The Viz Police: USA Today’s Greeting Card Chart

This is the first of a series on visual analyses (i.e charts) out in the wild. The commentary is based on how well the chart in question does its job of conveying information. Charts that offend will be cited by the Viz Police.

Today’s chart is from USA Today, on the subject of holiday greeting cards.

Bad Cop: Visual Analysis Conveys Almost No Data

This chart is unspeakably bad. It manages to create an entire graph from two points of data and a lot of chartjunk, sending the data-to-ink ratio to just about zero.

With only two data points, you’d think it would be hard to bastardize the data. But you’d be wrong. Here USA Today finds it relevant to compare two different measures: how many people actually sent cards last year, versus how many intend to send them this year. Somehow, in this tiny graph, USA Today managed to open up the thorny issue of human intentions versus actions. Maybe in the new year they’ll give us a chart of the number of people who lost weight in 2008 versus those who intend to lose weight in 2009. Somehow, I think the 2009 number will be larger.

Good Cop: Cute Santas

The way the two extraneous Santas are looking at each other is kind of funny and cute. The placement of the two data labels in the top of their hats is clever. That’s about all the good I can find in this chart.


Ellie Fields is Director of Product Marketing at Tableau Software. She did not send holiday cards last year, but does intend to send them this year.

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