Graphic Philosophy Page

Topline Investment Graphics

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Graphical Design Philosophy

Summary

At Topline we pride ourselves in designing graphics which reveal the data at several levels of detail, from broad overview to fine structure. Our charts make large data sets coherent, without distorting the message of the data.

Examples

Over the years, we have combined our experience in financial markets, graphic design, computer hardware and software to create chart formats that exemplify that design philosophy:

Background

We are followers of the Edward R. Tufte school of graphical design. To quote him:

"Excellence in statistical graphics consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency. Graphical displays should

Graphics reveal data. Indeed graphics can be more precise and revealing than conventional statistical computations."

Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1983), page 13.
This and Envisioning Information can be ordered from Graphics Press at 1-800-822-2454.

Graphical Excellence

Data Ink: The non-erasable core of a graphic, the non-redundant ink arranged in response to variation in the numbers represented.
"Data ink should draw the viewer's attention to the sense and substance of the data, not to something else."
Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1983), page 91.

One measure of graphical excellence is the Data-ink ratio (=Data Ink / Total Ink).

Our charts are clean, spare graphics – charts that let the numbers talk for themselves. We strive for as high a Data-ink ratio as possible.

Graphical Integrity

"The representation of numbers, as physically measured on the surface of the graphic itself, should be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented." Ibid, page 77.

Log Scales

In charts of financial markets, there are compelling reasons to use logarithmic price scales.

  1. Viewers are primarily interested in growth rates. Log scales allow direct comparison of growth rates (a 10% change takes the same distance anywhere on the chart). In fact, a trendline on a log-scaled chart represents a constant compound growth rate.

  2. Prices are simply the exchange rate between the currency and the item. So when showing a price (ratio of currency to item), you should use a ratio scale (also called log scale).

  3. A price represents a transaction between a buyer and a seller. For example, a foreign exchange rate is set when Dollars are exchanged for ¥en. Every transaction has two perspectives, that of the buyer and that of the seller. On a log scaled chart, those perspectives are mirror images of each other. On an arithmetic scaled chart, they have different shapes.

Data Normalization

Normalizing data series allows the viewer to make meaningful comparisons. Whether that means using Cumulative A-D Ratios instead of A-D lines (normalizing for the growth of issues traded), inflation adjusting the data (normalizing for the growth of prices) or expressing as a percent of GDP (normalizing for the growth of the economy), it allows the viewer to make an "apples-to-apples" comparison.


Free Fonts

Most computer fonts are designed for high resolution laser printers. Unfortunately, web browsers try to make them work on screen. Why not try a font that was designed to be easy to read on your screen?

(232 kb, a serif font, set it as your browser's default)
(213 kb, a sans serif font, good for normal text)
(277 kb, a sans serif font, better for headlines)
Tahoma.gif (1252 bytes) (306 kb, a sans serif font that Microsoft ships with Office 97, it contains the new ECU currency symbol)

Note: The files above are for Win95/NT/Win2K/WinXP systems (32-bit). If you're still using Win 3.1 you're out of luck..

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Last modified: April 06, 2005