The art of arranging bars

July 12, 2017
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(This article was originally published at Junk Charts, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Twitter friend Janie H. asked how I would visualize a hypothetical third column of this chart that contains the change from 2016 to 2017:

Techpriorities_data_table

This table records the results from a survey question by eMarketer, asking respondents ("marketers") to identify their top 5 technology priorities in the next 12 months.

I suggested the following:

Redo_techpriorities_order1

A hype-chasing phenomemon is clearly at play. Internet of Things and wearable technology are so last year. This year, it's all about A.I. Interestingly, something like "Big data" has been able to sustain the hype for another year.

A design decision I made is to encode the magnitude of the change in the bar lengths while encoding the direction of the change in the colors. One can of course follow the more canonical design of placing the negative bars on the left side of the data labels. My decision is a subtle way of imposing the hierarchy - first I care about magnitude, then I care about direction.

Here is a third way:

Redo_techpriorities_order2

This design imposes a different hierarchy. Your eyes are drawn to the top/bottom of the chart.

Any of these designs beat the data table by a mile. It's just too much work for the reader to figure out the value of the changes from the table.



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