Unconventional treatments of area plots

Area plots are unusual in research survey reports, but when they do appear they often seduce graphic designers into creating unconventional varieties. Consider this plot from DLA Piper Compliance 2017 [pg. 6]. Its most prominent irregularity is that the circles are not arranged in order of size. This conjures up depictions of the planets of our solar system! Further, the colors chosen are not meaningful, but they are distracting.

The area of each circle is proportional to the percentage of one of the seven job titles. A more customary layout would present the circles in declining size from the left or in ascending size to the right. Shall we call this an imaginative array?

KL Gates GCDisruption 2018 [pg. 8] also makes poor use of the area technique: the three percentages are too similar for the eye to pick up differences from the area of the circles. Worse, the circles are not aligned at the bottom so that readers can better detect differences in their areas. The firm could have opted to present this simple data in prose or with a small table.

It is hard enough for most people to discern differences in the area of similar circles, let alone when the area is represented by an object as unfamiliar as proportional bottles. Nevertheless, Reed Smith Lifesciences 2015 [pg. 10] chose a visualization technique that did exactly that. Furthermore, the percentages at the top are washed out.

Morrison Foerster GCsup 2017 [pg. 10] also chose an area plot even though there is not much difference between the areas of these circles. Plus the dual levels are very complex to understand. Compounding both effects is a very elaborate explanation below the plot.

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