What would you do if a co-worker makes ugly chart? [weekend poll]

Posted on August 7th, 2009 in Charts and Graphs - 31 comments

ugly chartsWe talk alot about making better charts and perils of bad charts here.

I want to know what you usually do when a co-worker or boss makes an ugly chart?

  1. You tell them the chart sucks
  2. You gently point out the mistakes of their chart and tell them some nicer and cooler ways to tackle it
  3. You stay calm and send them an e-mail later (may be with a link to PHD chart pages or something like that)
  4. You don’t care (and may be continue doodling)
  5. Any other

Vote your option using comments.

As for me, I once saw my boss make an ugly chart, take a print screen of the excel window with that chart, paste it in the powerpoint and present it to a whole room of project sponsors. I just gritted my teeth and continued doodling because she is a difficult person to deal with.

Happy weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

Written by Chandoo
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31 Responses to “What would you do if a co-worker makes ugly chart? [weekend poll]”

  1. JP says:

    Option #2. I'd say something like "It's a great chart, but the 3D effect makes it a bit hard to read." And so on.

  2. Steve says:

    Ask them what they are trying to communicate and show them examples of more effective charts to accomplish their objective.

  3. Option #3.
    I usually add a link to "6 charts you will see in hell", "9 Steps to Simpler Chart Formatting" (PTS) or "Ten Chart Design Principles: Guest Post" (PTS). If the person doesn't speak English, I just say how would the chart look like if I did it myyyy waaay. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jazzy Jeff says:

    I have this co worker who has no idea how bad he is at Excel. Just yesterday he took over a folder full of Excelsheets I made and completely destroyed them by changing both the tables and charts.

    He refused to let me just do the work so there wasn't much I could do. So I just gritted my teeth and punched a wall when I got home.

  5. AC says:

    What would you do if a website author had a typo in his title?

  6. Chandoo says:

    @AC... Pls. tell me where the typo is and I will correct it. You get a donut as well ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Jorge Camoes says:

    Chandoo, usually the problem is not one ugly chart. The problem is when corporate culture accepts and promotes Excel default 3D charts that have zero or negative ROI.

    And how can you say "this is an ugly chart" if all the other charts look similar and there is no other accepted model?

  8. PragmaticCynic says:

    Chandoo,

    I get about 5-7 others interested in better chart design and then have my disciples descend upon the higher up with "you know a better way to show this is..." Interestingly must Execs take it better from from a young (late 20s) person than middle aged me. They think Gen Y are "cool" so they must be right on this visualization stuff.

  9. Jon Peltier says:

    It depends on the exact circumstances. I've followed each of the five options, in order of prevalence probably 2, 1, and 4.

  10. Ivan says:

    I have been known to tell my boss or co-workers that a chart sucks.

    However, most of the time I go with #2 You gently point out the mistakes of their chart and tell them some nicer and cooler ways to tackle it.

    I usually distribute a copy of Jorge Camoe's "14 Misconceptions About Charts and Graphs" and Mike Alexander's "Ten Chart Design Principles" to my team members.

  11. Cyril Z. says:

    #3 is useless unless he asked you for help (assuming he realized his chart sucks).

    I've already tried #2 and #4 depending on how close you are with your co-worker.

    For #1 I think you have to take care of the possible "boomerang-effect". Risky.

  12. Mathias says:

    Depends on the circumstances, but in general I would use a modified version of (2). I think it's Pascal who said that to convince someone, you have to first show them how they are right, and then only tell them that they have not considered everything. In that case, you start with a compliment on the chart (wow I really like the 3D effect, it looks spectacular... ) and move to a limitation (it's too bad, because it's kind of hard to see what's going on with the series in the back). If you want to change someone's behavior, don't antagonize them!

  13. Mathias says:

    @PragmaticCynic: interesting remark! Besides the youth being cool and hip, it probably has to do also with the fact that some of the competition is defused. If a colleague who is a peer shows you how to "do your job", you could take that as a challenge to your competence. I'll keep this in mind!

  14. Govi says:

    First 1 than 2

  15. laxsixsigma says:

    I ask them who made this ugly chart for them? So they don't think I'm judging "their" chart. Then I say I have some resources if you need next time. You're a high level individual, but your chart isn't saying that.

  16. Robin says:

    If it's a one-time chart, I'd do nothing.

    Sometimes I'll offer to set up dynamic ranges and a dynamic chart title so they don't have to fool with ranges and formatting any more, then I change the appearance and/or chart type in the process. Usually they'll add some of the junk back in, but not always and not all of it.

    I have also presented a different chart type and asked the offender if they would mind using the simpler one because I was having trouble understanding theirs...

  17. JaeP says:

    as I'm not so far up the food chain - I would make a suggestion for correction - but as stated previously - if the corporate standard is "ugly" charts...it's to be expected

    then I have to opt for your action: To continue to doodle - because when it comes to the Borg - resistance is futile

  18. chip says:

    5. Any Other: I'd take a passive-aggressive approach. I would probably ask them the value of S3 for item B. Or complain that the gray background is causing my eyes to go crosseyed. Or ask if the values between S1 and S3 are supposed to be labeled S2 or what?

    I'm kind of an ass that way.

  19. Les says:

    Option #4. Keep as far away from that person as possible. Anyone who would use that chart has no design sense and probably a demented mind. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Here is an example of my doodling - %$#&*(!@)(/*+, .... I think I'm ok though ?

  20. I sometimes respond with option 1 and sometimes option 2. Sometimes, I have Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx create the proper visualization and give it back to the co-worker.

    My final piece of advice, changing culture is hard, just keep at it and keep your Few and Tufte books nearby.

    @dmgerbino

  21. Team Nirvana says:

    "I just gritted my teeth and continued doodling because she is a difficult person to deal with."

    Happens to me even now Chandu. Sometimes my colleagues can even hear me grinding my teeth in anger. But, what more can we ask for??

  22. #1....plain and simple...

  23. My situation is somewhat different since I'm often in a seminar environment where I'm hired to teach employees to draw effective graphs since their management does not like what the employees are producing. Suppose some of their work includes 3D pie charts. I will erase the labels using graphics editing software and then ask the group to estimate the values of the wedges. Then I will show the same data drawn with my choice of display and again ask the audience to read the values. Usually there is lots of discussion when I show the original chart with the values added back in. The person who drew the chart hears how wrong the estimates were from the original chart and how easy it was for them to read the alternative one. Other chart types are treated similarly.

  24. Jasper says:

    I would say it depends on the boss.

    Having deal with a number of boss from the same job (they rotate the manager every year or two), some are open to improvement while others will feel insulted if you correct them.

    Anyhow, most of them ended up dumping me with the chart making decision most of the time instead of them trying to make it themselves. Saves us both the time and effort.

    But if it's from a difficult boss, I would just do as you did, grit my teeth and keep on doodling. =b

  25. Denis says:

    I have exactly the man sitting right behind my back ๐Ÿ™‚ I always try action #2, but most of the time it comes back to option #1 and some mutual accusations in incompetence. My is totally indifferent to how the charts and graphs look, so there is no one to judge us. Which is why I usually just take it and make it my way, which later on causes the accusation, that "your time is not worth it!", "you are not paid for that!" and "you are wasting your time correcting something that is good enough!".

    Permanent mutual disagreement you see...

  26. Doug says:

    My vote: "You gently point out the mistakes of their chart and tell them some nicer and cooler ways to tackle it"

    In fact, I was doing this so frequently that I conducted an in-house training session to show others the error of their ways.

  27. arkangel says:

    #2 here normally. The bad thing at my job is that one of the members of upper management has been spewing ugly charts right and left lately. Since we're a catalog based company, he thought it would be a great idea to change the backgrounds to photos of the warehouse, orders, and my personal favorite, a sealed case of product! The markings on the case lined up with one of the bars on the graph and made it look like it was explaining something.

  28. jeff weir says:

    โ€œI just gritted my teeth and continued doodling because she is a difficult person to deal with.โ€ And then I wrote about it on my blog.

    Crikey! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  29. Vipul says:

    Hey Chandoo, good stuffs on the websites. I noticed a couple of polls on your website and most/all needing a comment box to participate. Just a quick suggestion - maybe you can embed online poll from best of the service providers like say polldaddy or others that'll also help you get quick analytics on the poll. Since the subscriber base is high on your website, it'll be interesting to see the analytics on the polls related to excel. Thanks.

  30. Chandoo says:

    @Vipul... good suggestion. I have been avoiding polls as they come with baggage like javascript or wordpress plugins. I will try to include some interactive polls in the next few weeks.

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