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

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

Bella Reporting Standards

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The day before yesterday Rolf and I raged again. We took apart annual reports of large corporate groups. We made fun of tachometers. We showed how charts lie. We established rules. We defined standards. Some of the rules are in the example. Time runs from left to right. Only structure is shown top-down. We don’t use funny patterns. We label directly. We never label twice. We avoid legends and scales.

Rules for charts

Charts show profits (Gewinne) of TUI AG, a major German company for tourism (Touristik, red), shipping (Schifffahrt, blue), and logistics.

Major German Newspaper loves „Bella Reporting Standards“

Friday, February 29th, 2008

The German Newspaper “Die Süddeutsche” uses graphic tables in its online edition. They show positive and negative deviations. In the same direction. Here, they always quarrel about that. Pro: It’s easy to compare absolute values. It saves space. Contra: You have to learn it first. And you need color.

Stripes are a la mode. No, no, no – forbidden! They emphasize where there is nothing to emphasize. Get rid of them. Lean is beautiful. This goes for bars, too. Just 9 pixels high instead of 14. The idea of graphs in tables is that of wordlike graphics. Graphs as large as a word. Bars don’t need to be larger than the text around them.

Graphic tables in German newspaper DIE SUEDDEUTSCHE

Know what: Sparklines are missing, too. They are the archetype of wordlike graphics. Read their pattern (“SAP came back from a deep fall and now drifts sideways”) or segment by segment (“VW dropped, went sideways, climbed steep, dropped very fast, climbed very steep, dropped again, climbed ever steeper…”). They offer information otherwise unavailable. To be precise: the table had 20 values, now has 440 values. Information density has increased by a factor of 22.

P.S. The sparklines show values from 2007–12–28 to 2008–02–28. You might dispute scaling, e.g. here.

The yellow river – only common to the Chinese

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Rolf had a great idea: A map is easy to understand, because rivers are blue and forest is green. It took a while before everyone acknowledged that.

Map with partly inverted colors
Maps are understood, if they adhere to the common notation

In business reporting one day values, currencies, periods and variances are graphed this way and that way the other day. Rolf insists that months are less wide than quarters and quarters are less wide than years.

Map with partly inverted colors

If such a notation is used consistently, graphical elements not only illustrate proportions but reveal additional content at a glance. This is a milestone in advancing communication between controllers and managers.

Speaking of color: For the Chinese red is a sign of good luck, while in the West it is a sign of danger. But that’s a different story.

Rich tables for high resolution reporting

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

What is better: tables or charts? That was discussed in the past. Some said a chart is worth a thousand words. I think a picture is worth a thousand words. And most charts need a thousand words to be explained. They are so awful, mostly. Because it is so hard to standardize a chart and there are lots of things that can go wrong. Bissantz loves graphic tables. Me too. Charts are tightly integrated into tables. You have the best of both worlds in one concept. Graphic tables are easy to standardize and you can integrate almost every chart type in a table. Sparklines provide time-series. Horizontal bars are good for almost all types of comparisons. Graphic tables maximize data-to-ink ratio. They are fine grained and with high resolution. The graphical elements provide easy orientation for your eyes. The numbers provide all the details. Typical problems of legends and labeling never arise. I provided some examples in the “Radar chart trap” and in “Small things that make a big difference”. Today, I explain how to create waterfall charts in tables.

A waterfall chart is a variant of a bar chart. It shows how an initial value is changed through other values which lead to a final value. In Excel, you can use invisible columns but this is tricky. Rolf has a nice Excel template for free. Data entry is not so easy. Formatting is very nice.

GM scheme Hichert

Jon has programmed an Excel add-in. Formatting is not so easy. Data entry is very nice.

GM scheme Peltier

In both cases a chart is the result. If you turn it around it is still readable, perhaps even better.

GM scheme turned

Turned around it fits perfectly into a graphic table. Subtotals are also easy. This is how Bissantz has done it in DeltaMaster.

GM scheme in Pivot

It is possible in Excel, too. Just use the REPT function and a few tricks. I show you how in an example Excel sheet.

DB-Scheme inExcel

Vivi is lost

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

My friend Vivi has disappeared. The New York Times helps to find her. They packed everything they know about Vivi into a single graphic, adhering to my reporting standards. Photo, text, data, graphics – everything is integrated, in order to provide information about places, time, frequency and circumstances. ET would say: Beautiful Evidence!


New York Times, Saturday, Nov 18th, 2006, page B2.

Bella Reporting Standards

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

Welcome to my blog. My name is Bella. I am the office dog at Bissantz & Company in Nürnberg, Germany. ET says everybody should use my reporting standards.

Source: Edward R. Tufte, Beautiful Evidence, Cheshire 2006, page 43.
Source: Edward R. Tufte, Beautiful Evidence, Cheshire 2006, page 43.

For instance, you can label things directly, even in photos. There is no need for circumstantial legends. Every legend codes something which later needs to be decoded again. That’s no fun unless you are a secret service agent.

Bella's growth