It’s kind of hard to tell these days. I find a lot of what’s called “data visualization” to not be very helpful in understanding a story.
But, hey: It’s popular and there are some editors out there who’ll pay for it. So whatever.
Still, I found this graphic — straddling pages 50 and 51 of the new issue of Sports Illustrated — to be completely baffling. The topic is Jack Taylor of Iowa’s Grinnell College, the kid who scored 138 points in a basketball game a few weeks ago.
This is apparently some kind of shot chart. Click for a larger view:
Each data point is coded two ways: With color and and with the height of the bar.
I can infer what the color might mean: The warmer the color, the closer to the hoop. In most cases. There are a few instances in which this isn’t the case. So clearly, something else is in effect here.
So what does the color mean? And what, praytell, do the heights of the bars mean? The text seems to have dropped out of the graphic. Presumably there was a key of some sort that belonged in the upper left or upper right of the diagram. And labels, perhaps, in those eight data points that are noted with the little flags.
Hey, I’ve dropped text out of a graphic, too, especially when using Adobe Illustrator. Use the “overprint preview” option. It’ll save your ass.
Unfortunately for Sports Illustrated, this thing ran across five (of eight) columns in the new issue. And it’s completely unreadable.
This is the second time this year I’ve found an issue with an infographic in the print edition of Sports Illustrated. A review of my files shows that, somehow, I never got around to blogging the previous one from March.
That’s a very attractive bar chart. But check out the lengths of the bars. Two is half of four, right? But notice the bar for Nick Swisher — in the center of the chart — is nearly the same height as the one for Mark Texeira. Never mind the fact that he has only half as many home runs.
And check out the two bars on the far right: The bar for “1″ is about three-quarters the size of the bar for “4.” Clearly, something is amiss here.
What happened was that someone drew a perfectly good bar chart but then decided to decorate the chart with photos of the players. Instead of simply placing the photos beneath each bar, the designer here decided to extend the bars down to incorporate the pictures.
Bad move. You can’t just extend the bottom of a bar chart. It throws all the proportions off.
Here’s what the chart looks like with the “extended” portion lopped off.
Nice and accurate.
I spotted this a day or two before I left for one of my extended consulting missions this year. I ran it through my scanner and used it in my classes. The lesson: We get into trouble when we try to decorate a chart. But if you do decide to “jazz up” your graphic, make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t obscure — or change — the data you’re trying to display.
So we have: a) a bar chart that is horribly distorted by decoration, b) a huge basketball shot chart that is rendered useless when the text dropped out, and c) excessive manipulation on a featured photograph that caused the colors of football jerseys to change.
Wow. That’s a lot of visual journalism sins for such a noted publication.