Tag Archives: Edward Tufte

The Statistics of Rice or Stats for Visual People

Big numbers can be really hard to visualize. What does one in a million look like? How different is it from one in ten million? A table of rows and columns is a nice way to compare numbers, and charts can be really helpful too. But rice…. well, food just makes everything easier and tastier to understand. Enjoy!

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Co-Creation: The Researcher’s Solution for Cognitive Dissonance #MRX

Broadwater Focus Group

Image by Nebraska Library Commission via Flickr

Co-creation is a beautiful idea. Companies working together, in cooperation, with the common woman and man on an equal footing to create new and better products and services.

But are they really on an equal footing, each one contributing and benefiting the same amount from the team effort? Let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no equality in the relationship. There is a researcher and there is a opinion provider. There is a client giving serious cash to a research company and an opinion provider who is hopefully getting a sense of contribution and perhaps a couple bucks.

Is it co-creation? No. Co-creation is an idealistic term, a Pollyanna word, a term we use to describe a utopia, a term we use to make ourselves feel better about an unequal relationship, a term to deal with the cognitive dissonance we feel around our inability to pay opinion providers more than a couple of bucks. It makes us feel better about the imbalance of power that permeates our work.

Don’t get me wrong here. The lead researcher may very well feel very strongly that they are engaging in a well-rounded team-based relationship. And, maybe the senior management of the company feels that way too. But wanting doesn’t make it so. Until that ideation has percolated down to everyone on the team, the junior analysts who’ve only been told to monitor the system for swear words, the portal programmers who haven’t internalized the importance of privacy, until everyone internalizes the concept of team effort, until the opinion providers have just as much say and benefits in return as the clients and researchers, it’s just not co-creation.

Research groups, or DROCs, or MROCs, or whatever you like to use when you’re busy with co-creation, are a great idea for everyone involved. All parties get something desirable for their efforts.

But in the market research space, where transparency has turned into one of the biggest buzz words out there, let’s be transparent about this and just call a spade a spade. Or in this case, a research group a research group.

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In Honor of Infographics. #MRX

Infographics have become a staple of the internet. Every self-respecting journalist, artist, and blogger is desperate to discover and display a unique and stunning infographic on their own website. And, in honour of the great and powerful infographc, I too have jumped on the bandwagon. I have created this stunning infographic of infographics. Please enjoy and share with all of your friends and infographic specialists.

#MRA_FOC #MRX Effective Data Visualization by Naomi Robbins, Part #1


I was caught between a pillow and a soft place this morning with a choice between a session on social media and the other a session on charting. But, as a fan of Edward Tufte, a legendary charting specialist, I couldn’t resist attending Naomi’s data visualization session.

She began the session by testing the room lighting to see if the colours on her presentation would show correctly on the screen, something I can appreciate having  given presentations myself where a variety of colours ended up looking the same. It is something everyone should do particularly if you are presenting charts. If your labels, gridlines, or distinguishing chart features don’t show up, you might as well not do the presentation at all.

Here are just a few of my favorite points:

  • The best chart is the one where the information is detected most quickly
  • If perceiving the information is not important, then a pie chart is fine, e.g., when the chart is used as decoration
  • The way you read a chart depends on which software you use and labeling the data points does not make a bad chart ok. See the chart below to see if you can determine what the data points are. Does the line match up with the front of the bar, the back of the bar, or neither!
  • Graphs are to show relationships and trends, not exact numbers. If you need exact numbers, then use a table. Hence, bar charts do not need numbers.
  • All bar graphs should start at zero because bars reflect length which has a zero.
  • Alphabetical order is rarely the best way to order data.
  • There is no substitute for colour.
  • People know what number comes between 88 and 90 so you don’t need to label every point.
  • When we use error bars, we often use 68%. But 68% makes sense in a table for self-calculation. Doesn’t 95% make more sense in a chart?
  • Museums want to show data honestly and accurately. Corporations….. have other ideas. 🙂

Naomi presents in a style reflective of a professional statistics geek with tons of charts and examples and I got quite a kick of the morning session. She showed us a lot of tricks that I like to play on my colleagues such as having them guess chart values on really bad charts. She showed us a number of charts that I have never seen before and am now anxious to try. She showed many examples of bad charts turned good with just a couple minutes of work. She provided a set of notes that is probably the best set I have EVER come across. She suggested that though Edward Tufte is a charting genius, he is not the only expert in charting and she introduced us to William Cleveland, one of her favourite experts.

This slideshow highlights just a few of the huge range of charts that Naomi highlighted. You really need her commentary to see just how funny some of the charts are but I’m sure you’ll enjoy them anyways.

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Conversition Strategies Social Media Research: By researchers, For researchers
conversition strategies social media research by researchers for researchers

The Dumbing Down of America (and Canada)

Sources of dietary energy-consumption (%) foll...

Image via Wikipedia

Having just returned from an Edward Tufte class, my brain is gushing with questions. Why do we set up our research reports in powerpoint? Why do we put headers and footers and logos and intriguing design elements on every page?

What is a technical report? The intent is that they share specific information, important and meaningful information. By design then, reports should be stuffed with clear detailed charts and solid conclusions supported with and abundance of references. There should be data everywhere. In fact, there should be no logos and footers because the content is taking up every last pixel.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. We write our reports by choosing charts that are pretty and available in our software. It’s not that the data demanded that chart, but that we’ve used that chart a bazillion times and are familiar with it. We then proceed to strip out useful data because the chart we chose can’t incorporate it. 3D charts are forced to become 2D charts. Four column tables are sacrificed for two column tables. We then remove further data because the chart is still too complicated and we know our reader is too stupid to get it.

The end result is that even the laziest thinker can get the point. And, it’s now such a simple point that it doesn’t even need to be in a chart. The bonus feature is that we’ve taught our poor reader that if they have to think about a chart, the chart is too difficult for normal people to understand. We have reinforced for them that they don’t have to spend a single precious minute trying to get a more thorough understanding of their business.

What if, instead, we encouraged people to use the skills they already have. The skills that got them through college, through the sports section of the morning paper, through the company’s financial report.

So, who knows a good free charting program?

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  • Edward Tufte: Your Presentation Sucks Cause Your Content Sucks

    Edward Tufte Class

    Image by star5112 via Flickr

    Where do I begin. What a nice, genuine, humble, helpful person!

    The fanatic in me ensured that I was first in the room and first to pick a seat. Why go if you don’t go whole heartedly! As I organized myself, Tufte quietly walked over and said “hi, where do you work, what do you do?” I mumbled some crap about research, my awe seriously impairing my ability to speak in a human language. He then proceeded to introduce himself to every single person in the room and signed their books at the same time. During breaks and lunch, he signed more autographs and took more questions, disregarding his own need to take breaks (except five minutes to change his shoes :). Wow.

    I couldn’t even begin to share with you everything I learned. First, I guess, was the over-riding principle of if it doesn’t convey essential information, get rid of it. Whether in powerpoint, desktops, or phone screens. Think about it, even parentheses are chart junk – you could have just reduced the font and greyed the word or number out. People will get it.

    You know those folks who read the sports pages everyday? Well, if they can figure out all those numbers, they can certainly figure out your well designed, content rich chart. Do not dumb down to the lowest commom denominator because even that person isn’t stupid. They might actually be forced to use their brain.

    Tufte viciously trashed pie charts at least twice. Yay! He brought two Galileo books, one a first edition printed in 1613, to demonstrate the use of images and 3D charts in texts, and his assistant actually carried the books around for people to admire. Wow! He also trashed powerpoint for its ability to make people forget about content and focus on fancy. He taught me the words chartoonist, super graphic, fox pas, and software throwup. He talked about deeply retarded charts and used the highly technical term “sucks.” He’s a very funny guy!

    In hindsight, would I go to his seminar? Yes! Every researcher should go. Our job is so filled with the visual display of information that this class should be a required course. He will inspire you to change the way you think about and prepare research reports.

    Go. Now. Learn.

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  • Boston Smells Like Candy

    OMG! I have never been to a city like this! The second I stepped off the subway, my nose entertained the most glorious smells I ever have smelled! Every street corner, whether there was a restaurant, a bakery, or nothing at all, offered the most tantalizing smells! After being teasd for three hours, I finally ended up having fish cakes and beans at Quincy Market, the most delighful ‘food court’ I’ve been to. Later on, I couldn’t resist buying the treat you see below. I paid through the nose but it was worth it!

    For some strange reason, I am a fan of cemeteries and Boston has several in the city proper worthy of being historical sites. What a treat for me! Stones as old as 1666! The Freedom Trail is a great way to commemorate the many brave people who defied social status rules and made the US what it is today. I’m canadian but I was still feeling the pride and patriotism.

    And the real reason I’m in Boston – Tomorrow is Edwarde Tufte day. Yay! Maybe he will help me figure out why economists have predicted more recessions than we’ve actually had (third image). It’s a good way to remind yourself that correct positives are great, but you can’t ignore false positives when evaluating accuracy.

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