One man’s green is another man’s red

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

All school children learn: Go with green. Stop at red. Green is good. Red is bad. Stick to this and you’re less likely to be run over. Traffic lights are simple. Prices are not. For some it’s good if soybeans and wheat, coffee beans and cattle, stocks and money become more expensive. Others prefer it if things get cheaper.

Commodities: Prices of future contracts with the most open interest. - Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010-09-27, page 26.
Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010–09–27, page 26.

The Wall Street Journal used to see it that way, too. For resources, indices, and stocks, the price went down in dark gray and up in light gray. It was easy to differentiate and read. You could form an opinion on your own. Now resources and indices are green if they become more expensive. And red if they become cheaper.

Dear schoolchildren, sadly the adult world is more difficult than traffic lights. Look left and right before you cross the street. Even if the traffic lights are green. Dear chart designers, use more gray.

Major players and benchmarks, StoxxEurope50: Friday's best and worst. - Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010-09-27, page 25.
Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010–09–27, page 25.

Behind bars

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

In many charts you see changing backgrounds, colors, contrasts. They should separate what is side-by-side. But they connect what is separated. The eye looks out for meaning.

The Wall Street Journal wants to point out: Which quarters are a year. This works and is stylish. But: It connects 2006 with 2008 and 2010. And 2007 with 2009.

Quarterly change in output per hour at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. - Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010-05-07, page 9.
Source: Wall Street Journal, 2010–05–07, page 9.

The WAMS doesn´t point out anything. Background bars as stripes are CI. Because: Everything gets striped. Sometimes that replaces a scale. In the picture on the right every stripe is five wide. Bars and stripes build checks. That is not stylish. In other pictures every stripe is CI. They unite what does not belong together.

The rise of renewable energy sources. - Source: Welt am Sonntag,2010-02-21, page 25.
Source: Welt am Sonntag,2010–02–21, page 25. From left to right: Compensation for electricity fed into the grid for renewable energy in Bn Euro, Compensation for electricity fed into the grid for solar electricity in Cent/KWh, Electricity Generation 2009 in Terawatt hours (TWh)

Diagrams and CI don´t get along well.


Monday, February 15th, 2010

Perspective is: You want to show space. On paper. That is 2D. But it should look like space. Many use 3D. Perspective also is: How large something appears when it is a certain distance away. And vice versa. Works great.

Big bailout: The U.S. has spent about $121 billion so far to support AIG. - Source: Wall Street Journal Europe, 2009-12-28, p. 14.
Source: Wall Street Journal Europe, 2009–12–28, p. 14.

Look at the skyscrapers. Work great, too. Manhattan? Funny: The Skyscrapers are not in the same street. Where are they? That’s confusing. Is the fourth half the size of the second one? Could be. 17 and 34. Somehow looks different. Because of the perspective. We should compare the lengths of the edges. One edge is enough for that. Here we have eight too much.

Besides, it looks like a timeline. But isn’t one.

Ping pong for the eyes

Friday, January 15th, 2010

He wrote about the Wall Street Journal. The European issue. And the facelift from 2009–11–17. Ha. He should have taken a look at the issue from 2009–11–13:

Source: Wall Street Journal Europe, 2009–11–13, p. 26.

You have to add up the overlaps to get the point. The colors are no better. You have to learn: Samsung is always on top. But has changing colors. The same as the competitor. But that is patterned. The competitors’ bars are pale at the end. Anyway, you have to add that. Ok, than I just read the numbers. Now my eyes go left-right, left-right, left-right, left-right.
The designer deserves the same. Once left, once right. Vigorously.

Good design without mercy: all unnecessary removed

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Legends are mostly unnecessary. Instead: get to the data. Look, that’s what they’ve done here for the dollar and percentage signs. And for the scale info.

Source: Wall Street Journal, 2006–11–21, p. C4

Also unnecessary: repetitions. One dollar sign and one percentage sign are enough.

You can reduce skillfully: 2000, 02, 03 etc.

Reference lines really can help sometimes. If they visually increase the relative deviations. That’s what they do in the middle graph.

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.

Good news from Wall Street

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The Wall Street Journal (2008–10–23) does it right. Nothing chopped off. The Royal Bank of Scotland in free fall. Nearly 14 %. You see it. The disaster as long as the column wide.

In the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ, 2008–10–23) 29 out of 50 bars for the Stoxx index end trembling in haze.

The reason: To spare nervous investors a lot of stress the SZ cuts everything above 5 %. Consequently, the 15.25 % lost by Repsol, too. Soothing. But nonsense.

Dear SZ, now that you are using beautiful graphical tables, why don’t you use them correctly?

Leading data graphics

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

For the time being, the best data graphics come from the American elite papers. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post provide clean graphs, free of chart junk and information dense.

The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal

Welt am Sonntag is close. Only the alternating background colors are nonsense. They change contrast and message. What is the message? Is it nicer in the light areas? What do I do wrong when I enter the dark areas?

Welt am Sonntag

Nonetheless: Thank you WAMS! The others make me cry anyway.