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What Are Sparklines?

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Sparklines Another Masterpiece of Edward Tufte

SparkMaker Start

Sparklines Another Masterpiece of Edward Tufte

Data taken out of context is boring, if not misleading, and nearly always worthless. Nonetheless, most data is presented as a single, isolated value: a big company's turnover, the current unemployment rate or the last reading of a stock quote. The necessary context however can be provided easily, with the help of word-sized graphics, so-called "spark-lines", a term coined by their inventor Edward Tufte.

Thus, an elusive figure like the Euros' exchange rate movements against the US-Dollar becomes a vivid, data-intense measure when given in its historical context from its introduction on January, 1st 1999 as bank money until today Sparkline: Euro/Dollar conversion rate 1.30.

For the equivalent of a single word, the embedded graphic gives us the worth of six years of monthly Euro exchange rate readings. Defying its tiny size, the graphic depicts the year long development in a clear and concise manner, including the 25 % loss after the introduction of the Euro banknotes and coins on January, 1st 2002.

The same principle is used when reasoning about win/loss sports statistics. Due to their word-like quality, spark-lines allow for writing with data. The overall performance of the German premier league soccer team FC Bayern which puts it in first place in 2004/2005 is one out of many examples. The dry Munich weather in the last 36 days  with only few mm of rain is another.

The data-intense and design-simple concept of word graphics presents an aggregate pattern along with plenty of local detail. Operationally sufficient quantification is provided by the numerical value for the most recent reading.

Embedded in Management Information Systems, spark-lines efficiently add context and reduce the regency bias prevalent in data analysis and decision-making. Sparklines enrich data displays on mobile devices and are a prerequisite for effective mobile controlling concepts.

Arranged in table format, spark-lines compress astonishing amounts of data in small spaces. Without turning pages the eye can concentrate on comparisons and detecting patterns, gaining insight in doing so. In the weather table below, the eye easily overlooks a matrix of 216 data points.

Tmax °C 18.7
Tmin °C 8.3
Rain mm 0
Pmax hPa 966.1
Pmin hPa 963.3
Vmax m/s 8.7

The following table shows the final standings of the 2004/2005 season of the German premier soccer league (Bundesliga). An upward whisker depicts a won match, a downward whisker a lost one. The table remains concise and meaningful, even at a small font size. Since the spark-lines use up so little space, the entire season's course can be shown for each of the teams, making for 612 results in one chart.

Season 2004/2005, match day 34

P

Team

GP

W

D

L

Goals

GD

TP

Course

1 Bayern München 34 24 5 5 75:33 42 77 Sparkline Bayern München, Saison 2004/2005
2 FC Schalke 04 34 20 3 11 56:46 10 63 Sparkline FC Schalke 04, Saison 2004/2005
3 Werder Bremen 34 18 5 11 68:37 31 59 Sparkline Werder Bremen, Saison 2004/2005
4 Hertha BSC Berlin 34 15 13 6 59:31 28 58 Sparkline Hertha BSC Berlin, Saison 2004/2005
5 VfB Stuttgart 34 17 7 10 54:40 14 58 Sparkline VfB Stuttgart, Saison 2004/2005
6 Bayer Leverkusen 34 16 9 9 65:44 21 57 Sparkline Bayer Leverkusen, Saison 2004/2005
7 Borussia Dortmund 34 15 10 9 47:44 3 55 Sparkline Borussia Dortmund, Saison 2004/2005
8 Hamburger SV 34 16 3 15 55:50 5 51 Sparkline Hamburger SV, Saison 2004/2005
9 VfL Wolfsburg 34 15 3 16 49:51 -2 48 Sparkline VfL Wolfsburg, Saison 2004/2005
10 Hannover 96 34 13 6 15 34:36 -2 45 Sparkline Hannover 96, Saison 2004/2005
11 1. FSV Mainz 05 34 12 7 15 50:55 -5 43 Sparkline 1. FSV Mainz 05, Saison 2004/2005
12 1. FC Kaiserslautern 34 12 6 16 43:52 -9 42 Sparkline 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Saison 2004/2005
13 Arminia Bielefeld 34 11 7 16 37:49 -12 40 Sparkline Arminia Bielefeld, Saison 2004/2005
14 1. FC Nürnberg 34 10 8 16 55:63 -8 38 Sparkline 1. FC Nürnberg, Saison 2004/2005
15 Bor. M'gladbach 34 8 12 14 35:51 -16 36 Sparkline Bor. M'gladbach, Saison 2004/2005
16 VfL Bochum 34 9 8 17 47:68 -21 35 Sparkline VfL Bochum, Saison 2004/2005
17 Hansa Rostock 34 7 9 18 31:65 -34 30 Sparkline Hansa Rostock, Saison 2004/2005
18 SC Freiburg 34 3 9 22 30:75 -45 18 Sparkline SC Freiburg, Saison 2004/2005

P = Place, GP = Games Played, W = Win, D = Draw, L = Loss, GD = Goal Difference, TP = Total Points. The lines mean: Champions League, Champions League qualification, UEFA cup; relegation.

Spark-Maker Start. More: SparkMaker Reports > Create a Ticker > SparkMaker for Excel-based OLAP front-ends > What's New > Compare Versions

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