My article on data visualization for economists was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the day before Visualized. I received a lot of positive feedback about it; the ones I most appreciated were those from professors who told me they will be making it required readings in their classes. But others—in a sentiment I’ve heard time and again—criticized the article because they felt I focused too much on using Excel. I think it’s important to remember that many, many, many analysts have fairly simple visualization needs—they have hundreds or maybe dozens of observations, or they are creating a quick report or summary, or they have analyzed their data in a statistical program (in economics, often Stata, SAS, SPSS, or Matlab) and now need to plot summary information. For these analysts, Excel (or a similar tool) is simple and sufficient. And that is way part of my goal in the JEP article (and in my workshops) is to help people who may have fairly basic visualization needs improve and extend their skills in tools like Excel.
It was therefore great to hear top visualizers just flat-out admit that, hey, Excel isn’t so bad, we all use it, and we might as well admit it. And, oh, not to mention, not every visualization has to be new or complex or interactive.
“This is a bad data visualization [referring to a complex network diagram]; I don’t understand the data.” –Cedric Kiefer
“There are lots of visualizations that are just bar charts.” –Kim Rees
“Bar charts are kind of useful sometimes” –Rachel Binx