Is a bar chart really the best we can do?

June 30th, 2007 5 Comments

I recently caught a demo of Hans Rosling’s software which provides a pretty amazing visualization framework for understanding relationships between data.  In this demo, Hans analyzes, by country,  infant mortality vs GNP over the course of about 100 years.   Like all great presentations, if forces you to re-think how you view something – in this case, the relationships between developing and industrialized nations.

After viewing, consider how this could be applied to business.  Organizations everywhere are looking to make better decisions, but we mainly use analytic tools stuck in the same paradigm of plotting two dimensions on a static background.  In many cases we want to see time (ie. months, years), but sadly we just used up one of our precious dimensions.  Bummer.

The beauty of Han’s software is that you can retain two(+) unique dimensions (ie. Sales and Region) while showing time via animation.  You can even freeze certain data as the animation moves on.  As Edward Tufte taught us, the power of data is in comparison (ie contrast).  Sales is great to know, but sales in comparison to another firm is when things get interesting.

It’s no surprise that Google bought Mr. Rosling’s software.


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5 Responses to “Is a bar chart really the best we can do?”

  1. Preferisco - thoughts about Oracle, EAI/ETL and more: Graphic example Says:

    [...] to Oracle AppsLab for referencing this stunning presentation by Hans Rosling. Not just for the superbly informative [...]

  2. Rich Manalang Says:

    Fascinating stuff. After seeing Hans’ demo, I tested out the software here…

    http://tools.google.com/gapminder/

  3. Rich Manalang Says:

    Fascinating stuff. After seeing Hans’ demo, I tested out the software here…

    http://tools.google.com/gapminder/

  4. Jorge Camoes Says:

    The famous Rosling’s presentation shows two our three things: how a presentation with passion can look like; there are other ways to show the data; it is not easy for the mere mortal to follow him, because it is difficult to implement that in Excel (and you should always consider Excel, I am afraid).

    The tool Rosling is using is great for this specific task, but there are some perceptual issues that it doesn’t address. Animation can be useful if you can interact with the presentation, stop, rewind, etc. Also, in the data presented by Rosling there is a general, strong trend and some minor ones. This is the limit, from perceptual point of view. If you have several trends you can’t visually track all of them.

  5. Jorge Camoes Says:

    The famous Rosling’s presentation shows two our three things: how a presentation with passion can look like; there are other ways to show the data; it is not easy for the mere mortal to follow him, because it is difficult to implement that in Excel (and you should always consider Excel, I am afraid).

    The tool Rosling is using is great for this specific task, but there are some perceptual issues that it doesn’t address. Animation can be useful if you can interact with the presentation, stop, rewind, etc. Also, in the data presented by Rosling there is a general, strong trend and some minor ones. This is the limit, from perceptual point of view. If you have several trends you can’t visually track all of them.

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