Getting Your Charts Right

Rod Jacka - Friday, November, 08, 2013

Communicating complex and varied data in a useful and meaningful way  is always a challenge. How can you convey multidimensional data in a way that allows viewers to take in the whole picture at a glance?

As a dedicated audiobook listener I regularly scour Audible.com for interesting books to listen to. I’m investing 4 to 10 hours of my life in each one, so I need to know whether a book is going to be worth it. For each book, Audible provides charts, based on audience feedback, that provide very detailed data in a simple and comparable way.

Each chart allows me to see how others responded to the book, providing me with both the average (the stars at the top), and the distribution (the bars below), across three dimensions. It also provides the number of respondents in each group.

Audible Customer Rating Chart

The colour scheme of the Audible charts is also helps viewers interpret the data meaningfully — with the overall average rating in red and the detailed information in grey. This is very much in keeping with what Stephen Few and others recommend for the design of charts like this.

How do other online retailers show this kind of data?

Audible’s parent company Amazon provides a similar chart, but only for a single dimension. This limits the value of the chart as an aid to decision making — it’s not clear what aspects of the book were most successful for these reviewers.

Amazon Customer Rating Chart
Australian online store OO.com.au only provides an average rating which doesn’t allow me to see how many people highly rated the product and how many didn’t. While I like the pros, cons and best uses categories, the layout of this chart causes the viewer to do a lot more work than they should have to.

OO.com.au Customer Rating Chart
US clothing retailer LLBean.com uses a popup, restricting the view of the detailed breakdown to those who roll over the average star rating. 

LL Bean Customer Rating Chart

Getting your charts and reports right is a key impact factor in your success, whether you are selling audiobooks, or reporting to the C-suite. Spending time on making your data clear, compelling and instantly comprehensible will always be a good investment.

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