Pie charts, pictograms, and numbers can tell a great story, or not.
Last week I began a review of an infographic put together by Fast Company and Love Social. It is called Women in Numbers, and is featured in a blog post called The Case for Girls. I began with the top section, Children and Family. This week, I move down the left side of the page to the next section: Economy.
Problem: 2024 — Big number tells less than little lines could — This big (in size) number tells when women MAY out-earn men, but it doesn’t say anything about the trajectory of the line. is 2024 an amazingly soon date, a far-off milestone, or neither? And, MAY? Really?
Solution: A sparkline graph w/ two lines showing earning trends for men and women could tell a much bigger story in the same space. The spot where the lines cross should have a label that says 2024, the most important point on the graph.
Problem: Pie charts used poorly — Pie charts are supposed to compare the wedge to the pie. This double pie chart compares one wedge in one pie to another wedge in a different pie. Pie charts should compare parts of a whole — a piece of apple pie compared to the rest of that apple pie — not parts of two different wholes — a piece of apple pie compared to a piece of pumpkin pie.
Solution: Bar chart. Bar charts are good for direct comparisons of a handful of things. Two columns, one for men and one for women illustrating the difference between a bar 44 units long and a bar 6 units long. Because of the drastic difference in length, it would likely be best to orient the bars horizontally.
Problem: For every dollar… Are Wyoming and Vermont numbers 50 and 1 respectively? We are left to assume this, but we don’t really know. Worse, we have nothing to compare these numbers to. Is Vermont an outlier, and most of the other states clustered around Wyoming? Which state is the most normal?
Solution: More data, please. At least the median number and state name(s).
Problem: Pictograms that misrepresent data. The stacks of cash used to represent personal wealth held by women are nice little icons, but 11 of the 20 stacks of cash are supposed to represent 51%. They do not. 11/20 = .55, or 55%. If you are going to convey information visually, then do it accurately. This pictogram overstates the amount of wealth held by women. If you are trying to convince someone of something, misrepresenting data is a bad way to do it.
Solution: Use a big fat number. Most of us can visualize that fifty one percent is the critical 1% sliver more than 50%. There is nothing more needed to illustrate the point.
Using a shopping bag to illustrate the proportion of purchases made by women is less clear than using a pie chart, but coupled with the 83% number, clear enough that InfoTruck will not issue a citation for it.
Suggestion: A sentence tying the last two together may be the most interesting way to deliver the info: Women have 51% of the cash, but spend 83% of it. Of course, this may further a stereotype that the authors did not want to promote.
Next week I’ll look at Education & Employment.