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“Turn a Boring Bar Graph into a 3D Masterpiece”

Jimmy sends in this.

Steps include “Make whimsical sparkles by drawing an ellipse using the Ellipse Tool,” “Rotate the sparkles . . . Give some sparkles less Opacity by using the Transparency Palette,” and “Add a haze around each sparkle by drawing a white ellipse using the Ellipse Tool.”

The punchline:

Now, the next time you need to include a boring graph in one of your designs you’ll be able to add some extra emphasis and get people to really pay attention to those numbers!

P.S. to all the commenters: Yeah, yeah, do your contrarian best and tell me why chartjunk is actually a good thing, how I’m just a snob, etc etc.

16 Comments

  1. DK says:

    “Turn a Boring Bar Graph into a 3D Pile of Steaming Crap”

    • Wouter says:

      Now, now, let’s be fair. The tutorial doesn’t actually show how to produce the steamlines. It’ll be a 3D pile of sparkling crap.

      Why does this have a zombie tag? Am I missing something, and is zombies a new collective noun for people who have no inkling of balance between information and aesthetics?

      New goal: to get into a position of power where I can fire people who think they’re doing me a favor by presenting such graphs.

      • zbicyclist says:

        I had an opening at the same time an analyst in another department was being laid off, so I took him as a replacement. First week, it took him forever to send me the model results, and when they arrived they looked somewhat like this — but in PowerPoint. He was used to having to prepare results for client presentation.

        We had a little discussion, and I have seen nothing further like this from him. It’s possible that many people doing these graphs know they are steaming piles, but hey, it’s what people want and it’s a rough world out there.

        Others may be just working to save up enough money to study at the Center for Cartoon Studies. http://www.cartoonstudies.org/index.php/admissions/

  2. numeric says:

    Chartjunk is a good think because it is Keynesian spending. Much like the military and most university departments.

    • Ralph says:

      I like this analogy!

      If Keynesian spending : chartjunk, then doesn’t that mean it is only useful when you have less than full employment : people sleeping in the audience?

      I mean, if the only way to get them to look at the numbers at all is with 3D translucent sparkles, why not?

      • Sebastian says:

        To continue that thought – Chartjunk is useful when you’re in the chart equivalent of a liquidity trap. Maybe that means if there is no other way to get a graph into a report use chartjunk?

      • Jon M says:

        I think this is a good point. Parsimonious presentation is of great importance but getting most people to look at a graph with only the necessary information is difficult.

        If the chart junk makes people read the graph rather than skip it then it’s doing a better job of communicating (unless the graph actively gives the wrong information) than a parsimonious graph that is skipped. If the counterfactual situation was the reader skipping it entirely then the sparkles don’t distract from the information, they add to it.

        I’m not suggesting that we put these monstrosities into journal articles but if they make more people read a graph in a newspaper I don’t really see the problem.

        With that said, that is a truly horrible graph.

  3. Llanci says:

    The difference is that the sparkling 3D chart isn’t meant to accurately convey information. It’s there to sell something, or signal how whizzy you are with powerpoint.

  4. Tom says:

    I know there is a learning curve associated with using R, but this tutorial has 25 steps. I’d bet that in the long run it would be more efficient for someone to learn R just to put together useful charts rather than follow this to produce a really ugly 3D ‘pile of steaming…’

  5. Rick in Chicago says:

    Actually, the “sparkling pile of crap” is actually a good illustration of why 3-D graphs are so sparkling and such crap, the chartjunk notwithstanding.
    It almost looks like the red bar reaches just over 60 instead of under 30, the yellow one is a hair under 120 rather than slightly over 90, and green is over 150 rather than under it, and the exact value of blue isn’t important.
    So if you wanted to lie with a graph, this pile is how.
    Go through 25 steps and deliver less information. But at least more sparkles.

  6. [...] 6, 2012 in Data Here's a brilliant post by Andrew Gelman, highlighting a tutorial that will actually destroy information in 25 steps, [...]

  7. Sunny says:

    Apparently, you are missing the ‘emotive’ part. Following from the creator himself responding to someone who brought up Tufte:
    ——-
    Graphic information design principles and other business needs will collide. This technique is appropriate more for illustrations, as it doesn’t help clarify the data. It should be used with care and consideration of the intended use. It does, however, add communicative value though, not to the data itself, but rather emotive value. It’s visually exciting.

    This emotive value should be weighed against the need to read the data quickly, clearly, and concisely. There are times that the data is simple and the branding and impact of the graphic are more important overall for the intended use, as in an illustration.
    I don’t believe Tufte has written about the weight of branding and emotive value versus graphic information design principles. He approaches graphic information design as an isolated discipline in his books. I do recommend everyone read his books to learn how to present data with clarity. It’s often up to you to make a judgement call in your work though. There are times that this technique would be unnecessary “chartjunk” and there are appropriate uses for this technique as well. Thx.

  8. Ebenezer says:

    Why is there a line going from (2,90ish) to (5,5ish)? Is that the shadow of a sparkle?

    • Tom says:

      It shows the trendline of the data-visualisation credibility of anyone presenting this sort of chart

  9. jrkrideau says:

    “This emotive value should be weighed against the need to read the data quickly, clearly, and concisely. “

    But this does not excuse incompetent and misleading graphs.

    If you want a emotive graph thath presents the date “quickly, clearly and concisely” have a look at ” Telling stories graphically: Failure of The Common Sense Revolution” at http://www.datavis.ca/gallery/excellence.php .

    It makes its point clearly and pointedly. No distortion of data just a dramatic way of expressing it.

    I have seen it suggested that there are other, possibly better, ways to show the data if you are an analyst but it is an honest political graph.

  10. [...] about failures, Andrew Gelman mentions the sempiternal problem of designers Turn(ing) a Boring Bar Graph into a 3D Masterpiece or, as a commenter put it, “Turn(ing) a Boring Bar Graph into a 3D Pile of Steaming [...]