Beer history design

Slopegraphs to Visualise Beer Data?

Like Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod, we’re keen to see more meaningful attempts to visualise the sea of information that surrounds beer — that is, not just whizzy infographics heavy on the graphics but light on info.

In a recent post, Alan directed us towards the work of visualisation guru Edward Tufte, which led us to this excellent blog post on an early innovation of Tufte’s: ‘slopegraphs’.

So, here’s some of Ron Pattinson’s data, drawn painstakingly from the Whitbread archives, presented as a (crude) slopegraph.

Graph showing Whitbread beer production 1904 to 1914.

First thoughts? Well, it doesn’t show us anything Ron wasn’t able to express better in words (IPA up, Mild declining surprisingly early), but it might be useful to some ‘visual learners‘. And, as Charlie Park points out, aren’t slopegraphs really just rearranged line charts? (They certainly are the way me make ’em.)

The chart above was created in Excel and exported to a graphics package for formatting and labelling. It uses a consistent scale, hence the big gap in the middle, which is, in itself, illustrative. UPDATED 02/05/2012: removed bounding box — see comments below.

17 replies on “Slopegraphs to Visualise Beer Data?”

I suspect that part of the reason slopegraphs never took off is that they emulate various optical illusions.

This one, for example, makes the box around it look skewed.

Visualiations that accidentally trick the eye aren’t terribly useful. Playing around with the dimensions might alleviate the effect a bit though.


Anyone that has been beaten over the head with Tufte’s books knows that the box around the chart is wasted ink, distracting the eye from the data. No box, no optical illusion to worry about.

In fact, *we* say that it’s not that useful in the post…

What do you mean when you say contrived?

Really? We both tend to go to graphs, charts and maps the minute we have any kind of data to get our heads round.

(Of course the above exercise was *literally* contrived — we wanted to see how slopegraphs worked and picked a nice neat set of data to play with. There is no pressing need for this diagram otherwise.)

The allegation of “unnatural” is just sweet. I think we need to start a campaign for real graphical representations of data. CAMRAGARADA?

The point is well made but your graph is simply not correctly titled. Title it pre-WWI shifts in Whitbread customer preferences and it is quite illuminating. That their out put altered so drastically in a ten year period begs a lot of questions.

The trouble with slopegraphs is that they only visualize two-column tables, whereas in a case like this you really want to see all the years 1904-1914, and a slopegraph won’t do that for you.

A normal line chart with more data points would IMHO be a lot more useful. In fact, that would be really nice.

Lars — Boak and I were talking about this over breakfast (as you do) and came to the same conclusion. A slope will show you relative changes in ranking — IPA overtook pale ale — but it would be really easy to manipulate the data this way. What if, in 1904, IPA was at a freakish low, for example?

Next up, though, sparklines…

Say a barrel held 140L (thanks wikipedia). An Olympic swimming pool holds
25m x 50m x 2m = 2,500m3; 1L = 0.001m3 so 2,500 x 1000 = 2,500,000L
So an Olympic swimming pool is 20833 barrels
So porter had 297122 in 1904 and 382984 in 1914
or in 1904 14.26 olympic swimming pools were drank and in 1914 18.38.

And the swimming pool is still a legal measure in British pubs, as long as it is crown-stamped and lined to indicate the 2,500,000 litre mark.

2 Olympic swimming pools of Hophead, a bag of pork scratchings and some dry roasted nuts please, sweetheart!

It’s so bizarre to see Tufte having his moment among the beer bloggers. When I was doing research professionally–where Tufte is much admired–I would never have guessed this boomlet was on the distant horizon.

These tools he suggests (along with sparklines, which you detail today) have fairly limited utility in my experience. They’re good to know about as one way to present data, but no magic bullets. His larger point, that the presentation of data can be useless, utilitarian, or instantly illuminating, is his greater insight.

But, while I agree, there is no point not experimenting as the topic of good beer has not been subject to any real graph work – only those marching stairs of the BA’s annual release that US craft been is dominant as it has captured 6.9% of the market share, etc…

True. There are some rich possibilities, but they would take care and effort. History provides a lot of rich opportunity–the waxing and waning of styles, the shifts within styles, the way beers influence each other.

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