Unshrinking The World
In this series, we are analyzing and remaking poorly designed data visualizations found on the internet. Today’s chart has been ridiculed a lot on Twitter and surprisingly there seems to be more than version of this circling around.1,2 We will go with the graph constituting the original sin:
Breaking The Law
Breaking Tufte’s first principle of graphical integrity in this kind of manner is truly spectacular. Be reminded:
The representation of numbers, as physically measured on the surface of the graph itself, should be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented.Edward Tufte
Although I am not a hardliner on this concept, it is easy to see why it should be interpreted as a strict rule in this case. Also, we should get rid of the highly stylized and somewhat “overgendered” depiction of women in this chart.
Furthermore, we add the growth of height over the past century beneath the original chart. This puts the variation of height over countries into the context of the variation of height over time. This time we seemingly break Tufte’s principle and not include zero on the y-axis. Notice however, that we are using the same scaling as in the graph above, thus aligning the growth in height with the impression of height obtained from the first graph in context.
One error, however, cannot be fixed easily: Here we try to display the one-dimensional data of heights, while in fact plotting two dimensional areas. The areas somewhat misrepresent variation in the data since the proportions of a human body do not generally stay the same over varying heights. Ideally, one would want to vary height while altering body proportions. Not an easy task and a hint that those kinds of representations should generally be avoided.