▸ graphing data

Read: Guide to Information Graphics

Now, that was a waste of money. Don’t get me wrong. Dona Wong’s Guide to Information Graphics is a nicely designed little book with some valuable advice on how to present quantitative date. Why is it a waste of money? It does not go beyond very small data sets and few closely related time series. The data we talk about is so sparse that even the dreaded pie chart cannot distort the perception of the depicted quantities by much and consequently is discussed in this little book.

Though, book may be an overstatement; booklet seems more appropriate. And despite only being about 150 pages ‘thick’ there are some repetitions in its content. This is often a good didactic move. For a reference book not so much.

Since Dona Wong is a student of Edward Tufte it makes sense to rather refer to his work. So instead of looking into Guide to Information Graphics have a look at:

Another “Old Master” is William S. Cleveland and his

If you rather need an overview of different types of plots and ways to present data Information Graphics - A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference by Robert L. Harris is the reference you look for.

Not as nicely designed as Dona Wong’s Guide, yet with considerable more content is Naomi Robbins’ Creating More Effective Graphs.

And finally, I rather enjoyed reading Howard Wainer’s Picturing the Uncertain World. Though it is more a historic account of the development of good and effective graphical displays.

Read: Picturing the Uncertain World

Not only out of professional necessity but also to satisfy my personal intellectual curiosity I follow the ongoing discussion on the visual display of quantitative information. Cleveland and Tufte are certainly the authors who influenced me the most when it comes to design a data display. So, of course, I ordered and read Howard Wainer’s Picturing the Uncertain World.

It is not quite what I expected. Though the consequences of uncertainty and the dangers of neglecting uncertainty are discussed, the book is not really focused on how to provide visual displays that capture and communicate the uncertainty in the data. Just one out of 21 chapter is explicitly addressing this topic. The other 20 chapters provide a wonderful narrative on the development of effective data displays and possible pitfalls. And this narrative is what makes the book worthwhile. Wainer provides an almost complete genesis of several (historical) examples of effective data displays. These little stories are both informative and entertaining. Consequently the book is not just about data displays, it is about the history of good data displays. A fact that is not conveyed by the book’s title, so that I was at first led to expect something slightly different.

Yet, I can wholeheartedly recommend this little practical guide. Wainer’s style is witty, entertaining, and instructive. The book is nicely typeset, a feature it shares with the works of Tufte. And finally, by providing a genesis of effective data displays the book certainly can teach more than by just providing examples of good and bad graphical illustrations. It shapes the way one might think about the data, and it reminds the reader that the same data can and has to be presented in different ways to address different specific problems.

Gesichtet: Creating More Effective Graphs

Naomi Robbins liefert mit ihrem Buch Creating More Effective Graphs eine gelungene Übersicht über gute graphische Darstellungen von Zahlenmaterial. Hierbei bespricht sie jeweils auch kurz die üblichen Kardinalfehler und erläutert warum eine andere Darstellung besser ist. Didaktisch sinnvoll steigt der Komplexitätsgrad der Darstellungen nur langsam an.

Die Nähe zu Cleveland und Tufte ist deutlich und wird auch nicht verschwiegen. Bereits im Vorwort wird auf die beiden Größen der visuellen Datenaufbereitung verwiesen. Creating More Effective Graphs ist damit auch nicht als Ersatz, sondern als einführende Ergänzung zu den Standardwerken von Cleveland und Tufte zu verstehen.