Today’s misleading infographic


Infographics are generally designed to do a different job from the visualization of MI in business – their primary purpose is to engage or entertain through design-focused visuals rather than to provide actionable insight.  That said, visualization and infographics are on a continuum.  As Albert Cairo says in his excellent recent book “The Functional Art”, every infographic and every visualization has a presentation and an exploration component: they present, but they also facilitate the analysis of what they show, to different degrees. He also says “It is unacceptable to sacrifice the integrity of the data just to make an infographic pretty”.

CityAM infographic

Source: City AM, Jan 23 2014, page 2

It is therefore disappointing to see elementary mistakes in the visual presentation of data appearing regularly in the daily press.  Look for instance at the infographic above, taken from today’s City AM.  The size of the circles in the top left chart bear no relation to the size of the numbers within them.  But more importantly, the area chart in the bottom right shows an apparently huge increase in total weekly hours worked over the last three years, until you look at the scale (which is labelled from 920 to 980 million). This is exactly the kind of misleading presentation of data that Daryl Huff warned us to avoid back in 1954 in his seminal book “How to Lie with Statistics”.

A bar chart or area chart should always include a baseline of zero.

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