Friday, August 22, 2008

Graph Design: Lessig's Video Chart Fails to Deliver

Strongly linked with Google Earth web design is design of graphics such as charts, tables and graphs.

Lawrence Lessig is a well known commentator on copyright and the internet. He's also a master of presentational skills. Usually. This graph is the most important graphic in his most recent presentation and I don't think it works:

US broadband penetration slipping Its shows a wonderful snippet of information: in terms of broadband penetration the US started at 5th in 2000 and in 2007 had slipped to 22nd place. The graph could be improved in a number of ways:
  • 5 and 22 are unit-less numbers: As Lessig himself comments this is a problem. They could refer to gigabits per year, positions in an online poll or Osborne luggagable computers for all we know.
  • Missing Axis: Related to the unit-less numbers, why is the y axis missing? If I cared to read off the value in the year 2003 I would find it difficult. Whilst this would seem to be a petty request, showing data in a way that users can query in different ways is good design.
  • Unnecessary 3D: The shadow, 3D shape and perspective view don't add anything. A 2D graph would be better as it would be easier to process mentally.
  • Data Thin: Why only show the decline of the US? Why not show other countries for comparison and emphasize the US plot? France especially deserves to be plotted since it is mentioned as doing better than the US later in the presentation.
  • Title: I'm also a little suspicious of the title border. Is it adding anything? The 'ripped paper' design doesn't appear anywhere else in the presentation so its not part of a consistent design.
If you're interested in these types of discussion topics, Edward Tufte is the author to read.

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