#MakeoverMonday Week 2019-26 Diary

This week’s #MakeoverMonday data set examines the twenty -five countries in the world with the highest consumption of pure alcohol per capita. Below is a picture of the original viz, let’s see what we can do to improve it.


What Does Not Work and Why?

In looking over the original visualization, it became clear quickly that a few small tweaks could drastically improve our audience’s ability to consume the data. So, what doesn’t work and how can it be improved?

  • The Title – it’s misleading and could have us believe we’re looking at actual rates (percentages) of consumption when in fact the data displayed are liters of alcohol consumed. To improve this, we grabbed the title from the y-axis and made it our main title. While exploring the data, I noticed a majority of the countries were European countries, so decided this would be the focus of our viz. To call out the fact that only three of the countries in the Top 25 were non-European countries, we leveraged a light gray/dark red color combination, to bring attention to those three non-European countries. The subtitle coloring ties into the coloring within the viz (which we’ll see shortly), grabbing the reader’s attention.
Original title
Updated title

There are several issues with the chart itself, so instead of showing a before/after snapshot for each individual issue, we’ll first cover what doesn’t work and then provide one before/after that captures all of the updates made.

  • The Truncated Y-Axis – this is a HUGE no-no when working with bar charts. Truncating the axis of a bar chart will ALWAYS result in an inaccurate representation of the data!! My favorite quote on this topic is from Curtis Harris and his Pluralsight course, “Data Visualization: Best Practices.”


Check out the two charts below, the top one has the same truncated axis as the original, while the bottom has a zero baseline. Just look at how the truncated axis distorts the data!! It looks as though the value of Belarus (the top country) is nearly 5x the value of Slovenia (the bottom country) when in reality, the value of Belarus (17.5 liters) is only 1.5x that of Slovenia (11.6 liters). Again, repeat after Curtis…I cannot stress this enough.


  • The Country Labels – it takes our brains longer to read text that is presented vertically or at an angle, so avoid this whenever possible. A simple flip of the chart allows us to display the country names horizontally and is much easier to read.
  • The Grid Lines – I’m a big fan of labeling my bar charts directly when the situation allows for it and felt this was an instance where we could remove the grid lines and simply label the ends of the bars instead.
  • The Color – Nothing in the original viz grabs the reader’s attention. This is where we can leverage the color mentioned earlier to guide the reader’s focus to whatever our particular insights may be; in this example, we wanted the reader to quickly see that out of a list of 25 countries, just three were non-European.

Now that we’ve covered a few items from the original viz that don’t quite work out, let’s take a look back at it, as well as the updates we’ve made, below. Here’s what changed;

  • By flipping the viz we are now able to display the country labels horizontally, thus eliminating the strain on our audience.
  • By removing the truncated axis and setting a zero baseline, we’re able to accurately display the data.
  • We’ve removed the grid lines and labeled the bars directly. What this does is remove any distraction that may be caused by the grid lines and turns our focus to the labeled ends of the bars, instead. Also worth noting, since the bars are labeled directly, we can remove the y-axis (x-axis in my viz), as it no longer provides value.
  • Lastly, we color the three non-European countries to match the red coloring in the title. Notice how quickly your eyes are drawn to those three countries; Grenada, South Korea and Australia.



So there you have it, just a few small changes to the original visualization and we’ve transformed a difficult to read chart with inaccurately displayed data into a clean, crisp looking chart, that leverages color to guide our audience. Thanks, I hope you enjoyed reading this and were able to take away something useful. Have a great day!!



#MakeoverMonday Week 2019-24 Diary

In celebration of pride month, this week’s #MakeoverMonday looks at the question, “Is it wrong for same-sex adults to have sexual relations?” The original visualization by GSS Data Explorer (below), tracks the progress over time of the percentage of the population to answer that it is “Not wrong at all,” broken down by four different age groups. It’s going to be a shorter post this week, so let’s get right to it.

originalStep 1. What Works and What Does Not Work?

Since we’re trending the percentages over time, the original line chart is a logical decision. However, there are a few things that don’t quite work for me. After downloading the data, I noticed there are several years missing and that doesn’t appear to be called out anywhere on the visualization. With data missing between the starting and ending points, a slope chart would be another way to effectively show the change over time. A slope chart would also prevent the lines from overlapping and crossing one another so often. Slope chart or line chart, the colors in the original viz could also be improved upon and I know somewhere where you can find a ton of awesome color palettes…thanks Neil!! Lastly, I would have labeled the ends of the lines…either with the value or with the age group. Labeling the ends of the lines with the age group would allow us to get rid of the color legend that is forcing us to look back and forth between the legend and the graph, to see which color represents which age group.

Step 2. Know and Understand the Data

The data set this week was super clean, with the exception of some missing years like I mentioned earlier. Once opened in Tableau, a quick pivot brought the years and their values into rows as opposed to columns. So after pivoting, we end up with a tall data set instead of the original wide data set. Now we’re ready to head into Tableau to begin building our visualization.


Step 3. Choosing the Right Chart Type

Earlier I mentioned that a slope chart would be a good way to visualize this data set, given the fact that several years were missing in the data. I wanted to show the difference from the first year (1973) to the last year (2018), without showing any of the data in between those two years. But, I also wanted to show that, despite considerable growth over this current 45-year period, each age group was still very far away from 100%. So, with this in mind, I began by building a dot plot that looked like the below chart. This was a good start, but now I needed to show the gaps in each age group. For instance, for the 18-34 year old age group, I wanted to highlight the 71% to 100% section.


So, I changed the colors of the dots in the dot plot, as I would later tie their gray color into my title. Next, I thickened the line connecting the two dots, which, if you recall, represent 1973 and 2018 and ended up with this. I liked how simple the visualization was to read, each age group has increased its percentage of the population answering our question “Not wrong at all” by quite a lot, over the years. However, those are still huge gaps to reach 100% and it is quite disappointing to think that such a large portion of our society is this close minded. So, I wanted to make sure to capture the gaps that still remain.


To do this, I would leverage Tableau’s transparent sheets as well as a video from Andy Kriebel. I would use Andy’s tip to create a rounded bar chart, but instead of starting the bars at 0, I wanted mine to start at the 1973 value for each age group, to ensure they didn’t extend to the left of the gray dot plot, shown above. Here’s how my worksheet was set up to achieve this, you can view Andy’s video above to master the steps required to get there. Ok, so we had two worksheets, now we just needed to build the dashboard and layer one worksheet on top of the other.


Step 4. Finishing Touches

We didn’t need a big dashboard for this, so I just set mine to a fixed size of 1200px by 500px and probably could have gone 800px wide to be honest. I tiled my title text box, the sheet with the blue rounded bar charts and my footer text boxes and then laid the gray, thickened dot plot on top of the blue rounded bars. If you’ve never used transparent sheets before, the key is to float the top sheet on top of the bottom sheet and set the size and position to exactly match the bottom sheet. Also, in order for the sheet to be transparent, the background must be set to None. Here’s how my floating, transparent sheet was set up.


The last thing to do was add the title, where I tied in the colors to match those in the visualization. Then the information in the footer and some tooltips and we’re done! I was short on time this week, but still feel this quick visualization provides a good look into not only how far each age group has come, but also how far there still is to go, on this subject. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and were able to take away something useful. Have a great day!!