Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An imaginary dialogue about infographics between a designer and a managing editor

The chart below displays Spanish unemployment between February and August 2013. In less than five seconds, tell me what's wrong with it (source):

Spain's public broadcasting corporation, (RTVE) has always had a complicated relationship with truth. It's not that its journalists are bad professionals as far as I know, most of them are quite good. RTVE's main problem is that its top managers —including executive news editors— are appointed by the ruling party, so many of them don't act as journalists, but as obedient apparatchiks.

Is this the reason why the graphic disaster above (I hope that WTFviz will post it soon) was shown in a news segment today? I don't have the evidence to prove it, but I can certainly have some fun and envision an unctuous apparatchik whispering in a designer's ear: "You know, if you include a zero-baseline in this chart it'll be impossible to see any changes."

And the designer replying: "But that's exactly the point. There has been some change, around 300k people, a 6% or 7% decrease. It's significant, but also relatively small, considering how bad the economy is right now. I guess that we could put the baseline at 4 million, but only if we clearly label the Y-axis. That'd be acceptable."

Apparatchik: "Oh, let's not clutter the display. I'm sure you've read the books by that uptight American fellow,* and know that our viewers are not stupid! They can do some Arithmetic and subtract one number from the other. Just draw a white horizontal line down there!"

Designer: "But this will be on screen for just five or ten seconds! Most people won't have the time to read the figures! Many will walk away with the wrong visual impression. This is like when the folks at Venezolana TelevisiĆ³n designed this horror (source):"

Apparatchik: "Look, we're on a deadline. I'm the editor, the real journalist here. You're just an artist. Just do it. By the way, don't forget that I don't want to show an entire year. The line should begin in February 2013."

Designer: "Why? We should display unemployment from August 2012 to August 2013. That's the only way our audience can notice, for instance, seasonal changes due to the fact that Spain is a country whose economy greatly depends on summer tourism. Besides, now that I think about it, shouldn't we show unemployment rates, percentages, and not absolute values?"

Apparatchik: "Well, if we do all that, viewers will think that the country may be in fact a bit worse than a year ago. We need to instill some optimism! You don't want to upset our audience, do you?"

Designer (looking at the graph below; source): "Sigh..."

*Notice that the apparatchik says "American" without mentioning any specific place in the U.S. such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Connecticut, Kansas City, New Jersey, NYC, Seattle, or Miami...