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Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Show Me the NumbersCommunicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few

In 1786, an iconoclastic Scot William Playfair published a small atlas that introduced or greatly improved most of the quantitative graphs that we use today.

Prior to this, graphs of quantitative data were little known.

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 1

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Today, 220 years later, partly due to the arrival of the PC, graphs are commonplace, fully integrated into the fabric of modern communications.

Surprisingly, however, Playfairs innovative efforts sprung from meager precedent are still superior to most of the graphs produced today.

A powerful language, with such promise, is largely being wasted!

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 2

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Despite a recent explosion in available data, most lies stagnant in ever-expanding pools.

Data is useless until we understand what it means and can clearly communicate that meaning to those who need it, those whose decisions affect our world.

Sohere you are today.

You have a choice. You can demand better.

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 3

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Finally Effective network monitoring has arrived! Near real-time Phenomenally user-friendly Instant insight effective response

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 4

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

We are awash in data.

Just show me the numbers!

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 5

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Why? Numbers are critical to business.

Were getting better at handling numbers

Right?The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 6

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Do you know where your Business Intelligence (BI) investment is now?Are you sure it isnt in here?

Quantitative information is primarily communicated through tables and graphs.

But few communicate effectively.

Why?

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 7

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Intentional deceit is no longer our biggest problem

Numbers need never be vague or ambiguous

3+2=??!!#!!!&%***@!The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 8

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Numbers are commonly obscured, then made to look pretty.

What happened?

The PC happened!

Example #1 - Poor

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 9

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example #1 - Good

Example #2 - Poor

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 10

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example #2 - Good

Example #3 - Poor

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 11

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example #3 - Worse

Example #3 - Good

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 12

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example #4 - Poor

Example #4 - Good

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 13

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Warning!

Even software vendors encourage poor design

Example: Totals of something or other by year

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 14

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example: Percentage revenue per product line

Example: Revenue by service line

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 15

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example: Purchases by product line and buyer

Example: Profit by part and month

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 16

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example: Revenue by sales channel and quarter

Example: Revenue by product and quarter

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 17

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example: Expenses by GL account category and account

Example: Hotel revenue by service and quarter

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 18

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Example: Revenue vs. costs per month

Example: Your guess is as good as mine

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 19

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Do the vendors poor examples matter?Contest Scenario: This scenario involves the display of departmental salary expenses. It is used by the VP of Human Resources to compare the salary expenses of the companys eight departments as they fluctuate through time, in total and divided between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Time-Series Solution #1

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 20

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Time-Series Solution #2

Time-Series Solution #3

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 21

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Time-Series Solution #4

Time-Series Solution One that works

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 22

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

What do tables and graphs help us do?

Thinkand

CommunicateAbove all else show the data.Edward Tufte

Communication problems whether verbal or visual are basically the sameI returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.Ecclesiastes 9:11 (King James version of the Bible)

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.George Orwells rewrite of this passage into bloated prose

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 23

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

The two fundamental challenges of data presentation1. Determining the medium that tells the story bestEitherProduct Food Beverage Total Units Sold 34,837 42,374 77,211 Revenue 746,383 845,984 1,592,36790 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1st Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 4th Qtr East West North

2. Designing the visual components to tell the story clearlyFrom

orSales Finance Operations

toU.S.$

Revenue East West North

Marketing 0 20 40 60 80

100 80 60 40 20 0 1st Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 4th Qtr Year 2003

and which kind?

Match the display to your message

The DAMA International Symposium & WILSHIRE Meta-Data ConferenceDenver, Colorado April 23-27, 2006 24

Show Me the Numbers: Communicating Effectively with Charts Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

Eeney, meeney, miney, moe what type of display should I use this time?or

Tables work best when

Used to look up individual values Used to compare individual values Data must be precise You must include multiple units of measure

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