18.242 new book: Show Me the Numbers

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 07:43:03 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 242.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 07:13:58 +0100
         From: Jonathan Koomey <jgkoomey_at_numbersintoknowledge.com>
         Subject: New book: Show Me the Numbers

Readers of the critical thinking skills list may be interested in a new
book from Analytics Press called Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and
Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few (1st edition, Sept. 2004, ISBN
0-9706019-9-9). It is the first comprehensive and practical guide devoted
entirely to the graphical display of quantitative business data, and it's
nicely designed and illustrated. As most on this list will know, there are
a lot of examples of poor graphics resulting in bad business decisions. In
this book, Few has synthesized and extended key lessons from the more
theoretical work of Edward Tufte and others, as well as those from his own
20 years of experience in the business intelligence industry.

For more details, go to
<http://www.analyticspress.com>http://www.analyticspress.com. To buy the
book, go to

To contact Stephen Few directly, you may email him at sfew_at_perceptualedge.com.

Jonathan Koomey, Ph.D.

Table of Contents for Show Me the Numbers

1. Introduction

The use of tables and graphs to communicate quantitative information is
commonplace in business today, yet few of us who produce them have learned
the design practices that make them effective. This introductory chapter
prepares the way for a journey of discovery that will enable you to become
an exception to this unfortunate norm.



Intended readers


Communication style

2. Numbers Worth Knowing

Quantitative information forms the core of what businesses must know to
operate effectively. The current emphasis on business metrics, Key
Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Balanced Scorecards demonstrates the
importance of numbers in business. The messages contained in numbers are
communicated most effectively when you understand the fundamental
characteristics and meaning of the numbers that are commonly used in
business, as well as the fundamental principles of effective communication
that apply specifically to quantitative information.

Quantitative relationships

Numbers that summarize

Measures of money

3. Fundamental Concepts of Tables and Graphs

Tables and graphs are the two basic forms for communicating quantitative
information. They have developed over time to the point where we now
thoroughly understand which works best for what type of information and
why. This chapter introduces tables and graphs and gives simple guidelines
for selecting one form over the other.

Quantities and categories

Tables defined

When to use tables

Graphs defined

A brief history of graphs

When to use graphs

4. Fundamental Variations of Tables

Tables are structured according to the nature of the information they are
meant to display. This chapter breaks tables down into their fundamental
variations and gives simple rules of thumb for pairing your message with
the best tabular means to communicate it.

Relationships in tables

Variations in table design

Table design solutions

5. Fundamental Variations of Graphs

Different types of quantitative relationships require different forms of
graphs. This chapter explores the fundamental variations of graphs that
correspond to different relationships, and then teams these variations with
the visual components and techniques that can be used to communicate them
most effectively.

Encoding values in graphs

Relationships in graphs

Graph design solutions

Practice in Selecting Tables and Graphs

Learning requires practice. Through practice you will reinforce what you’ve
learned by embedding it more securely in your memory, and strengthen your
ability to make connections between the concepts we’ve examined and their
application to the real world.

6. Visual Perception and Quantitative Communication

Quantitative communication, especially in the form of graphs, is
predominantly visual. Thanks to science, how you see is fairly well
understood, from the initial stimulus that enters your eyes to the
interpretation of the information in the gray folds of your visual cortex.
By understanding visual perception and its application to the communication
of quantitative information in particular, you will learn what works, what
doesn’t, and why. This chapter brings the principles of visual design for
communication alive in ways that are practical and can be applied
skillfully applied to real-world challenges.

Mechanics of sight

Attributes of preattentive processing

Application of visual attributes to design

Gestalt principles of visual perception

7. General Design for Communication

Based on an understanding of visual perception, you can build a set of
visual design principles, beginning with those that apply equally to tables
and graphs. The primary objective of visual design is to present content to
your readers in a manner that highlights what’s important, arranges it for
clarity, and leads them through it in the sequence that tells the story best.

Highlight the data

Organize the data

Integrate tables, graphs, and text

8. Table Design

Once you’ve determined that a table should be used to communicate your
message and the type of table that will work best, you must refine your
design so the table can be quickly and accurately understood and used.

Structural components of tables

Best practices of table design

Practice in Table Design

Nothing helps learning take root like practice. You will strengthen your
developing expertise in table design by working through a few challenging
real-world scenarios.

9. General Graph Design

The strong visual nature of graphs requires a number of unique design
practices. The volume and complexity of quantitative information that you
can communicate with a single graph are astounding but only if you
recognize and avoid poor design practices that undermine your message.

Visual correspondence to quantity

2-D limit

10. Component-Level Graph Design

A number of visual and textual components must work together in graphs to
communicate quantitative information. If these components are out of
balance or misused, the message suffers. For each component to serve its
purpose effectively, you must understand its role and the design practices
that enable it to fulfill its role with precision and grace.

Data component design

Support component design

11. Design Solutions for Multiple Variables

Graphs can be used to tell complex stories. When designed well, graphs can
combine a host of data spread across multiple variables to make a complex
message accessible. When designed poorly, graphs can bury even a simple
message in a cloud of visual confusion. Excellent graph design is much like
excellent cooking. With a clear vision of the end result and an intimate
knowledge of the ingredients, you can combine them to create a whole that
nourishes and inspires.

Combining multiple units of measure

Combining multiple graphs in a series

Practice in Graph Design

You’ve come far in your exploration of graph design. It’s now time for some
practice to pull together and reinforce all that you’ve learned. Expert
graph design requires that you adapt and apply what you’ve learned to a
variety of real-world communication problems. Working through a few
scenarios with a clear focus on the principles of effective graph design
will strengthen your expertise and your confidence as well.

12. The Interplay of Standards and Innovation

When you design tables and graphs, you face a multitude of choices. Of the
available alternatives, some are bad, some are good, some are best, and
others are simply a matter of preference among equally good choices. By
developing and following standards for the visual design of quantitative
information, you can eliminate all but the best choices once and for all.
Doing so dramatically reduces the time it takes to produce tables and
graphs as well as the time required by your readers to make good use of
them. Doing so sets your skills and creativity free to be used where they
are most needed.


A. Table and Graph Design at a Glance

B. Recommended Reading

C. Adjusting for Inflation

D. Constructing Paired Bar and Correlation Bar Graphs with Microsoft Excel

E. Answers to Practice in Selecting Tables and Graphs

F. Answers to Practice in Table Design

G. Answers to Practice in Graph Design

Jonathan G. Koomey, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (currently on leave)
Consulting Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Stanford University
P.O. Box 20313
Oakland, CA 94620
510-547-7860 Work/fax
510-654-9634 Home
510-708-1970 Cell
Received on Wed Sep 29 2004 - 02:55:02 EDT

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