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October 24, 2016

Makeover Monday: How big is America's debt?

This week's Makeover Monday looks at this infographic from Visual Capitalist:

What works well?

  • The author is at least making an attempt, though a poor one, at putting the US debt into context.
  • Overall, the infographic is visually pleasing.

What doesn't work well?

  • The author uses green for the US in the pie chart, but black everywhere else. This should be consistent as it could lead to confusing the two.
  • The pie chart is 3D and appears to have an extra little white slice that doesn't mean anything.
  • All of the comparisons except the S&P 500 seem to be a real stretch.

When I created the data set for this week, I included only two records. I did this because I wanted to challenge people to work with small data. I'll be writing later this week (hopefully) about how people actually handled it, many not very well.

My initial idea was to create a unit chart that included 1 million dots, but Tableau wouldn't draw them. I then went back to Alteryx and reduced it to 10,000 records. Here's my workflow:

I then created two food themed vizzes. First, I created this candy dots chart. If you don't know what candy dots are, click here.

I think this shows the context of the US vs. the rest of the world well, but I don't love it. Ok, how about a waffle chart:

I like how this is really long, but when I showed it to my son Oscar on the plane, he told me it wasn't very good. Nothing like being told the harsh truth by a 14-year old. 

I had food on my mind, and most importantly, SIMPLICITY! I was making this too complicated. Back to the original data of just two records I went. My only goal was to communicate very clear, very simple message. 

Yes, I know donut charts aren't "best practice". I like them, though, when I only have two segments and I can use the hole to communicate the message.


  1. Andy, I am again in complete agreement with you. It's very easy to see that the green segment is about one-third. I've mused on this previously at

  2. Andy, I really like your way to try to solve a problem. And it is really true that sometimes we should go back to simplicity!