One Chart Three Four Ways

Creating a pleasing and useful chart is a subtle skill. Consider the following three four charts, all of which are based on the same data: birth rates in the USA throughout most of the 20th century. In the middle of each chart you can see the baby boom.

Default Chart

This chart was made using one of Lotus 1-2-3’s default chart styles.

[default design]

Size: 4,989 bytes.

Customized Chart

1-2-3 allows every aspect of a chart to be tweaked, and I used this capability to make the chart more attractive.

[first redesign]


  1. Goudy old style typeface with text figures recalls old charts
  2. Data represented as a continuous curve to show trend
  3. Data color changed to black
  4. Added a gentle background gradient fill
  5. Removed redundant "Year" X-axis label
  6. Added minor ticks on vertical axis

Size: 17,910 bytes, 259% of the original chart size. The increase is primarily due to the gradient fill. It would be only 6,370 bytes (128% of the original chart size) with a uniform color fill.

Tufte-Inspired Redesign

This redesign was inspired by Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information.

[second redesign]


  1. Changed the data representation back to discrete points, as befits discrete data
  2. Filled the data point associated with each decade, making it easier to identify values for specific years
  3. Changed typeface to the more readable Gill Sans
  4. Rotated vertical axis text and moved it beneath title, enhancing readability
  5. Added "people" to the title’s second line, for clarity
  6. Removed unneeded minor tick marks from vertical axis
  7. Used a light, uniform background color
  8. Removed left & right grid lines
  9. Lightened remaining grid lines to emphasize data
  10. Increased margin around chart
  11. Removed border around chart

Size: 3,737 bytes, 75% of the original chart size.

The result is a chart that is well integrated with the surrounding text. It doesn’t announce that it is a graphic image, leaving the reader to focus on the actual data the chart displays.

Even this chart can be improved, though.

Tweaked Redesign

Tufte inveighs against “chart junk”, that is, everything in a chart that distracts from the data. Here’s an attempt to minimize chart junk:

[second redesign with baby boom years indicated]


  1. Rewrote title to stress focus of chart
  2. Removed area outside data range
  3. Lightened data outside period of interest
  4. Erased grid lines far from data
  5. Slightly lightened grid lines
  6. Lightened dates at bottom of chart
  7. Clarified second line of chart title

Size: 3,946 bytes, 79% of the original chart size.

Data Source

The natality data came from the Population Reference Bureau. Note that population data can be a political tool, so take this data with a grain of salt. However, other sources (primarily U.S. almanacs) corroborate most of this data.

Last updated 3 July 2006
All contents ©2002 Mark L. Irons