Stupidest Bar Chart of 2011 – Congrats, Klout!

Dec 22, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Snark  //  10 Comments

I’m no expert in graphic design or data visualizations.  I do know that pie charts are evil, as are most gauges and uses of 3D in dashboards.   However, when I saw this bar chart from the fine folks at Klout, I knew it was a winner.  Even the name of this category is wrong: Top Influential companies?  No, from their description, this is a list of companies that were most talked about the most often.  That doesn’t make a person or an organization influential.  Otherwise, I’d be dressing like Kim Kardashian and collecting Justin Bieber dolls with weird "try me" portals

At best, these companies influenced people to say things about them by doing something well…or in the case of Netflix, doing a lot of things poorly.  But they didn’t do the influencing.  People on the social networks did.

 

KLOUT bar chart - click to see full chart

 

This data visualization is a list of companies who were most talked about…so they’ve used a bar chart.  Bar charts are supposed to be used to show quantities, usually over time or some other measure.  But this ranking  is not a quantity.  In fact, the bar chart is emphasizing the wrong thing, too.  Notice how 11th place Facebook has more bar?  But it’s in the worst place in the list.  Or is it?  We don’t know because the bar chart is showing us conflicting information.  It could be that the top 11 companies are being ranked 11-1 in descending order based on their influence mentions.  From the list, I’d think think that the influence was descending, but I don’t know.  If someone doesn’t know and the visualization adds no more insight than just a list of the companies, don’t add a chart.

Jen Stirrup, BI expert and Microsoft MVP, has some more to say about bad bar charts. 

Don’t use bar charts to show rankings.  Put down your data viz tool and take a walk.  Notice the real world around you, then come back and think about using visualizations to help a reader understand the data better. That’s how to love your data.

10 Comments

  • “Don’t use bar charts to show rankings. Put down your data viz tool and take a walk. Notice the real world around you, then come back and think about using visualizations to help a reader understand the data better.” Love it.

  • Another take-away from that post: proof your posts. Although the lowercase b is an inverted p, “dubsteb” is not a music genre.

  • How strange coincidence! When I finished reading your (excellent) post, I clicked on Google+1 and ReadItLater page popped up telling me that it has been updated, inviting me to click on like about what is new. And on that I found this: http://readitlaterlist.com/blog/2011/12/more-from-our-most-read-authors-report-and-why-bylines-matter/. Speaking of bar charts! I could not believe it.
    Actually, it must have been a coincidence, because I found that in another browser tab there was “Add to Google” (Homepage or Reader) window. I don’t understand how it is related to the +1 button, but that’s not the point anyway.
    I enjoyed you blog post very much!

  • […] just been looking at the Stupidest bar chart of the year 2011 and I’ve been inspired to submit my Stupidest pie chart of the year 2011. I won’t say […]

  • […] […]

  • I think they just wanted the whole thing to look like a smiley face with a bad goatee. Also probably a mistake.

  • [Klout Designer] Hmmm . . . “Learn To Graph in Ten Minutes”. Perfect! Let’s see, X-Y, X-Y-Z, Bar, Pie 3-D Bar, 3-D Pie. What the heck is Heat Map? Hey, this is kind of fun. I have an idea . . . look at this, no matter what numbers I plug in, it has perfect symmetry!

    Whoa! I think I just discovered a new kind of graph!

    I’ll call it . . . a Y-Y graph!!!

  • […] just been looking at the Stupidest bar chart of the year 2011 and I’ve been inspired to submit my Stupidest pie chart of the year 2011. I won’t say […]

  • […] impossible to beat during the next 12 months. Incredible. As you may recall, in late 2011 I awarded Stupidest Bar Chart to a doozy from Klout.  That bar chart was confusing, but not in the way this one is.  […]

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