How to Dress (Your Graph) for Success!


The way your graph looks can make all the difference ... two people can graph the exact same data in essentially the same way, but one of the two graphs can be perceived as much better than the other. Hopefully reading my blogs will help you create the better graph!

Way back in my formative high school and college years (1980s & 1990s), there was a lot of emphasis on having the right look. A popular song at the time was ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man, TV shows like Miami Vice always had a certain fashion sense about them, and the Dress For Success book told us all what to wear for our interviews. My buddy Anil was probably the sharpest dressed guy in our dorm, and he is now in Abu Dhabi working for one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world ... so, apparently all that sharp dressing worked! Here's a picture of Anil dressed for a typical day at college (can you guess what year this was?)

Well, graphs are no different ... If your graph doesn't have the right look, then it will not be nearly as successful. I recently found some interesting graphs showing social network poll results, that make a good example of this. They weren't bad graphs, per say, but they just didn't have the right look.

Their first/overall graph was too cluttered. Why did they use a smartphone screen-capture on the left to show the survey question -- why not just have that in the title of the graph? Why did they put the A/B/C/D in front of the social network names? (presumably to control the order of the bars -- but why?!?) Why duplicate the social network logos below the bars, and also in the smartphone screen capture? The graph caught my attention, but I had to spend way too much time figuring it out.

In my SAS version, I basically used the same layout and colors, but simplified the graph considerably. And if being able to understand a graph easily & quickly is 'success' ... I think my graph is definitely more 'dressed for success' than the original one was. :-)

social_networks_2016

They also showed the survey results by gender. This graph was a lot better than their first one, but it still had the A/B/C/D in the legend, and I'm not sure why they decided to label 51% on the response axis. Also, I think it's a bit confusing that they used vertical bars for the first chart, and now changed to horizontal bars - either orientation would be OK for this data, but I think it would be best to use the same orientation in both charts.

Here's my version of the gender plot -- note that I used vertical bars so it's the same layout as the first chart, and I labeled the bars rather than using a color legend.

social_networks_20161

They also showed the data by age range. The main problem here is that I would put the lower age ranges at the bottom of the graph, and the higher ages at the top of the graph.

Someone on Statpedia created another version of this graph, using stacked bars. I like the stacked layout better, but their graph still had the lower ages at the top of the graph.

Here's my version of the graph. Note that I put the higher ages at the top of the axis, and I eliminated the space between the bars. My legend is also in the same order as the bar segments are stacked. I think this is a nice sharp (dressed) graph!

social_networks_20162

Now for the big question -- do you agree with the survey results? Why do you think the younger people check Snapchat more often, and the older people check Facebook?

This content was reposted from the SAS Learning Post. Go there to read the original.

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

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Re: FB
  • 8/15/2016 8:20:37 AM
NO RATINGS

@Robert, I hear that often and I agree, the new ad structure brings that a little more to the front but it has always been this way.  I know that FB places a monetary value on each account but I wonder how granular they got.  Eventually they start to look like a lead generation business tracking click through rates, life events and habits. 

Re: FB
  • 8/12/2016 10:56:51 AM
NO RATINGS

@Robert too true.

Re: FB
  • 8/12/2016 10:32:09 AM
NO RATINGS

I've heard but not tried yet, that Facebook will allow you to go into an obscure and hard to find settings page to choose which ads you want to see or not see by company names, but you can't turn them off, just the ablility to choose which ones are shown to you. Try https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=ads

Re: FB
  • 8/12/2016 8:42:57 AM
NO RATINGS

When it comes to Facebook, I think Bruce Schneier said it best ... "Don't make the mistake of thinking you're Facebook's customer, you're not – you're the product. Its customers are the advertisers."

Re: FB
  • 8/12/2016 8:16:03 AM
NO RATINGS

Maybe the ads are a way of taking our minds off of the value that our data has outside of FB ads.  That or the data turns out to be less valuable than first expected and that's why FB has to find other ways to monetize.  Either way it's interesting to watch the various social media outlets grow.  The Facebook of today is a vastly different landscape than it was just a few years ago, Twitter isn't just short messages anymore and a new app pops up every day.

Re: FB
  • 8/11/2016 8:15:54 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT of course. People forget there's no free lunch, and if you are getting one, it's only because someone figured out a way to monetize it. that's certainly the case with social media services. They're selling ads, monetizing your data, etc. Without that, they wouldn't have much incentive to stay in business. 

Re: FB
  • 8/11/2016 8:13:15 AM
NO RATINGS

I haven't tried but I've heard a lot of complaining.  A bit more challenging is probably enough that regular folks won't be able to stop them. I don't know that this will result in users leaving FB since they stuck around when the ads started up in the first place.  To me though it looks like a way to ensure revenue in the short term in case it goes the way of GeoCities.  It doesn't take much of a shift for social sites to suffer so squeezing as much out as they can now makes sense.  

Re: FB
  • 8/10/2016 10:44:49 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT I had a discussion about this on G+. The technically inclined said you can always block ads; it just gets a bit more challenging.

Re: FB
  • 8/10/2016 9:37:22 AM
NO RATINGS

I'm hearing about some ad issues inside FB today.  Mostly friends noticing that the ad blocking software they had in place is no longer blocking ads on FB.  It seems that FB has made some updates in an attempt to allow users to control ads a little better but that comes with the side effect of not being able to avoid ads all together.  The way the targeted ads work I do get the feeling that there's more than a little privacy being given up.

Re: FB
  • 8/9/2016 8:40:47 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT I'd say the complexity is all about getting more data on users to sell and showing them what FB gets paid to show. Of course complexity could also be used to hide behind when accused of bias in news feeds as per http://gizmodo.com/former-facebook-workers-we-routinely-suppressed-conser-1775461006

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