On Visualizing Data and Laziness

There's just no excuse today for making customers hunt and peck to find relevant information.
Aug | 25 | 2015

Aug | 25 | 2015


It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about data visualization. My focus for the past year or so has been business communication and Message Not Received. Today, though, my AT&T bill got my dataviz juices going and inspired this rant.

By way of background, I already pay AT&T in excess of $120/month, about one-third of which subsidizes my new iPhone. It’s not a small expense, but it’s a certainly necessary one for someone without a land line. In any event, my bill this month inexplicably exceeded $140 and I wanted to understand why.

Data Detective

Don’t make your customers play detective.

The first page of the bill showed $19.11 in international charges. Fair enough, but I wanted to know which calls contributed to the overage. Lamentably, AT&T made that nearly impossible to discern. (Perhaps this is no accident, but that’s an entirely different question.)

Weeding through the monstrosity of a 14-page PDF that AT&T calls a monthly bill, I finally identified the two recent calls to journalists in Canada about the recent New York Times’ story on Amazon. The charges didn’t make any sense to me, as my current plan had covered calls make to—and received from—North America. Or so I thought.

Click to embiggen.

Any color coding or conditional formatting on these charges? Nope. Easy sorting by price? Not in a PDF.

I called AT&T to straighten things out and, to make a long story short, all is well.

Simon Says

Presenting information need not be beautiful in ways like this:


Still, there’s just no excuse today for making customers hunt and peck to find relevant information.

For more on this, see How Not to Visualize Data.


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