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7 Works 1,400 Members 13 Reviews

About the Author

Includes the name: Stephen Few

Image credit: Stephen Few. Photo by Francois Lamotte.

Works by Stephen Few


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Few, Stephen
20th Century
Places of residence
Berkeley, California, USA
IT innovator
University of California, Berkeley
Short biography
He has more than 20 years of experience as an innovator, consultant, and educator in Information Technology (IT). Most of this time he has specialized in the fields of Data Warehousing (a.k.a. Business Intelligence and Decision Support) and Information Design. Today, as principal of the consultancy Perceptual Edge, Mr. Few focuses on the design and use of Business information for effective analysis and communication.



I probably have read too many of these kinds of books, Tufte, Wainer, Cleveland, Friendly, perhaps it is time to stop.
markm2315 | 4 other reviews | Jul 1, 2023 |
Some good ideas in this. But I think the author missed a big opportunity: not only critique the bad ones, but correct them as well! Show the right way to do it side-by-side with the bad example!
MarkLacy | 2 other reviews | May 29, 2022 |
Just finished [Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten] by Stephen Few, the second edition from 2012. I'm working as an in-house editor for a biomedical research consortium, and I want to help researchers present their work more effectively. This book is a great resource for that.

The topic is inherently very dry, boring even, but Stephen Few brings a sense of fun and whimsy, starting with an excerpt from Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Numbers" before the table of contents. The book is divided into 14 chapters accompanied by several appendices and is written in an engaging, accessible style. The concepts are illustrated with lots of concrete example, largely from the business world, so lots of marketing summaries, sales figures, and the like.

The intro explicitly lays out the purpose and scope of the book and intended audience, and a chapter on basic stats follows. The book then proceeds through tables vs graphs, types of tables, science of visual perception and principles of graphical communication, types of graphs, general design principles for communication, then specific design principles for tables and graphs, with a detailed breakdown of design choices for each component of a graph, strategies for simultaneously displaying multiple variables, and then closes with principles of good storytelling and the balance between standards and innovation. Probably my favorite chapter is "Silly Graphs that Are Best Forsaken" (spoiler: donut charts, radar charts, stacked area graphs, circle charts, unit charts, funnel charts, waterfall charts).

Several of the chapters include hands-on exercises, both provided by the author and explicitly asking the reader to draw from their own graphs and tables from work. The pages are arranged to allow for writing in the margins, and the more extensive exercises are laid out with room for writing below each item like a workbook. References are provided in the margin, and Few is great about naming the people, not just the source titles, as well as sharing relevant quotes. He is also straightforward in expressing his own opinions and sharing his own experiences. Each chapter ends with a "summary at a glance" section like any textbook.

What I most appreciated is approaching this entire topic through the lens of storytelling and the importance of narrative. Relevant quotes:

"Information can't possibly serve a purpose until we first identify what's meaningful then manage to make sense of it."

"Unless we give information a clear voice, its important stories will remain unheard, and ignorance will prevail."

"We derive great value from the stories that numbers tell, yet we rarely consider the significance of how we present them."

"We must design the message in a way that leads readers on a journey of discovery."

"Quantitative stories are always about relationships."

"Before stories can be told, they must be discovered and understood. Data sensemaking precedes data presentation."

This is a great resource for approaching visual aids with intention and thought instead of just relying on the default settings of spreadsheets and/or graphing software. It can help anyone become a more effective presenter and design better visual aids.
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justchris | 4 other reviews | Aug 16, 2021 |
Dashboards are a hot topic in our information-laden world. They are imagined by those in the design world (often very poorly) and implemented by programmers who do not take their imagination any further. This book, written by an acknowledged expert in the field of visualization, describes how to design dashboards that communicate essential data to users, mostly business-people. As such, its audience consists of designers, not programmers. Although I am a programmer, I enjoy "cross-training" my imagination by thinking in the intellectual "boxes" or "bins" of those around me.

Few introduces standard graphs and a couple new ones (bullet graphs and sparklines). He explains the use of each in standard fashion. His real contribution, after explaining the fairly standard song-and-dance, is through the introduction of these new graphs, one of which he invented. I was curious to try to implement these two graphs using R's ggplot. Although I have no immediate use for these types of graphs, it's nice to have new tools in the box of memory to explain people's data accurately and effectively.
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scottjpearson | 2 other reviews | Jan 25, 2020 |


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