eye-catching small multiples

Small multiples is Edward Tufte's description of charts like this one. This is an incredibly eye-catching example from Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report. While I hope you can spend some time reflecting on the challenges facing moms around the world, I'm sharing it here as an example of engaging graphics.

Why I love it

A tremendous volume of data can be effectively summarized using this technique. In this case, the analyst chose circles to represent 5 important characteristics, then varied the size based on their value. This same method is repeated for each country then the countries are grouped into three big development status buckets. The impact?  The viewer can very quickly make important observations on use of contraception-- more common in developed countries. That won't surprise them but maybe a handful of the outliers will. The beauty of the visual impact is that you can look at the big picture, then hone in on a single line of interest, then back out to find another trend, and then dive back in again. The viewer is controlling their interaction with the material and empowered to make their own observations.  Pretty awesome.

How you might use it

If you have a number of different locations, patents, programs, etc. that each have common elements maybe on budget, staff, or some quantifiable accomplishment, then this could be worth trying. Just recently, my team mimicked this very example to show key characteristics of more than 400 geographically-dispersed field units. Our client's reaction was "wow. If we did nothing else, this chart would still be incredibly helpful."  Great! It's engaging and an incredibly effective way to share hundreds of data points while flattering the intelligence of your audience.