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Complex Visualisation Data Diagrams Math & Statistics Visualisation

Charts: the horror of three dimensions

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We have really cool tools to make information and data visible, I find joy in beautiful visualisation of complex information. I see, I learn. But here is what makes me furious: three-dimensional charts. Never, ever make diagrams and charts 3D. NEVER. Here is why:

Graphs, diagrams and maps are tools to ask questions. Sometimes they are used to make strategic, academic and personal choices.

When did sales drop? When did child mortality increase? Did a war influence this? When did product A beat product B in income? Where do people vote for candidate X? Is there a correlation between company revenue and expansion? …and on and on.

Bar chart

This is pretty clear why this one is not a good idea. The distortion is not massive, but it is there. It makes 1998 look measly; more measly than needed. A chart is supposed to – and in its very nature – give us some sort of fixed point from which to navigate.

 

horrible bar chart

horrible bar chart

horrible bar chart

horrible bar chart

Here, someone has attempted to rectify the problem above by at least adding a scale on the axis. It is still impossible to really read; to get to grips with the core data. And what is that thing with the placement of years?! Someone should be knocked over the head with a brick.

Line chart

And what on earth is going on here?! What is wrong with clear, simple lines? The “box” itself, with the delightful mint-greenish colour has, the opposite perspective from the product “bands”. I can only assume that someone tried to make a see-through box with graphs inside. To read this thing, you have to find the markers on the “bands”: The pink has squares, the blue has diamonds and the orange has triangles. That is the data-points! It is interesting to see what goes on when two bands intersect. The points where they do would be interesting places; to find the figure in $. I challenge you to find the exact number of dollars in those places, and I challenge you to be absolutely certain of your finding. Highly offensive; an insult to data.

horrible line chart

horrible line chart

This is delightful in a horrid sort of way. It is “interactive” and therefore gets the sheen of “important”, “correct”. What a load of bollocks. It is pretty much impossible to get any sort of overview. Correlation, comparison impossible. You could be fooled to think that this thing contains more information than a straightforward  line-graph, and technically it has x, y, z. It renders me speechless, really, I do not know where to start. You can get details by hovering, but you cannot get a general view. Interestingly, the “extra” axis contains information that is also supplied in the legend. Find the band that represents “Processor queue length” without using the colour coding.

horrible line chart

horrible line chart

I really do not know what to say. This is a horrid concoction of colours, masquerading as information and data.

Pie chart

And then there is the all-time favourite, the pie chart. 3D piecharts should be hit in the face repeatedly. 3D exploded piecharts should be shot. Centred exploded piecharts should be hung, drawn and quartered. I bet you have seen stuff like this:

horrible 3d pie chart

horrible 3d pie chart

 

Right. I recreated it using the percentages. Compare them:

pie chart

pie chart

Then I 3D-ed it:

horrible 3d pie chart

horrible 3d pie chart

I exploded it as per the original, with the slices meeting in the centre. The spaces between the slices are not uniform…:

horrible exploded 3d pie chart

horrible exploded 3d pie chart

Then reverse the 3D, and we are left with this. See the problem…

exploded pie chart 2d-d

exploded pie chart 2d-d

Reattaching the slices it turns out we have lost something like 20% of the piechart. Nice job.

exploded 3D piechart reassembled

exploded 3D piechart reassembled

 

This is why you should never use 3D in charts. If you do, after having read this, I will come to your house and poo in your mailbox.

 

benteh

“Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is”. All-round nerd with a tendency to poke things with a stick to see what happens. Doodler, artist, bookbinder, photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, web developer.

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