The DoD Loves Complex Charts

As you know, Bob, I’m mildly obsessed with how to display data visually. Displaying data well is tough, especially when you’re talking about complex data. When I have to design a chart for some crazy-ass set of data, I often look at how others have done the same thing, and I keep tabs on blogs that cover chart-making in detail. I also like to collect examples of how to do it badly.

Thankfully, as I’ve mentioned before, the DoD is a great source of bad charts.

A Chart of Afghanistan Stability

Look at that thing! Click on it and behold it in its full splendor! Some of the data is color-coded, but there are multiple secondary labels per color. Those secondary labels are on top of the chart, partially obscuring words and the connecting lines. The light green is unreadable, and the light blue isn’t much better. Most of the nodes in this graph are blocks of text, except when they’re not. I know this is a working draft, and I know the chart’s designers are trying to convey a lot of information, but good grief this is bad.

(via TPM)



  1. on December 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Tufte puked on that one, I bet.

    [If I didn’t already have your Christmas present, I’d probably get you a Tufte book, now that I think about it.]

  2. Kate McKee
    on December 18, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Hey, isn’t that the chart that Michael showed Sydney to show her how deep SD-6 really went?

  3. on December 18, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Ha! I think you’re right.

  4. kat
    on December 19, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    For someone who is going into another cycle of chart making (yeah, design reviews!), I thank you for this. I’m giving a copy to my systems engineers so that they can hit people over the head with it on all of the things not to do in charts. 🙂

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Morayati, Stephen Granade. Stephen Granade said: Hey, you know what will brighten your day? Looking at a terrible chart that mangles complex information! […]