Data Viz Done Right

June 30, 2014

Makeover Monday: How Americans Spend Their Online Time

Time spent online - we all do a LOT of it. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, ESPN, or any other site, the data shows that the average American spends a LOT of time online. Business Insider took a look at this recently with this circular chart:

The content of this slide is quite interesting, but their approach for visualizing it could be better.  I feel like they went after cute instead of simple. 

In his article "Our Irresistible Fascination with All Things Circular", Stephen Few talks about how hard it is to make comparisons with circles. Many designers use the diameter of circles to distinguish size. It's hard to tell precisely if Business Insider made this mistake, which in itself is a problem.  If I can't easily tell that the 19 for Online Games is just over half of Social Networks, then I'm having to do too much work.

In addition, they have plotted the circles on two rows. Comparing any two of these circles that are not directly adjacent to each other is too hard.

I would have created a simple bar chart instead.

I've made a two notable changes:
  1. I converted the circles to bars, making comparisons much easier.
  2. I added the % of total time spent online to the end of the bars to give additional context.
Do you agree that this is easier to read? If not, why not? How would you do visualize this data differently? Download the data here or the Tableau workbook here.


  1. Much better, can it be said the total of these is what the average american spends online in a day? i.e. just under 3hrs? if so that might be an interesting tidbit to thrown in the white space lower right.

    1. That would be an excellent addition Tarik! Thanks!

  2. I think it would be safe to just label 'Other' as Porn. ;)

    1. Shopping must be there too. It seems that the original article is breaking down social activities only. Other inlcudes all those non-social things.

  3. So much easier to read and cuter too! (Did NOT love their transparent gray icons.)

  4. Just found that you used horizontal bars as a superior viz chart in your 3 latest blogs in a roll. It seems horizontal bars are so much under appreciated by the professionals. Hope your posts will change that.