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This competition proved not that easy. On one side, it seemed not that evident to hunt down convincing examples that were exceptional in both the 'ugly' as 'useless' category. On the other side, the choice between the different entries was not obvious, also because some of my favorites were not submitted according to the guidelines.

At least 2 entries stood out, as they were already broadly popularized in the media: the deliberately useless Health Care Reform Chart and the algorithmically incorrect pie chart by Fox News, highlighting the support for Palin. Both are good examples of how data visualization can be misused, intentionally as well as unintentionally.

But for the winners of this competition, we (= FusionCharts + infosthetics) decided to also award originality. We liked the graph titled "Two circulating beams bring first collisions in the LHC", as its uncaptioned, unlabeled, unsmooth labels with an unnecessary logo almost in the middle of the data visualization does not really help. What probably makes it a bit worse is how it is part of an official "press release" of an important event, and somehow gives you the impression it aims for some higher scientific purpose which ordinary folks like us do not have the permission or intellect to understand. However, we do note the nice implied data symmetry and warm color choice :)...

We also appreciated the graph titled "In-Chart Encryption", as a demonstration of how the use of pixels in a data-chart can really mean... not much to nothing. For instance, it is almost impossible to connect the chart to the legend. The slight 3D-like fancy tilt to one side even succeeds in making the trend more obscure than it already is by the strange choice of the two axes. Somehow, this visualization looks more like it is trying to hide or manipulate data than trying to convey a truthful insight.

Thanks to our long-term sponsor FusionCharts, these 2 winners will each receive a FusionCharts Developer Bundle, worth US$499. Fusioncharts specializes in interactive Flash charts, gauges and maps, and is used by companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Dell, HP, GE, and many more. The Developer bundle comprises one license each of FusionCharts (animated Flash charts for web apps), FusionWidgets (data visualization widgets for dashboards), PowerCharts (interactive charts for specialized domains) and FusionMaps (interactive online maps).

Explore all the submitted entries below. Did the right ones win?


SIR Score
"'SIR score of early versus late proteins. The data is shown for 24 viruses of all candidates HLA alleles (31 alleles). Each column represents the ratio between the difference of the late and early SIRscore to their sum ([SIR(late) - SIR(early)]/[SIR(late) + SIR(early)]). For most HLA\virus the ratio is more than 0, indicating a significant positive difference in the number of presented epitopes between these groups.' Essentially the authors were trying to show that the "SIR score" is "more than 0" for most combinations of viruses (rows) and Human Leukocyte Antigen alleles (columns). The resolution of the image is the same as on the website of the journal, which makes the visualization even more painful to look at."
Source: oxfordjournals.org.
Submitted by anonymous.

Ryanair Route Map
"It is the Ryanair route map on their website. A click to the routes leads to this screenshot. I think no visualisation when you expect one makes a very useless visualisation (note the "Install Microsoft Silverlight" button). As for ugly, well, look at the context :)"
Source: ryanair.com.
Submitted by Irena Hreljac.

Visualization of the inherent connections amongst friends. Geographically located iTunes Libraries
"This visualization shows the overlap found in 40 different geographically located iTunes libraries. A vague form of the United States can be seen (Seattle in the upper left, NYC on the right). Lines are drawn between the albums that one person has in common with another. Each album is represented by a small dot in the Library graph. The point's grey scale value is determined by the frequency with which the album has been listened, the tone of the line connecting albums is an average of the starting and ending points."
Source: caleblarsen.com.
Submitted by Paul Lamere.

In-chart Encryption
"Here's one of our favorites, as we described it in a long-ago blog post: In-chart Encryption [juiceanalytics.com]."
Source: prairiefyre.com.
Submitted by Zach Gemignani.

East Beats West
"I honestly have no idea what it's attempting to display. The description they provide: 'A majority of Americans say Japan is an Innovative country, Not so China and India'".
Source: newsweek.com.
Submitted by Randall Hand.

Number of payments per inhabitant in the EU in 2008.
Source: fbf.fr.
Submitted by Hugues Cremona.

Two circulating beams bring first collisions in the LHC.
"From the press release two days ago, regarding the first (CERN) collisions... I vote this image as the ugliest and most useless visualization online. It may not be the most garish or info-deprived, but when normalized by the money, time, and scientific effort that went into it, I think it's a clear winner! Based on this image, it doesn't matter what scientists learn from the LHC, because nobody will understand any of the resulting visualizations... I can only imagine the conversation: "Don't you see? The blue dots only reach the giant red bars, but the pink dots reach clear through the green bars out to the purple bars... and we have unit-less axes everywhere! Grand unification theory, here we come!"
Source: cern.ch
Submitted by Jeremy Belldina.

Increases in the National Debt
"That's about the ugliest I could find on my hard drive."
Sources: lafn.org, crooksandliars.com and iflizwerequeen.com.
Submitted by Moritz Stefaner.

Graph Energy vs. A Set of Dyadic Rationals
"An unreadable, unlabeled, eyesore of a plot of something that isn't even explained well in the text of the article. There is no trend to speak of, which begs the question: if you're going to make a graph about nothing, why not at least make it pretty?"
Source: garyedavis.wordpress.com.
Submitted by Seth Johnson.

Fox News 2012 Presidential Run
"Deserves an honorable mention for fitting the rest of the criteria perfectly. Neither eye candy nor useful, neither beautiful nor functional."
Source: wonkette.com.
Submitted by Tim Bieniosek.

Organizational Chart of the House Democrats' Health Plan
"The Republican chart on health care reform is intentionally ugly, intentionally confusing and useless and politically motivated to obfuscate the health care reform debate. It's also quite popular-- does popularity factor into this contest?"
Source: gopleader.gov.
Mentioned by Stefan Lasiewski. (through blog post comment)

Maritime and Coastguard Agency
"Even the pie chart legend has a 3D effect."
Source: mcga.gov.uk.
Mentioned by Alex Kerin. (through blog post comment)

"This contest is over before it started - just go to http://graphjam.com/ and you're done."
Source: graphjam.com
Mentioned by makc. (through blog post comment)


congratulations for your collection.
There are so many useless charts out there, so finding some which are a clear cut above (below?) the rest, with appropriate justification, is no small feat.
I kind of like the CERN one though, it reminds me of Tempest.

Wed 09 Dec 2009 at 8:26 PM

The healthcare chart was designed to be confusing and ugly, so I think it should be disqualified. There are enough charts that people make to represent data well that still turn out to be completely useless.

The CERN chart looks like it's from a 70's science fiction movie, right before the electronic brain turns against us and starts launching nukes. And given that they thought it would add anything to a press release(!) makes it the clear winner in my book.

Thu 10 Dec 2009 at 12:21 AM

Brilliant collection of some terrible infographics!

Thu 10 Dec 2009 at 1:22 AM

This is a great collection of bad charts. I think my favorite one is the 'Maritime and Coastguard agency' one where even the legend has a 3D effect :)

I shall use some of these in my class next semester. Thank you.

Thu 10 Dec 2009 at 3:14 AM

@Alark. If you do use it you may want to also point out something that Jon Peltier noticed about my submission - some of the colors in the legend don't even match the slices. It takes some work to get it that wrong..

Thu 10 Dec 2009 at 8:59 AM

@Alark & @Alex: It is indeed a great example. Shame you did not really submit it, Alex...

Thu 10 Dec 2009 at 10:02 AM

i think the deficit republican/democrat president graphic, while not attractive, actually does the job...it's pretty clear and understandable.

Fri 11 Dec 2009 at 3:52 AM

@robine I was thinking the same thing. It's a bit noisy but actually better than average.

Fri 11 Dec 2009 at 7:17 AM
J├Ârgen Abrahamsson

I'm sorry, but I feel it's a bit easy criticising the CERN Alice graph. The press team maybe didn't chose the nicest looking of charts, but each of the six LHC experiments has multiple visuals. For instance, the following is also from Alice: http://doc.cern.ch/archive/electronic/cern/others/PHO/photo-bul/bul-pho-2007-073.jpg

Wed 10 Feb 2010 at 8:24 AM

Sorry that my graphs did not make it to the nominations. I'll work harder now and give it another try next year.

Thu 24 Jun 2010 at 6:47 AM
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