Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few

Great visualization advice, patiently explained.

Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few

Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few, now in its second edition, is filled with 371 pages of analytical goodness (Analytics Press, ISBN 978-0970601971). I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t own the first edition, which was published in 2004. But I didn’t really know who Stephen Few was until I started working with Xcelsius and somebody turned me onto his outstanding dashboards book, Information Dashboard Design, which was also recently revised into a second edition.

While Information Dashboard Design is focused on at-a-glance dashboards and their unique characteristics, Show Me the Numbers is more broadly focused and goes into extreme depth on both table and graph design. Like the dashboards book, Show Me the Numbers begins by laying a foundation with the science on how our brains perceive visual information, then builds its design principles on that foundation. Mr. Few is widely cited (or disparaged) as “the cranky guy that hates pie charts”. But his criticism of pie charts (and other poor visualization practices) is grounded in the science of visual perception, not his personal taste in visualizations.

A 371-page book may sound kind of scary, but it is broken down into fourteen chapters that can be easily digested. Mr. Few’s writing style is clear and easy to understand, although if you’re like me you’ll put the book down at the end of each chapter so you can think. The book is tool agnostic, so even if your primary tool is Microsoft Excel you’ll benefit from reading it.

The book is rather large, but it’s beautifully designed and constructed with lots of clear illustrations. If I traveled as frequently as I used to, I’d probably prefer a Kindle edition for portability. But an electronic edition does not exist. Mr. Few’s reading style lends itself to a comfortable reading chair and a cup of coffee, so I’m quite satisfied with the print edition. I am finding in my day-to-day work that I am slowly internalizing the wisdom of Show Me the Numbers. But it’s still a book that I open while in the middle of a project and one that I’ll take the time to read cover-to-cover again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book with my own funds. It was not a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Author: Dallas Marks

I am a business intelligence architect, author, and trainer. I help organizations harness the power of analytics, primarily with SAP BusinessObjects products. An active blogger, SAP Mentor and co-author of the SAP Press book SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, I prefer piano keyboards over computer keyboards when not blogging or tweeting about business intelligence.

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