What is Wrong With This Infographic? Part 1

Part 1 of a 4-part infographic review on Fast Company’s ‘Women in Numbers’

A blog post over at manager-tools.com (my favorite podcast) brought up the topic of infographics. Wendii, the blogger, expressed exhaustion with the infographics posted to Fast Company’s ‘Infographic of the Day’ page. After looking closely at some of the infographics featured on that page, I have to agree with Wendii that these are excellent examples of how NOT to do it.

I chose one of them to look closely at. Rather than just talking about problems, I’ll offer possible  solutions too. Because the InfoTruck delivers solutions.

Women in Numbers: In the US and the World

By FastCompany and LoveSocial

Click image to embiggen

At first glance, this looks like a neat little information-packed graphic. After digging in a little bit, I realized that there are a lot of problems, and therefore a lot of things to talk about. A thorough solution makeover takes more time than the spare time that I have in a week. It also takes a lot of space. Rather than write it as a critique of the whole graphic, I’ll write up sections — one per week.

This week is Children and Family. Next will be Economy, Education and Employment, and Political Power.

Children and Family: 4 graphs, 3 problems

Problem 1: In the text accompanying this graphic, Fast Company says “The urgency of this mission is palpable as you can see in the graph above: Gender preferences when starting a family in the U.S. haven’t changed in over 50 years.”

This is a false conclusion based on the data in the first graphic. By focusing on men,  it ignores women (inadvertently implying that men’s opinions are what matters). By presenting half of an argument, this graphic obscures the truth and raises an important question — How do men’s opinions compare with women’s?

If women’s opinions have remained flat (as did men’s), this would not be news. Or perhaps the news would be Men and Women Finally Agree On Something!

Also, women’s preference for girls could have either gone up or down, presenting two additional comparisons. Or they could have skyrocketed or plummeted, presenting two more scenarios.

Solution: Use a bar chart to illustrate men’s and women’s opinions on the topic in 1941 and 2011. Change the subhead to something punchy and informative:

  • Men STILL Want Sons More Than Daughters
  • Guys Still Don’t Get It
  • Men Are Still Chauvinists (women are still perfect)

Problem 2: ‘Ratio of boys to girls’ is an incomplete comparison. What exactly are they trying to tell us with these numbers?

  • Are India and China numbers 1 and 2? (seems like it)
  • Is ‘World’ the median, or the mean? (unclear)
  • Which country falls on the median? (could be surprising)
  • Which country is lowest? (not included)
  • Are India and China the best or the worst because they have more men wanting more boys?
  • Or do these two countries understand population dynamics the least, and therefore have the worst science and math programs? (The only gender that matters in population dynamics is females — populations are counted as # of females + 1 — guys are expendable).

Solution: More data. This could be illustrated with numbers, rather than some sort of chart, but adding the bottom couple of countries would add context. Even better, adding key countries where the readers are likely to live (US, UK) would give a more relevant comparison for the reader.

Problem 3: Pictograph slices boy in half; circles representing quantity are the same size. The pictograph is striking, and the baby icon is hilarious, but it is not a great use of pictographs. Pictographs are fine for showing whole numbers, but it can be disturbing if the icon represents a living person and it needs to be sliced down the middle. The circles with numbers in them also represent data, but the visual cue indicates that they are equal because both circles are the same size.

Solution: A bar chart would have been a much better choice. It would save that poor boy from having his left half amputated and it would eliminate the problem of the circles hiding information in plain sight.

Taking it a bit further, a sparkline line chart could show an interesting trend that two lone data points can not show.

Got it right: The two age numbers are fine. A trend is fairly predictable, so there is no real need for a sparkline, and the age is easily imaginable because all of us have either been that age are will soon be that old.

Next week: Fast Company Infographic Review, Part 2: Economy.


5 thoughts on “What is Wrong With This Infographic? Part 1

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