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Web Report Studio: Who stole my pie (chart)?

Submitted by on 2011-09-27 – 5:00 AM 2 Comments

Ok – I”ll just say it.  I hate pie charts.  If there are more than a few categories – then the user has to interpret the ranking order, it slows them down, and they may loose interest in the report that you so lovingly prepared.  Maybe you say – “Tricia, add the numbers! Geez – you’re so dramatic!”  Then I will calmly reply to your dramatic outburst, if I want to have numbers – then why not just provide a data table?

Let’s look at some examples so I can use the power of screen captures to sway you to my way of thinking.

30-Second Test using SAS Web Report Studio Output

Consider the following beautiful pie chart from SAS Web Report Studio – you have 30 seconds to decide the product had the largest sales.  It will take 30 seconds because you have to determine which slice actually is the largest (and there are two competitors) and then correlate the slice color to the product name in the legend.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

sas bi web report studio pie chart

Ok – let’s try the method of adding the numbers.  Note that this beauty contest winner is getting cluttered.  To make room for the numbers, the chart is getting smaller.  I could use percentages to make the numbers smaller.  However, the the same issue exists- figure out the largest slice and then correlate it to the product name.  Perhaps this method reduces the time to 15 seconds for a motivated user.

sas bi web report studio pie chartHere is my solution – the horizontal bar chart sorted by sales.  Two seconds!   That is all it took for you to understand Dark Chocolate Expresso followed by Fruity Choco-Rolls fly off the shelves, while Watermelon Taffy takes a little longer to move.

sas bi web report studio pie chartAnd I would probably tighten it up to just show the top 5 – something more like this:
sas bi web report studio pie chart

Okay, I like pie sometimes …

There are times when a pie chart can be very dramatic.  This pie chart quickly makes the point that Central region is responsible for the sales volume.  Notice when there are few categories and one category is especially different – the reader can quickly figure it out. [Warning to to the sales people in the West region – get out there and start selling some chocolate!]

A few points – generally I would not have the percentage listed. I prefer to have the category name next to the slice and not have a legend.  It’s not an option in WRS – so that is a change I’m looking forward to. Another option would be to use a stored process for the look I wanted.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think pie only belongs on your dessert plate?

sas bi web report studio pie chart

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Tricia Aanderud

Director of Data Visualization at Zencos Consulting
Tricia Aanderud is a SAS Business Intelligence and Visual Analytics consultant based in Raleigh, NC who works for Zencos Consulting. She has written several books about SAS, presented papers at many SAS conferences, and has been using SAS since 2001. Contact her for assistance with your next project.
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