pie charts

Pie chart humor | I love charts tumblr blog
Pie chart humor | The shouting end of life via I love charts tumblr blog

What works

What can I say, I think it’s funny. Pie chart humor with real pie. Ha.

I am impressed at the time and effort someone put into trimming the pie plates, thinking through the crosshatching, and trying to get some different colors going on.

The text of the original post reads:


I’d take that with a grain of salt, especially considering the gratuitous use of all caps. Probably it’s meant to be ironic or sarcastic or some other hipster attitude that I am too old to absorb osmotically.

What needs work

I still don’t like pie charts.


The shouting end of life tumblr

I love charts tumblr blog

Readers, dear readers, I know my regulars are sick of hearing about how much I hate pie charts. But I came across Stephen Few’s latest newsletter – Mr. Few is a man who is a professional information graphics guru and he hates pie charts, too. Of course, he is a professional and he doesn’t use the word hate. When I saw his newsletter, a smug smile of satisfaction crossed my face and I thought to myself, “Self, maybe the readers are sick of hearing you complain about pie charts, but they might want to hear how someone else complains about them. Because: Look! He has illustrations!”.

Why pie charts are not the best choice

Think of this as graphic art for geeks, abridged from Stephen Few’s newsletter, “Save the Pies for Dessert” from his information graphics educational company The Perceptual Edge.

In the first pie chart, a person might be convinced that pie charts are a decent tool. Just look at how easy it is to see that the light green segment is 25%? Super easy. Without even thinking, it’s obvious, which is the mark of a good information graphic. As for the other segments…same problem as always. Most humans are not good at visually estimating rounded volumes.

Easy to see 25% pie chart
See how easy it is to see the 25% segment here? | Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge

And what if we simply rotated the pie a little?

Pie chart rotated
Pie chart rotated - much more difficult to estimate the size of the 25% segment

Now it is much more difficult to get a quick visual estimate of any of the segments, even the 25% piece and all Mr. Few did was rotate the pie. Mr. Few notes that when people use software to generate pies like this, they have little control over what piece of the pie ends up in which position. He explains that our eyes have very few visual metaphors for segmented circles, one of which is the clock: “In the earlier example, our ability to decode the green slice at 25% was assisted by the fact that the green slice began at the 6 o’clock position and extended neatly to the 9 o’clock position.”

Perhaps we solve the problem by just sticking the numerical value right near the slices of pie? He does that and then adds another layer saying, “Why stop here? ….We can solve this problem by directly labeling the slices with both the company names and the values…” which leads to this graphic:

Overly labeled pie charts
Overly labeled pie charts | Stephen Few

But that leads him to a conclusion that I support which is that this information is much easier on the eye if it’s just in a simple table. The pie itself just confuses things.

Turning the pie into a table
Turning the pie into a table | Stephen Few

Much clearer in a table, no? I think so. And so does Mr. Few.


Few, Stephen. (July 2010) “Save the Pies for Dessert” newsletter for Perceptual Edge.