World’s Ugliest Visualization

Some ideas sound good in your head, but they are just bad.  This is one of them.  After seeing some very cool glyph visuals, I started to wonder, why not simply display different values overlaid on top of each other in the form of concentric circles?

I was thinking in terms of some geometric glyph visual I had seen where the shapes indicated different aspects of movies; Cost, US Gross, International Gross.  In this visual, each would be represented by a concentric circle whose area was proportional to the figure.

For example, if we were to assign colors to the columns:

  • Cost = Red
  • US Gross = Dark Green
  • International Gross = Light Green

Then a movie which cost little to make, did well internationally and phenomenally within the US might look like:


A movie which did phenomenal internationally, well enough in the US and cost little to make might look like:


An expensive and total flop might look like:


Sounded kind of logical, right?  Well, not so much.  Here’s what an analysis of 100 movies might look like:


It looks as if a giant ran amuck in Santa’s workshop and squashed all 100 of the elves.  It actually gives me a headache and I think I might have violated most of the rules of data visualization.

  1. I’m pretty sure Cythia Brewer would never choose this palette.
  2. Circles are not great for conveying proportion.  I understand tall.  I understand fat.  I have no such intuitive understanding of a shape whose area is Pi * r^2.
  3. There are no labels.  Of course, I don’t think I will bother, unless I decide to incorporate into Dex as a joke.  A super obnoxious visual folks can use to give really bad presentations.
  4. The overlaying of concentric circles robs the outer circle’s sense of proportion.  The brain just doesn’t interpret this correctly.
  5. Given 2 circles of equal size, 1 will be entirely eclipsed.  Given 3, 2 will be eclipsed.  I am pretty sure that Tufte would say that sucks and probably give me the finger.

Anyway, maybe this is why I start with great working visuals from other folks and build upon them.  So far, mine are horrible.

That’s it for now!

– Pat


About patmartin

I am a coder and Data Visualization/Machine Learning enthusiast.
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