WebCharts3D — Dysfunction at its finest

Would you buy a pair of glasses with lenses that were so scratched up you couldn’t see through them, even if the frames looked cool? Not if you want to get from point A to point B without injury. So why would you ever buy charting software that transforms simple information into a completely unreadable display? Yesterday, GreenPoint, a self-proclaimed “leader in enterprise-wide visualization solutions,” issued a press release announcing the latest release of WebCharts3D. Even this product’s name advertises its dysfunction. Adding a third dimension of depth to bars, lines, and pies obscures the data. To this GreenPoint adds more dysfunction by making the objects in charts transparent (for example, see-through bars), resulting in a maze of lines and angles that must be unraveled to make sense of the data.

Try to decipher the patterns and values in the following chart. Come on, give it your best shot. Even if I offered a cash prize to anyone who managed to come close, it wouldn’t be worth your effort to try, because you’d be forced to use the prize money to pay a doctor to fix the damage done to your eyes.

Band Chart

Here are a few more examples:

Column Chart
Band Chart
Pyramid Chart

Disinformation in all shapes and sizes. If this is what you’re after, then don’t hesitate to buy this product. If, however, you want your charts to actually communicate information, look for a product that proudly advertises charts that are easy to read.

Just to be fair, most but not all of this product’s charts are transparent. For example, here’s a radar chart that you could use to compare the performance of three products across eight years of time. Did you know that time is circular and that in the year 2007 we have returned to where we began in 1999? Despite this revelation, I’m finding it hard to relinquish my notion that time is linear and my desire to see this information in a simple line graph.

Radar Chart

WebCharts3D is not alone in its ability to obscure otherwise clear and simple data, but when a product this bad issues a press release, it’s hard to ignore.

Take care,

Signature

P.S. For the benefit of Ryan, who has posted a response to this blog topic, and readers who wish to see a more comprehensive sample of the charts that are available in WebChart3D, here are all six versions of the Step Chart that appear in the sample gallery.

All Step Charts

6 Comments on “WebCharts3D — Dysfunction at its finest”


By Jim S. April 24th, 2007 at 11:17 am

The first one is very Escher-esque. Do they cross? Are they infinite stair cases?

By ryan. April 24th, 2007 at 11:55 am

Your criticism is misplaced!
If you take a closer look at the company’s web site you will notice other versions of the same charts without the special effects. I know it is easier to ignore this if you are just trying to be evil, which I am sure this is not where you are going.

We all know - simple is beautiful. We also know that most data viz packages offer different rendering styles and are quite good at allowing us to customize the way data is presented.

New comers have to stand-out. This is why they try to show-off with sfx, flashy graphics etc. There is nothing wrong with that. As an architect I know how to look beyond that. I examine the package’s architecture and technology. This is where new software packages often surpass their ancient, monolith counterparts such as Hyperion and Cognos.

As a professional you must have the responsibility not to overlook the details when you examine and review new products. Even if the company is not in your clients list (sorry, had to go there ;)

Ryan

By Stephen Few. April 24th, 2007 at 1:36 pm

Ryan,

Do you feel that it is appropriate for a software vendor to promote charts that present data ineffectively? As I mentioned in my blog, not all of the charts in WebCharts 3D exhibit the transparency feature, and even a few avoid the problem of 3-D rendering. The examples that they feature — those that they promote the most – however, all seem to exhibit these problems. As a customer, would you buy a product that did so much so poorly, even if there were a few items that could be made to work adequately? Would you trust a vendor that demonstrated such disregard for designs that actually work? From your comment about overlooking the problems and examining the product’s architecture and technology, I would guess that you’re an engineer. Perhaps as an engineer with a focus on technology, you are missing what’s most important about a charting product, which is its ability to communicate information.

Even the charts that are not transparent or 3D are poorly designed and thus fall short. In my original blog entry above, I’ve added a picture of every one of the Step Charts that appear in the WebCharts3D gallery. This will provide readers with the means to more broadly assess the quality of this product. No one who understands and cares about graphical communication would use any of these in their current form.

Regarding my role as a data visualization professional, I have the responsibility to tell the truth about what works and what doesn’t, which I do about all products and companies that I encounter, whether they are my customers or not. If you were familiar with my work, you would know that I critique and often speak the uncompromising truth in my articles, books, and courses about many of the vendors that have been my clients, including Hyperion and Cognos, who you mentioned above. It isn’t nice to question someone’s professional integrity without knowing the facts.

By Tim. April 24th, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Ryan, in fairness to Stephen, if you look in his latest book, and on this website, you will see examples of many vendors who make the same mistakes.

Why not take up the challenge? Demonstrate how your software can be used to produce the “good stuff” not the “sfx”.

Personally, I agree with him.

By Zach. May 8th, 2007 at 1:17 pm

wow are those bad.

I’m sorry Ryan, there isn’t much room to defend this stuff on information visualization grounds.

I was amazed to see that this product won an award over at the Java Developer’s Journal. Here’s the explanation:
“This is one of the best charting components available for Java applications. It’s easy to learn and integrate with your Swing, JSP, and JSF applications. The product provides a rich set of charts, gauges, and maps, and can generate not only binary streams but also HTML, which makes it a good choice for AJAX applications. For Web applications, deployment consists of adding one JSP and copying one library to WEB-INF/lib.”
This highlights the differences in priorities. Apparently a lot of charts and easy install is sufficient to attract the attention of this technology crowd.

By John. July 8th, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Stephen, I am a big fan of your books and approach to dashboard design. As a manager of dashboard development and design your books have become valuable guide that enables me to bring business value. And we use Webcharts to generate our graphics.

To be fair, I believe 3D charts are always confusing and difficult to read. I have not personally seen a single situation where the flashy transperent 3D graph out performs a simple presentation of the data.

That said, WebCharts3D provides me with a good selection of simple charts and graphs that enable me to produce a good quality product. The design of the software allows me to develop server side graphics that are light weight and render quickly in all browsers.

It is a good performing software package and I think that is what Ryan was trying to communicate.