’s who.)

I am going to ask Focus what they think they are doing. Dear Focus, what do you think you are doing?

You must not chop

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Again. My law of proportion. The idea of a chart is: Display proportions between values with proportions of length. Proportional. Proportional. Proportional. You can ignore it. You can also lick out an empty bowl. If you are a rather dumb dog.

I yowled on cheating grids for time axis already. They manipulate. This one is even more elaborate. At first glance you think: a nice man, admits he hasn’t got the data. Wrong. He says: “I tease you but I admit it”. Remove 2001. It suggests that 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 have been the same as 2001. Were they, really?

Source: Euro 06/07, p. 42.

This is Howard’s rule „Ignore the visual metaphor altogether” in action. The data doesn’t fit on paper but I show it. A graph doesn’t fit on your paper? Use a table.

Source: Wirtschaftswoche 27, 2008–06–30, p. 82.

I like „Die Süddeutsche“. Its the first newspaper with graphic tables in the stock market section. And now this. The most interesting information – the outliers, the hotshots and the losers, that what you need to know: hidden. I’ll be on vacation.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2008–07–16.

Where was it, this New Caledonia?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Everyone starts into their vacation. We take a map with us. Maps show wherefrom, whereto, how long, how far, how mountainous, next to what, where can you swim, sleep, refuel. Where Lothar Mathäus is playing football. The Tour de France doesn’t go in circles. Where Robert, Nick, Nico, Timo and Sebastian drive at 320km/h. Where new oil is found. A classic: Netanya? New Caledonia? Where was it?

Source: WAMS no. 27, 2008–07–06, p. 19 and 77.

Impossible without a map: where to where? Chic: the „when“ is there, too.

Source: WAMS no. 27, 2008–07–06, p. 21.

As many elements as variables, perfect.

Source: Motorsport Total

As soon as numbers are in, its difficult. Area and value don’t get along well. It’s merely bearable. We had this issue before. Chic, but superficial. How many states? How many electoral votes?

Source: WAMS 23, 2008–06–08, p. 2.

My Tipp: Show where in the map. Show how much in a table. That’s safe. Like that. Old, new, where, who else. You compare and analyze. Nice.

Source: Die ZEIT 25, 2008–06–12, p. 21.

Under no circumstances: decoration in a map. It ruins everything. Until I recognized what the yellow things meant. Oh dear! Cornfields? Deserts? No. The symbol for radio activity. Nuclear desasters? Contaminated areas? No. Just a little bit of deco …

Source: Die ZEIT 29, 2008–07–10, p. 6.

Zebras let your eyes spin

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Today the 24 hours of Le Mans end. Many cars raced around in circles for very long. Me too. With my eyes. In the journal Auto Motor Sport (issue 13, June 5th, 2008, inlay p. 6–19). Data for Audi on page 10. Data for Peugeot on page 12. I keep on skimming back and forth. Then wham: paw on top and both tables are where they belong: side by side.

Le Mans article with my paw

Now its making me real dizzy. Two zebras. One starts its gallop with grey the other with white.


The eye combines identical things. It hops from grey to grey and from white to white. The eye presumes meaning. But there is none. Besides that: low contrast, bad to read.

A picture triggers more than 1000 questions, not?

Friday, May 30th, 2008

From the chart I read that from 1999 till last year the number of passangers increased to sparkline_passagiere.png 2.2 bn. During the same period there have been lately per 1 million flights  0.75 total write-offs for airplanes. The German journal “Der SPIEGEL” sticks to rule 13 vor demolishing charts: Embellish whatever you want to say with numbers that tell a different story!

In the text SPIEGEL says: For the first time since 1998 (yes!) there are more total write-offs than the year before. “Flying is secure but starts to become insecure is the statistic’s story. And some flight experts see a dangerous new trend”. I never fly. I am only interested in graphs. That should look like that:

The difference between national/international is ignored by the author, so we don’t need it. Scale and guiding lines don’t help either. Values all the more. AND INCLUDE THE MESSAGE. Not bad.

(Chart: SPIEGEL 22/2008, p. 147, Redesign: ME)

Good old Times

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Many cut axes just because of Excel. And go to charting hell. Because when you cut you distort. And when you distort you lie. At least with your graph. The graphical change in your data is no longer proportional to the change in values. He explains it quite well with a demolished graph from the SportAuto magazine. Here is a positive example. From the German newspaper “Die ZEIT”. This newspaper is off the mark sometimes, too.

Strike at the German Post, information on market share and letter volume
Die ZEIT, 2008–04–30, p. 37, market share of Deutsche Post (left) and number of letters in Germany in billions (right)

All my rules are observed. Time runs from left to right. Scale starts at zero. The graph is proportional to its values. No exaggeration. No gadgets. No unnecessary percentage signs. Letters in billions, not in single pieces.

In the same issue another good graph. Structure is shown top-down. Labeling where it belongs: next to the columns. At least for the values. I would have left out the series “andere” (“others”). The dots, too.

The demand for academics rises, data on the automotive sector in Germany
Die ZEIT, 2008–04–30, p. 78, academics in the automotive sector, for automobile manufacturers and suppliers