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July 12, 2010

World Cup of Doughnuts

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Since I am an avid follower of the Guardian Datablog, I have also become a follower of the Guardian Datastore on flickr so that I can see how people interpret the data provided.

George Primentas of The Missing Graph blog is a consistent contributor to the Datastore, but recently I think he must have started going to Dunkin' Donuts. I've read four blog posts of his about the World Cup and all four of them have doughnut charts. I've been wracking my brain trying to understand why he keeps using them, but I guess it must be because they're cute...or he has a sweet tooth.

In a way I like this particular infographic. It's visually appealing and the level of detail on the background photo interests me as a photographer, but it's a poor visualization of the data. The distinction I'm making is between an infographic and a visualization.

Much like pie charts, doughnut charts are almost always better represented as bar or column charts. Here is his latest example from the post World Cup 2010: Representation of the Continents.

World Cup 2010: Representation of the Continents

In the blog post, there's a set of "interesting facts" presented, but really, George is just stating the facts; there's not anything to gleam from them. That's not George's fault, the data simply isn't interesting.

I've come up with two ways to more effectively present the data for quicker interpretation of the performance of the different continents/confederations (though they don't make the data any more interesting).

In this line chart, you can quickly see the trends. The chart is clean and it tells the story the data wants to tell. I can get away with a line chart because this is a time-series across sequential points in time.

I prefer this bar chart over the line chart. For me, I can more clearly differentiate the continents and it's easy to see how far each continent went in the tournament; the more bars, the farther along they went in the tournament.

In the end, keep in mind whether you want to tell a story with the data or present an aesthetically pleasing graphic. They each have their place, but care must be taken when combining the two.

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