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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten Second Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0970601971
ISBN-10: 0970601972
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Stephen Few is the founder of the consultancy Perceptual Edge. He speaks, teaches, and consults around the world and writes the quarterly Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter. He is the author of Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-Glance Monitoring and Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Analytics Press; Second edition (June 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970601972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970601971
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 8.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Galen Menzel on March 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen Few has a rare talent for explaining apparently opaque concepts in simple terms, but without simplifying the subject. This book starts from the *very* beginning and provides the reader with a solid understanding of the basics of chart design, including when to use a table vs a graph, what types of tables and graphs to use for what kinds of data, and why certain graphical features are more effective than others. Throughout, Few maintains a plain, readable writing style that is never patronizing even when spelling out seemingly obvious points (e.g., use a table if you need to look up a specific value). His patient tone and simple presentation end up guiding you through some unexpectedly sophisticated waters of design almost without your even realizing you've gone anywhere.

In addition to the design coverage, Few covers some (very) basic statisics, how to adjust for inflation, rgb values of a nice selection of colors to use in graphs, how to make box graphs in Excel, and many other workaday details that make the book immediately useful. Most of the charts in the book are made in Excel, showing that you don't need advanced design software to make attractive, clear charts.

The book itself is a beautiful large hardback. This is the source of my one complaint: its large size makes it somewhat difficult to just pop off the shelf and flip through to find something.

If you want to learn how to design good tables and graphs, get it.
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Format: Hardcover
Okay, I'll admit that I haven't read "Show Me The Numbers" from cover to cover, even though I've owned a copy (a signed copy!) for a few years. But it's not the kind of book that requires this to get the value from it.

My field is organisational performance measurement, and I've seen countless examples of performance reports that truly suck. They are ugly, they are cumbersome, the data is misrepresented and awkwardly displayed. It's near impossible to draw conclusions, and even more impossible to draw valid conclusions about what performance is doing, and why. How can you make wise business decisions with information fodder so poor?

So Stephen's book is a gold mine of sensible statistical basics to help us all - novices and experienced practitioners alike - to improve the way we design and use tables and graphs to highlight relationships and patterns in data like comparisons, trends and correlations.

One of my favourite parts of the book is in chapter 7, "General Design for Communication", where Stephen lays out a wonderful framework for how text can be used to assist tables and graphs to tell the story of the data. This framework is a wonderful checklist for how to design the content of a performance report that can highlight, interpret, explain and recommend responses to signals in our performance measures.
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This is a great desk resource for people that are in business intelligence, data visualization or dashboard design that work with tools like excel, tableau or microstrategy. This is one of my favs - even before you buy Tufte books, get this for a practical foundation in data design. It's the textbook to the class I wish I took.
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I'm responsible for initial onboarding for Data Scientists in my company. I have been looking for a book to assist with teaching them principles of information presentation. Our company has a bunch of Tufte books and initially, I tried using them - with little success. Tufte is great, but not for teaching principles in a systematic way. Stephen does a great job of presenting the principles behind good information presentation. The exercises he includes in the book are great for promoting discussions. If there's a better book for teaching the basics, please let me know. Until then, this one is working great.
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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. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I don't own the first edition of Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten, 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, which was also recently revised into a second edition.

While the dashboards book, Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-Glance Monitoring, is focused on at-a-glance dashboards, 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.
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