Excel graphs: Henry Ford style

My new staff member, Mr West and I, were discussing graphs. I know what you’re thinking. What a scintillating conversation!

It seems that we can only reach agreement as follows:

  • red and green should be used with caution as they sometimes can convey and unintentional negative or positive message
  • decimals places on currency is sometimes confusing and best left off
  • while some graphs are technically correct their ‘direction’ can give a false emotion e.g. a line that goes down often looks more negative than a line that goes up

Yet we are stuck on reverse type. We’ve conducted a straw poll in the office and it’s 3 votes for black background graphs with white text; (with one citing a caveat on whether they are to be printed or not); and 3 votes against.

Now Mr West and I have not known each other long. Less than a couple of months. Despite that, I think he may have already detected my slightly stubborn streak. It’s faint; undetectable really; it’s probably not that noticeable. I never argue a point; google the internet for data to support my point of view; threaten co-workers they need to agree with me (except for today; that’s how I’ve got 3 votes against the black!)

I am looking for the definitive article which says reverse type (white on black) is simply no good. Jeff Brooks in his new book calls reverse type a readability killer and a crusher of fundraising income.

I found one article on the readability of inverted color schemes from Accessible Web Design. After years of working in a blindness agency, I knew not to read further. If there is one thing that is guaranteed, it is that there is never agreement when it comes to accessibility.

I tried to push my way through ‘When Legibility, Readability & Usability Intersect, Then We Reach Our Target Audience’. Ironically I found it difficult to read!

Finally, I came across 14 Misconceptions About Charts and Graphs. It does diddly-squat to prove that black graphs are bad; but it sure does give some darn ugly graphs. (My personal favourite is the pie chart in misconception 9).

Until I locate some evidence to support my position that white on black is not as readable as the reverse, then I can see that my graphs are going to continue to arrive paying homage to Mr Ford.

PS: Anyone who can direct this monkey to any article which bags out reverse type graphs, I will forever by in your debt!


Posted on December 6, 2012, in Communications, Data and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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