Sharing your Viz Failures

In one of his recent Periscope talks, Chris Love asked us to show viz failure. He argued that as a community we would learn more if we didn’t just show the perfect viz. That we should learn more from our mistakes, and that we shouldn’t be demanding a level of perfection that is off-putting to the majority of (new) users.

I have a massive collection of failed graphics that haven’t seen the light of day. (Although you could argue that all (my) vizzes are failures.) Here is the latest in that long line from me.

The background was a Commons Select Committee that highlighted how a large number of Local Authorities were providing no housing for asylum seekers. Data was available showing the provision by each Local Authority for every quarter since 2003.

It was going to be a quick bit of work. It would highlight the inequality of asylum seekers provision across the country. I decided I wanted to show all the data over the years, and so set off on a long road of trying to get the viz to fit the idea. I got obsessed with the concept of n=all.

I knew it wasn’t working, but I’d spent too much time on it. I couldn’t let it go. And it took Chris Love to point out the obvious. It wasn’t very good – the comparison between those local authorities providing support, and those who were not, was not clear, and no amount of fonts and colour were going to really save it.

I had ignored some of the obvious design ideas:

  • always show people (your respect) your work at an early stage,
  • develop more than one idea with your design,
  • and don’t dismiss a simple solution to tell the story.

So I’ve gone back to a viz I actually produced right at the beginning – the stage when you are just playing around with the data to just understand it.

I should have also remembered that the subject was more important than (trying) to show off viz ability. But I let you judge if it’s an improvement.

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