The 27 Worst Charts Of All Time

pie chart

There are some pretty awful charts out there. 

We’ve talked about certain mediums — like pie charts and infographics — that are fundamentally flawed, but it’s always important to look at specific examples of charts gone wrong. 

As a learning exercise, we pulled together these 27 charts that are particularly bad. 

It’s not that the chart creators are dumb or careless – to the contrary, a lot of work seems to have been done on several of these by quite intelligent people — it’s just that people have access to more data visualisation assets today than ever before.

All periods of innovation are also periods of widespread failure, as people try to create something new and occasionally push out a few duds.

So here are 27 charts that — for one reason or another – belong among the pantheon of worst charts ever made. 

Special shout outs to both Andrew Gelman’s excellent blog as well as the Eager Eyes blog, both of which are excellent sources of chart criticism and insight. 

Did anyone learn anything by looking at this pseudo-pie chart? What do these colours even mean? Why is it divided into quadrants? We'll never know.

Burger King has 3 times as much in sales than Starbucks. It makes sense that it's three times taller. But the fact that its area is nine times that of Starbucks shows why this chart exemplifies everything that is wrong with charts that try to incorporate cutesy graphics.

I never thought it was possible but I actually understand soccer less after looking at this chart.

There's a lot going on with this Bloomberg chart. That doesn't seem like an evenly cut lamb chop, and while I'm not a biologist I have a strong feeling an onion is not a melon.

Gallup polled to find out the per cent of LGBT individuals in each state. Unsurprisingly, all of the states were rather close — from 1.7% in North Dakota to 5.1% in Hawaii — but their coloration system means that the whole map is green. Whoops.

Unordered, perplexingly circular, and difficult to ascertain any information from this Globe and Mail chart. They went out of their way to make this flashy but difficult to actually read. We get what they were going for, but this chart is precisely why humanity invented tables.

And, if you thought that previous chart was potentially forgivable, just look at what they did next. Look at it. Are these pie charts? Because they certainly look like them even though there's no quantitative info here.

Canada what are you doing. That Y-axis scale. Those grid-lines. The fact that you are just saying every province's age is 19 except three where it's 18. This is terrible.

Fox News really got this wrong. First of all, if we lost 15 million jobs in one quarter this country would be a lot worse off than it actually was. The points don't actually follow a straight line, something you don't notice because there isn't actually a Y-axis. The four points are also not equidistant with time.

Welcome to Fox, where the line graphs are made up and the points don't matter.

Here, Fox looked at arbitrarily selected months from three different years. Also, they started the Y-axis at 150,000 to make everything look scarier. But most importantly of all, they were able to distort the fact that annual apprehensions have actually decreased substantially since 2008.

But, hey, we're bipartisan here. Here's a chart from President Obama's 2013 State of The Union Address that isn't a Venn Diagram but certainly tries to look like one. It also compares apples and oranges — China and the U.S. have wildly different energy needs — while not exactly drawing the contrast (or comparison?) that the President actually wanted. Really bad chart.

There's a lot going on with this Winnipeg Sun chart but none of it is helpful at all.

Mitt Romney didn't understand Venn Diagrams either. Maybe this should be considered a political red flag moving forward.

And, not to rain on the parade, but this chart from the Human Rights Campaign about access to marriage in the U.S. is highly misleading. That's 30% of the height of the cake (we think) but it's certainly not the area of the cake, which is how it's typically interpreted, so it looks like a bigger portion than it realistically is.

The next three are from Dr Karl Broman's page of the worst charts he's encountered in scientific literature. This chart — which took up half of a page — indicated that all values were zero.

Wow. Multicolor 3-D cylinder bar charts are a really, really bad way to articulate relatively simple data.

Three dimensional ribbons are likewise a senseless way to tweak a line graph.

To be honest I have literally no idea what LinkedIn is going for with these fake pie charts on the side of profiles.

If the Wall Street Journal wanted to show divisions in America, they may need to check their colour ink levels.

Gizmodo was trying to demonstrate that the new iPad battery gained 70% in capacity. They did this by making the battery on right 70% taller than the battery on left. However, since they also expanded the width of a cylinder,the implied volume has skyrocketed of the battery. Whoops.

Start looking at this chart long enough you can actually feel your brain twitching.

Pie charts are a bad way to show information. Stacked pie charts are a worse way. 50 stacked pie charts in a row are even worse. 50 stacked pie charts that show an unchanging slim portion with no actual information conveyed might just ruin your day. This monstrosity was brought to you by GOOD Infographics

If you ever wanted to make a coherent stacked bar chart of American commuters, do the opposite of this.

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