For years, The Wall Street Journal has been the most reliable source I know of high-quality charts and tables. Most of their work has been excellent.
Sure, they occasionally use fat-food chart types…doughnut and pie charts. But even those tend to be free of gratuitous junk.
But on April 17, 2012, the WSJ fell off the wagon. They published this horrible chart figure:
Here, the background image acts as camouflage. Instead of forcing readers to search for substance in the clutter, the WSJ should have allowed their readers to glance at a simple chart that introduced their article.
Then, on the front page of their April 25, 2012, issue, the WSJ published the figure on the left:
In the WSJ’s figure, the amazing growth in Apple’s iPhone sales should dominate the figure…like it does in my Excel figure on the right.
But in both WSJ figures, the chart-junk images make us work to understand the data, just as we must work to understand a conversation at a noisy party.
True, neither chart makes it impossible for us to understand the data. But the chart-junk images do act as noise where your readers need silence.
Please, when you design your Excel charts, don’t do what the WSJ did in these examples. Help your readers and avoid the chart junk.