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Boo! Scary charts in honor of All Hallows Eve

Submitted by on 2011-10-31 – 7:00 AM

In the United States today is the scariest day of the year – All Hallows Eve. Tonight school children will run around dressed as monsters or Angry Birds demanding a treat from their neighbors.  So here some treats for the SAS Business Intelligence users building charts and graphs.  

A few weeks ago I told you about my arch enemy the pie chart. Here are some of other line charts and bar charts that missed the mark from an overzealous report builder.  These charts were created using the sample SASHELP.ARRESTS data. [More here on sample data sources]

Is this a NYC street during rush hour or a chart?

This line chart is spooky because it is so busy.  The background is indeed fancy and certainly has a lot of information. How will the user interpret anything on this chart?

If the chart builder was intent on keeping the background, here is how you can rescue the data.  Remove the data labels and darken the plot area. At least the user has a better chance of determining the trends and making some observations about the data. For instance, why is AgeGroup3 so involved in crime while AgeGroup1 is not so active?


Stars and stripes forever?

This vertical bar chart is scary because the chart builder is trying too hard.  3D rarely works and the star shape is fancy but it mainly detracts from the central point.  If you want to do use the star figure, then probably a better idea is not to just use the bar chart and not group it by age.  Notice how the AgeGroup 1 data is lost at the bottom of the chart. Also be aware of a double meaning if you use a shape … Is the chart building saying these criminals are rock stars?

This chart is better.  The AgeGroup1 is easier to see.  I don’t think this data is suited to bar chart, but more about that in the future.

Sadly keeping a chart ready for users to evaluate often doesn’t lend to fancy graphics.  Focus your attention on creating charts that are usable, not scary.  On the other hand, when you need to hide numbers – remember these techniques  (that’s naughty!).

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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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