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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and…
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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten (edition 2012)

by Stephen Few (Author)

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380458,401 (4.08)3
Tables and graphs can more adequately communicate important business information when they reflect the good design practices discussed in this practical guide to effective table and graph design. Information is provided on the fundamental concepts of table and graph design, the numbers and knowledge most suitable for display in a graphic form, the best tabular means to communicate certain ideas, and the component-level aspects of design. Analysts, technicians, and managers will appreciate the solid theory behind this outline for ensuring that tables and graphs present quantitative business information in a truthful, attractive format that facilitates better decision making.… (more)
Member:richardbunnyfoot
Title:Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten
Authors:Stephen Few (Author)
Info:Analytics Press (2012), Edition: Second, 371 pages
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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few

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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. ( )
  justchris | Aug 16, 2021 |
Almost encyclopedic or clinical in nature - not sure which. Very comprehensive look at what makes visualizations (tables and charts) effective or not. ( )
  tgraettinger | Sep 2, 2019 |
A great example driven book on data presentation. Some duplication with Few's later work, but we'll worth picking up. ( )
  MickBrooke | Jan 2, 2019 |
Great book. This should be required reading for anybody who has to display information. Would be cool to see a chapter on presenting scientific data specifically. ( )
  lemontwist | Sep 4, 2016 |
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Tables and graphs can more adequately communicate important business information when they reflect the good design practices discussed in this practical guide to effective table and graph design. Information is provided on the fundamental concepts of table and graph design, the numbers and knowledge most suitable for display in a graphic form, the best tabular means to communicate certain ideas, and the component-level aspects of design. Analysts, technicians, and managers will appreciate the solid theory behind this outline for ensuring that tables and graphs present quantitative business information in a truthful, attractive format that facilitates better decision making.

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