Today I received notice that I was running out of room on my phone’s cloud storage, so I went online to see if there were any files I could eliminate. Included in this photo stream were all of pictures I’ve deleted off my phones in the past three years. One of these pictures, shown above, reveals an Excel gaffe from a couple years ago.
The capacity to present data with visual impact is a skill worth developing, but it is possible to try too hard to make a lasting impression. I had been tasked with comparing the same data, week by week, from two consecutive years. In Excel, there are many choices in creating a chart, and some of these options just translate to a mess. For example, I have yet to encounter any scenario where 3D cones best illustrate a data trend. Perhaps the cone option will finally find its voice in plotting this year’s election results, and said chart will have its legend, title, and axis labels done in an absurd font, too.
In my Excel fiasco shown above, I had first made a chart with simple lines for both years, but the result looked forgettable. I then tried showing each data point as a small circle, only to have a chart full of mixed peppercorns. I thought, what the hell, let’s try formatting those circles, giving them a warmer palette, and enlarging them to the limit of the chart space. I made all of these changes wholesale, clicked OK, and suddenly beheld a Freudian landscape.
While I was striving to show improvement over time with this chart, I only demonstrated decline. At a glance, it says, “look how much our dick has shrunk since last year.”
I learned a few things from this interlude:
- Sometimes simplicity is better than originality
- Data can speak so loudly that the message cannot be heard.
- In illustration, a dick will resist representing anything but itself.