Energy Systems Research

Tufte Visual display of quantitative information

Good Charts
Scott berinato

 
 
 

—Briefly—

Effective charts advocate our ideas. To accomplish this, make charts understandable, beautiful, honest, and persuasive. Good Charts helps us achieve that with a bit of theory and a wealth of application.

—Broadly—

Data visualization is evolving. It once required technical expertise. But the internet, simpler software, and abundant data enable mass visualization experimentation. Consequently, new forms, strategies, and techniques abound. To filter good from bad, we need basic theory, best practices for application, and reminders that charts are meant to persuade a main point. Good Charts provides all three.

People look at charts differently than writing. We focus on contrast, size, and change. We see only a few items at once. We translate these few items into meaning. Good Charts uses that theory to help us make understandable, beautiful, honest, and persuasive charts.

Data visualization works best by separating creation from editing. We create with the goal in mind: what message must this chart convey? Brainstorming breaks that message into key words that suggest different chart forms that inspire our eventual prototype. We edit that prototype by following some simple guidelines. The result is a simple, beautiful, honest chart that does more than just show data; it conveys understanding that validates our main message.

—Personally—

We’ve seen enough articles and slide decks to know that scientists have a knack for making awful charts. We need help. But data visualization theory veers into a dizzying hole of dataviz wonderland full of debating mad-hatters. We just need guidance for fixing our charts. Good Charts provides that.

The book’s layout gives me everything I want in a high-density reference guide. Each chapter has a 1-page recap with action points. You could read the nine chapter summaries in minutes and feel instantly empowered. They cover brainstorming techniques, chart types and the arguments they best support, tips for aesthetics, tips for highlighting your main point, and a critiquing framework to improve your chart competence.

Grab this book next time you’re making a chart. It won’t make your head spin. It will improve your chart-making skills so you can better communicate your hypotheses, declutter your journal articles, and entice your audience to keep their laptops closed.

 
 

Feel free to comment on Twitter