Some charting suggestions

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I have been thinking about the charting functionality in Quantrix, and have a few suggestions. I hope you’ll excuse the long post. Please forgive me if I’ve missed some functionality that’s already in Quantrix, as I’m a relatively new user.

First, I’d like to recommend the book “The Visual Display of Quantitive Information” by Edward Tufte — it is essential reading for anyone who prepares charts.

There’s a lot of lot of good material about his approach here:

[INDENT][url=http://www.edwardtufte.com/:1a2bosay]http://www.edwardtufte.com/[/url:1a2bosay][/INDENT]

and there are some example charts here:

[INDENT][url=http://www.compassgr.com/sites/mark/:1a2bosay]http://www.compassgr.com/sites/mark/[/url:1a2bosay][/INDENT]

One of his key ideas is to minimise the amount of redundancy in a chart, and particularly the amount of ink used that isn’t directly conveying data. This results in very clean, uncluttered plots, and also allows you to pack a lot more data in to a chart to make it more informative without it becoming overwhelming.

[b:1a2bosay]Small multiples[/b:1a2bosay]

One form of chart Tufte particularly recommends is the “small multiple”, in which several similar charts are shown side-by-side. There’s an example here:

[INDENT][url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_multiple:1a2bosay]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_multiple[/url:1a2bosay][/INDENT]

and this product seems to implement the idea rather well:

[INDENT][url=http://www.tableausoftware.com/:1a2bosay]http://www.tableausoftware.com/[/url:1a2bosay][/INDENT]

It struck me that Quantrix is very well suited to this kind of chart — it’s essentially another way of dealing with pivot-table elements: as well as choosing categories for the X axis and the series, you also choose categories for the rows and/or columns of charts.

At the moment, it’s very easy to produce show any one of these charts at a time, by filtering to the appropriate categories, but it takes a lot of manual work to juxtapose them. I understand that Quantrix 3.0 will allow more flexible arrangement of charts. It would be great if it had some built-in ability to generate small multiple charts.

[b:1a2bosay]Other specific suggestions for Quantrix[/b:1a2bosay]

Excel can be cajoled into producing some fairly reasonable charts, at the expense of a lot of fiddling around changing things from their default settings. Quantrix does a lot better than Excel out of the box. However, it doesn’t give manual
control over quite as many aspect of the chart.

[i:1a2bosay]Bar outlines[/i:1a2bosay]

In particular, it would be helpful to be able to remove the outlines from bar charts. (At the moment, to do this you have to set each series to have an outline colour which matches its fill colour, as setting Chart Series:Outline:Color to “None” gives a black outline.)

[i:1a2bosay]Axes[/i:1a2bosay]

It would also be good to be able to avoid drawing an axis or tick marks, if the grid lines and the numbers by themselves provide all the information required. In Excel this can be done by setting the Axis colour to “No Line”. I can’t seem to find any way of doing it in Quantrix, as the Line:Color property of the axis seems to control the grid colour.

[i:1a2bosay]Spacing[/i:1a2bosay]

By default, many charts seem to have rather cluttered axes, so it’s often necessary to override the default grid spacings, etc. Unfortunately, once you’ve overridden them manually, if the numbers change (e.g. because you’re looking at another scenario), then the manual figures can become wildly inappropriate. So it would be better to have slightly cleaner defaults.

The OpenOffice team have clearly been thinking about this: the “Auto Scaling of Axes” document at:

[INDENT][url=http://specs.openoffice.org/chart/:1a2bosay]http://specs.openoffice.org/chart/[/url:1a2bosay][/INDENT]

indicates that they limit axes to a maximum of ten intervals by default.

[i:1a2bosay]Time series[/i:1a2bosay]

For time series, it would be great to be able to plot monthly or quarterly data while having the time axis labelled by year. This can be done at the moment by setting the tick spacing, but it would be better if the tick marks and labels could be the in the right places to make it clear that it is the years that are being labelled (e.g. ticks between years and labels in the middle of each year).

I thought I might be able to gain some greater flexibility by making X-Y plots, so that the charting module knew that it the X axis represented values rather than items. This allows flexibility in the formatting of the date values, but means the maximum and minimum values have to be entered as date serial numbers, which is quite awkward.

[i:1a2bosay]Consistency between charts[/i:1a2bosay]

When a model is used to produce several different charts, quite a lot of manual effort can be required to get the charts to look similar. For example, I might want to have the series associated with the Western region appear in red in all the charts. It might make sense to be able to associate a default colour with each item in a category.

It might also be helpful to be able to save customised chart layouts as user presets.

[i:1a2bosay]User interface for selection of chart elements[/i:1a2bosay]

It might just be me being inept, but I find it quite hard to select series or axes to adjust their properties — it seems far too easy to select the entire chart.

Might it be possible to increase the target areas for small foreground objects, such as line series, so that users don’t have to be quite so accurate? It might also be useful to have a list of all the selectable objects on the chart (as in Excel’s Chart toolbar).

I hope this is helpful!

Cheers, Paul.

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Thank you for implementing “small multiples” in the form of chart grids. This feature has been extremely useful already!

The associated rearrangement of the chart view — with explicit “shelves” for filters, series, and points, also makes it much easier to get things right first time.

May I suggest a refinement to the chart grid? At the moment, each sub-chart has its own X and Y axis numbering and titles. This is very repetitious, and can waste a lot of space. It would be much more efficient if there was the option to only show the axes at the edges of the chart grid.

For example, the charts on this page:

[url:fzupbsu0]http://junkcharts.typepad.com/junk_charts/2009/03/exemplary.html[/url:fzupbsu0]

have only one Y axis for a row of 5 sub-charts.

Cheers, Paul.

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Maybe you can add also GeoMaps to display data in Country maps.

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Thanks Mike. Yes, that works fine. I could have sworn I’d tried it before, but I may have got confused about keystrokes while swapping back and forth between the Mac and Windows versions.

Cheers, Paul.

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Thanks for the great feedback Paul. On this point:
[quote="paul.troughton":1wpy8c1n]
2. It would save time if it were possible to select multiple series at once when customising the formatting of a chart. e.g. If you want to make the lines thicker in a line chart with several series, an awful lot of clicking is currently required.
[/quote:1wpy8c1n]

I think if you hold the shift key down, you can select multiple series on the chart by clicking on the lines or legends… and thus format en mass.

Let us know if this works.

-Mike

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I have another couple of charting suggestions — much simpler this time!

1. When plotting a chart with multiple Y axes, it is sometimes desirable to keep the 0 points of the different Y axes aligned. At the moment, the only way to do this is to set the maximum and minimum values for each Y axis manually, choosing values which will result in the Y=0 points aligning. While this works, it means that the chart cannot auto-scale if the values change. Having the option to prevent offsets between the axes, while allowing auto-scaling, would be very helpful.

(An example of where this arises: when modelling a business plan, you may wish to plot both the monthly net cash flow and the cumulative cash-flow (to give an impression of the peak cash requirement). Both will typically start off negative and end up positive. Since the cumulative cash-flow has a much greater range, it is helpful to plot them with different scales, but you want them to share an origin to avoid any confusion about the points at which they become positive.)

2. It would save time if it were possible to select multiple series at once when customising the formatting of a chart. e.g. If you want to make the lines thicker in a line chart with several series, an awful lot of clicking is currently required.

Cheers, Paul.

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This is great feedback Paul. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I will be reviewing and logging in our database for future release consideration.

Thanks again…

-Mike