18 thoughts on “Excel chart gallery: a difficult equilibrium

  1. I like the addition of a “junk” pie chart to show the ratio. I’m surprised it even made 11%.

  2. i’d like to see an update with charts from Excel 2007.

    then we can have X% in 2007 vs 11% in 2003. see if they have improved over time?

    my guess? it might be up but still below 20%. it’s a bit like guessing how much (eye)candy is in the jar 🙂

  3. Tim, the chart gallery in Excel 2007 is exactly the same (well, at least in the beta version…)

  4. Jorge –

    I’m almost in complete agreement. I would classify line/XY chart types with markers and lines as not junk. I would classify a bubble chart as 50% junk.

    The situation changes when you look at the chart types that are not useful for displaying information but are useful for constructing a worthy display which is otherwise not attainable. For examplle, while stacked columns and bars are not as useful for displaying information as they seem, hiding selected series in the stack produces useful floating charts. These are good for Gantt charts, for example, or charts that track high and low values (e.g., daily temperatures, blood pressure). Or for customizing a candlestick chaart or making a box plot.

    Re: 2007 vs. 2003. Jorge only showed the built-in standard chart types, whicch are essentially unchanged in 2007. He did not show the “built-in custom” types (great oxymoron, eh?) available in 2003 and earlier but dropped from 2007. This the junk content of 2007’s standard charts matches 2003’s. If you consider the junk content of the bult-in custom types, I’ll bet 2003’s raating drops to 7 or 8 percent.

  5. Question Jorge. If you listed the pie chart under the “junk” section, why did you use it to illustrate the percent junk vs. percent useful? Kind of hypocritical, no?

    @ Jon – bubble charts would be a good topic for another post because they seem to be coming increasingly popular.

  6. Tony, I used a pie chart to create something that should look like a balance board. That’s why I titled the post “a difficult equilibrium”. This is a sort of infographic, but unfortunately my skills are limited when designing these things…

  7. Excellent. I have found valid uses for pie charts: to show fractions of a whole; and radar charts: to show up to 8 variables; but otherwise I agree. I teach my information visualization students to avoid most of the same graphs that you categorize as junk.

    Because it requires scrolling to see the entire visualization I didn’t notice at first that the heights of the two columns are an appropriate visualization that supports your conclusion.

    Your visualization is reminiscent of Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.

  8. Dave –

    Radar plots lose their effectiveness when the values are close to the center, and they suffer from orientation effects the same way as pie charts do. A good alternative is a parallel coordinate chart:

    And while we all “know” that pies are good for showing portions of a whole, they are not really all that good for that purpose, especially if there are too many slices. I prefer a column or bar chart with sorted data.

  9. Given that how the utility of a pie chart depends on how and why it is used, and given that most times pie charts are not appropriate, maybe you should slice the pie chart “icon”: 89% in ‘Junk’ and 11% in ‘Useful’. =)

    Good work.

  10. Even the Pie Chart displaying 11% is in the JUNK ! 🙂 LOL.
    I completely agree… I never prefer to use these JUNK charts, worse even are the pie charts. …

  11. I have created a template chart that I will be using for several dozen sets of data on a multi paged excel workbook. What I had in mind to avoid going through the incert, chart timeplate, shoose template etc… was to move the icon for the template to the command bar. Sounded logical to me. Obviously this cannot be done. Any suggestions?

  12. Pat: Record a macro with all those steps and link it to a button in the command bar. It should work, but I haven’t test it.

  13. I like the fact that the pie chart is in the “junk” list, yet you chose that to represent how much junk there is compared to useful charts.

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