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All charts are biased, but some are useful

Nick Desbarats leads data visualization and dashboard design courses.Nick Desbarats leads data visualization and dashboard design courses.Nick Desbarats has taught data visualization and information dashboard design to thousands of professionals in over a dozen countries at organizations including NASA, Bloomberg, the UN and Hershey's. He currently teaches Stephen Few's foundational workshops.

Here’s the premise of his recent JMP Foreword column:

“If two competent data visualization experts are given the same data and audience scenario, the charts that they design based on that same information are unlikely to be identical and may even be quite different.”

Why is that? Desbarats explains that every chart is a summary and when we create summaries, we inevitably make judgment calls.

“We have to decide what to include and what to omit, what to focus on and what to de-emphasize, what to lump together and what to keep separate,” he says.

Desbarats is a frequent presenter, and many of his workshop participants are uncomfortable with the idea that there is no such thing as an unbiased chart. But his column explains why this is OK, as long as we recognize our biases and do our best to create the most useful chart for a given target audience or purpose based on best practices in data visualization.

For Nick Desbarats’ full column, get a digital or hard copy of JMP Foreword magazine. Nick will teach a public workshop on visual business intelligence in Portsmouth, VA, April 6-9. Check it out!