The design of information graphics consists, basically, in arranging data in a visual way that conveys a message. Building a message involves various aspects, and one of them is orientation.
Our western cultural bias tells us that time progresses from left to right, and quantity grows upwards. Therefore, up means gain and right means progress in time.
from Volkswagen 2010 Annual Report
But what happens when information graphics do not follow this cultural convention? The chart below shows financial results from 2005 to 2009, but starts with the later year, moving right towards the earlier year. In a glimpse, the reader might have the negative feeling that sales are decreasing and be alarmed when, in fact, the sales have been increasing.
from Inditex 2009 Annual Report
Below, in one chart, we see two choices of time-progression orientation. Presenting information in this way can be very confusing for the reader, causing a distraction that can be useful, depending on whether you want to emphasize or understate results.
from Bertelsmann 2010 Annual Report
By trading the “up means gain” notion for “right means progress” when dealing with quantities, a horizontal bar chart can give the impression of progress toward a goal, with the longer bars seeming to be closer to the goal.
from Japan Post Bank 2010 Annual Report
Many times, however, there is no “goal” to be achieved (or the goal is not relevant to the chart), and displaying quantities in a horizontal bar chart can make the comparison confusing for the reader.
from Lloyds 2010 Annual Report
In the chart below, the attention is driven to the longest bar, but that result is from three years ago.
from Adidas 2009 Annual Report
Here, the difference in color drives attention to 09, even though 08 and 07 had better sales. But how would it look if this data had been portrayed as a usual xy chart?
from Boeing 2009 Annual Report
Brazil and its 135.000.000 voters had a major task last weekend, the Election Day for President, Governor, Senators, Congressmen and State Legislators. With results from 27 states for 5 different executive and legislative positions changing every minute (the election is 100% digital, no paper ballots), TV channels needed to show a lot of data in the clearest way possible.
GloboNews, the 24h news channel from major communication conglomerate Globo, used a giant touch screen device to show the results. The presenters were responsible for touching the screen and changing what was shown. It was an impressive move for the audience, who started calling it “GloboNews’ giant iPhone” on online forums.
But was it the best way to show information? First of all, the presenters had some awkward moments, when they couldn’t touch the right place, when nothing worked, or even when the whole thing froze, showing an error message (below).
The maps and charts were all shown in perspective, which not only distorted the information, but also made it hard for the audience at home to see it in some cases. What is the point of using area-comparing charts if the area is distorted?
The percentages were rounded up, so that there were fewer digits and the charts and tables would look cleaner. This decision caused a strange situation, though. When results were listed, candidates with fewer votes would appear in a higher position, when the round-ups leaded to the same percentage (in the photo above, note how many votes Zé Maria and Eymal have).
In the end, it was clear that the giant iPhone was there to give GloboNews an image of a high-tech channel, instead of being in service of clear an effective communication.