A small defence of the humble pie chart

Pie charts have a bad rep these days. From examples of pie chart abuse (the most famous example being the one about iPhone market share) to General Assembly courses which simply decree “don’t use pie charts”, there’s a chorus of discontent against the (former?) stalwart of the corporate world.

I recently co-authored a report which has nine charts in it, of which one unfortunately was a pie chart. Here it is, in all it’s disgrace:

BigDataMalaysia_ESP2014_fig1

While I feel I must endure shame for including this abomination in what was otherwise a nicely mediocre report (I mean come on, there’s a typo right there!) I can’t help but feel this pie chart has it’s place.

What I like about this chart is that at a glance it clearly illustrates that we had one segment almost amount to the sum of all the other segments. There would have been other ways to make that point, for instance we could have had two bar charts side by side, one for ICT and the other a stacked bar chart of all the other segments.

But that would have been shoving the point down the readers throat rather than inviting them to make the observation themselves. It would also have suggested pre-meditation: it was never our intention to group our data into “ICT vs non-ICT” segments; this segmentation approach, which we maintained throughout the rest of our report, arose pretty much because of this chart. In other words, we just followed the data, and the pie chart was our able guide.

I suggest that for this particular case, the pie chart was the right choice. Maybe it’s an unusual case in general, but I hope it helps keep the humble pie chart away from the gallows just a little bit longer.

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