Today, I would like to share with you my review of Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data by Stephanie Evergreen. This book has really made me think about my approach to charts, so I wanted I would tell you about it.
The book is broken down into 10 chapters. Chapter 1 provides the context of why to visualize data and shows how bad visualization can cause the reader to misunderstand the point being made. Chapters 2-10 work through different scenarios, explaining which charts are best for each scenario, then providing detailed instructions to create each chart.
Excel is a great visualization tool
Most of the examples in the book use Excel as the visualization tool. The screenshots and examples clearly show that Excel is an excellent tool for visualization. Just flicking through the book will demonstrate that bad charts are not Excel’s fault, but our fault for not being able to select the right colors, fonts, spacing, titles or legends etc.
For each chart type there are easy to follow, step-by-step instructions with plenty of screenshots. Some of the charts are actually quite complex for Excel, but they are described in a way which anybody who has used Excel for a short period of time will be able to follow.
This is not a book about every chart type and setting available. Whilst Excel is the primary tool, it is not an Excel book per se, the focus is how to create effective visualizations. Therefore, it shows what you need to know to create useful charts, rather than every chart. This is a great approach to learning, because it only shows the features which give the greatest benefit.
Not just the how but also the why
I like that this book does not just describe how to make beautiful charts but also why they work for each given scenario. There are various perception, communication and data evaluation studies referenced throughout the book, which shows this is not just the author’s ideas, but the direct application of those studies. These were my favorite sections of the book, I have created so many bad charts in my time that knowing the results of these studies has really made me think about my approach to charts.
When creating charts, there are hundreds of options available to us. But, which options should we choose? Should we include a legend? Which colors should we pick? Do we need the gridlines? The truth is, most Excel users don’t really know the answer, they just follow what they have seen on other charts (which have also been created by Excel users who don’t really know either). This book provides and principles and methods to answer all those questions, so you can know the answer.
Is this book for you?
Do you ever create charts in Excel? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then ‘Yes’, this book is for you, it’s that simple. And once you’ve read it, you will wish you had known this stuff years ago.
If you want to buy a copy yourself you can get it from Amazon here.