Too often data is dressed up in ways that distract from the underlying message. Take this infographic about donations to fight diseases vs. the annual mortality rate for those diseases:

disease funding and fatalities infographic

The first problem with it is that you have to look in three places to understand any disease: the legend, the Money Raised column, then the Deaths column. The bigger problem, though, is that the circles are sized wrong: presumably by diameter rather than by area, thereby visually exaggerating the data for the largest circles.

With a similar data set, but for the developing world rather than the United States, PRI gets the display of area correct, but still forces you to look in two places for each disease:

PRI cancer funding in the developing world

David Mendoza does a better job with the U.S. data set:

disease funding and fatalities chart

Now, looking in one place shows you money raised vs. the fatalities for each disease.

I might have taken this one step further and added a dividing line with two categories, “Disproportionately funded” and “Underfunded”, to make it less work to understand the graph:

disease funding and fatalities chart redesign

But David’s simple approach more easily and more accurately conveys the information than the infographic does.

(Whether this is the right information to display is another topic altogether: see “Research dollars spent on a disease versus how that disease impacts quality of life“.)

Clever visualizations are important and can add value – but they have to improve accuracy and usability over standard deliverables. In many cases, a normal chart will be more informative than an infographic.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.