Stephen Few Riffs on Bullet Graphs

Stephen Few of the consulting firm Perceptual Edge invented the bullet graph – a data display that efficiently provides meaningful context that’s easily perceived by everyone.

Not too shabby.

Tuesday morning at the Tableau Customer Conference, Stephen explained how he developed the bullet graph as a dashboard tool in response to all the slick looking gauges that didn’t actually convey much information.

With just one click in Tableau you can visualize your data in one of Stephen’s bullet graphs, but it surprised Stephen that this was included in a data analysis platform. He had thought that the bullet graph would be used in a static environment – as a way of tracking predefined performance metrics while keeping their context in mind.

“I never thought of the bullet graph as an analysis tool,” Stephen said. “I had my eyes opened (by Tableau).”

He found that bullet graphs also let you analyze data extremely quickly precisely because they pack such a heavy visual punch.

“They help you achieve a better balance between the work our brains do and the work that our eyes do,” Stephen said.

It’s easier when our eyes do more work. And the context that the bullet graph provides not only puts your eyes on the job, but also gives them a pot of coffee (or maybe some eye drops).

Stephen also added to our reading list, recommending a book by Donald Wheeler called Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos, which focuses on how to separate signal data (the important stuff) from the noise.

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