Another case of an infographic obscuring the message

The media company Raconteur published a report on employee engagement this month, which contained an infographic.  The central portion of the graphic included this set of graphs:

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At first sight, I thought each graph was a new take on the pie chart but on studying the numbers I realised that each circle contained a quadrant representing one of four categories of employee engagement, from “Highly engaged” through to “Actively disengaged”.  The percentage of employees falling into each category is represented by the length of the straight edge of each ‘quarter doughnut’ shape.  Encoding data points as a length is a good way of representing data, but I found it difficult to make comparisons between the different regions and understand the real messages contained within the graphic.

My difficulties in interpreting the chart were compounded by the lack of a logical order of the categories within the legend (Highly engaged, Activeley (sic) disengaged, Moderately engaged and Passive).  Is it better for an employee to be “Moderately engaged” or “Passive”?  Is there any significance, I wondered, to the unusual shading pattern attached to the “Passive” category, when none of the other categories contain a pattern?

The source of the data was referenced as “Aon 2013 Trends in Global Employee Engagement” so I downloaded this report from the Aon website and found the original graphic containing the data.

2012 Engagement distribution

Whilst this graphic might not be the most beautiful or original of representations, I felt that it did a much better job of conveying the business message than the Raconteur infographic, for the following reasons:

  • The categories of employee engagement are set out in a logical order
  • The colours used to represent the categories make intuitive sense (green for “Highly engaged”, red for “Actively Disengaged”)
  • It is easy to make comparisons between regions and against the global average for any particular category of engagement, as the bar lengths are more distinct than the length of the edge of the shape in the infographics.  Latin America stands out for its high degree of employee engagement and low level of active disengagement.

As Alberto Cairo says in his excellent book The Functional Art, “There may be more than one form a data set can adopt so that readers can perform operations with it and extract meanings, but the data cannot adopt any form.  Choosing visual shapes to encode information should not be based on aesthetics and personal tastes alone.”

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