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Author: Rich Torr

A Bellyfull of Pie

This chart has been served up on LinkedIn recently and will no doubt have data visualisation purists choking.

I tracked down the original to this publication by Wolfgang Digital. The story the visualisation is trying to tell is that:

“More revenue is carried by internet sessions on desktops than on other devices.”

However because of the chart type and other design choices we have to work a lot harder to get to this message then we need to.

Pie charts are notoriously poor for making comparisons because humans can’t easily compare rotational angles or areas. In this case the designer also wants us to compare categories across two pie charts, sessions vs. revenue. We are then forced to look up the categories using both the cute device icons and coloured keys.

Trying to link these variables in our heads imposes a hefty cognitive load. Crucially, under its weight, the central message is obscured.

Here’s our alternative rendered in both Excel AND Tableau (can you tell which?).



This type of visual design might not look as sexy but it doesn’t get in the way of the story that “Desktop sessions carry more revenue”. We can subtract the pie charts, colour, legends and yet amplify the key message.

This shifts the role of the visualisation away from marketing eye-candy towards management decision-making. We consume the chart with more natural visual perception and rapid insight.

The biggest un-answered questions are how these proportions are changing over time and the distribution of sessions and revenue by purchase type. We also might want to know more about the source of the sampled data.

Minimal panels like these can pack a lot of decision signals onto a single screen or page and dispense with noisy ‘chart junk’. Most data visualisation and dashboard tools can be applied to this task to overcome the lazy defaults. We just have to make a conscious effort to stop software tools dictating the style of our visualisations, especially when they impose poor design choices and visual bloat.

At Measureology we often prototype in Excel and then use Tableau for production dashboards with virtually no change in how these are displayed or interpreted. But we’re not precious about Business Intelligence, dashboard and reporting tools as long as they can cut the visual mustard without a bellyfull of pies.

Visual Signals

Put better visual signals in front of your decision makers by starting with an easy experiment: Translate your existing management reports into a visual prototype.

A Visual Management Pack is a quick, practical exercise – one of our Visible Sprints – and only takes a couple of weeks. You could even have something ready for your next leadership meeting.

If you want to set up a discovery call to explore the idea of a Visual Management Pack then get in touch.

Get in touch

Seeing the Value of EU Law

I was very proud to present my Subsidiarity Scoreboard work at the ECR Group Study Week in Krakow, Poland.

I was inspired by the people I met, especially those MEPs who are so passionate about their work and their dedicated policy advisers. I’m fascinated by the tension between ideological belief and evidence, claim and fact and this is the world they wrestle with daily.

My talk was about Seeing the Subsidiarity Gap; the idea of a scoreboard for making the gap between the predicted and actual added value of EU law more visible. Publishing this Scoreboard could influence the reform of lower value EU laws and even the legislative process itself. Watch the talk below.

I was however struck by another kind of gap; the gap between my own mental models and those immersed in EU law, economics and politics. And yet, in spite of this difference in mindsets and worldviews, how Systems Thinking can be a unifying approach however challenging the domain and context.

The study, sponsored by the New Direction Foundation for European Reform, is described in a bit more detail in the case study.

You get an ‘Ology’, you’re a scientist!

Who can forget the brilliant BT ‘Ology’ ad from 1988?

Maureen Lipman is a Grandma using the telephone to applaud the exam efforts of a despondent grandson, Anthony. He’s failed everything of course apart from Pottery (“people will always need plates”) and Sociology, the Ology of the title.

She reminds me of my own Granny, in whose eyes I could do no wrong. Watch it again here.

That’s Ological Captain

Measureology is a made up word of course, a little tongue-in-cheek even. I wanted it to sound sciency because we blend systems thinking with statistics and visual data.

An Ology is ‘a subject of study, a branch of knowledge’ so no absurd claims there. The ‘Measure’ part refers to the study of methods of uncertainty-reduction. Metrology – the ‘real’ science of measurement – is a broad church so we’re not treading on any toes.

The spelling causes confusion too. Why Measureology and not Measurology? (So Measure is visible in the logo and to avoid Urology!).

I’m still not sure whether referring to myself as a ‘Measureologist’ is a good idea. Yes, I study uncertainty-reduction for my clients but maybe my Granny would say that was a bit “fancy pants” in her Totley accent.

Ology Ology Everywhere

I’m a bit concerned though, I’m starting to see Ologies all over the place:


Now I love coffee so I don’t mind this one.


Formerly CSL. They must have agonised about whether it should be Sofaology. If the sofas are created by scientists and not furniture designers that would explain the slide-out thingies.


I like Stephanie Davies’ work. A former comedian bringing the power of laughter to the workplace. Who wouldn’t want more of that?


A tricky one this. A term coined by Michael Barber, former head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit who went on to McKinsey & Pearson. Many aspects of his top-down command and control thinking about education – performance targets in particular – have been heavily criticised, most vocally by John Seddon.

The idea that imposing top-down targets on people produces better system performance is at best misguided and potentially harmful. The purpose of the system becomes target-achievement – to get a reward or avoid punishment – instead of fulfilling a customer need. The conflicts in NHS targets are potent example, made visible by queues of ambulances outside A&E. Enron and Tesco executives in fear of personal consequences. Desperate salespeople and managers the world over. The list goes on.

Watch the ad to the end and you’ll hear Grandma making disparaging closing remarks about teachers too. This shortcut to individual judgement and blame – an human attribution error – is still prevalent today.

Deliverology is a dirty word, toxic even, to some in the public sector. So claiming an ‘Ology’ can still give rise to the kind of Bad Science which gets mis-reported in the press. I’m hopeful that any apparent similarity will create a cue to talk about what’s wrong with top-down target-setting and show why there are better ways.