Who invented the lollipop chart?

Lollipop graph (WolframMathworld)

Last week, Stephen Few critiqued lollipop charts and I wrote a post in their defense, in which I claimed I coined the term “lollipop chart” when I first wrote about them in 2011.

Stephen Few claims he’d seen them several times before I made them in Tableau. I accept that’s entirely reasonable. I remember at the time I thought my idea was original, and if I’d seen them prior to my post, I hadn’t consciously registered them.

Stephen also sent me a link to the lollipop graph, on Wolprham Mathworld. One of his readers had googled the term lollipop chart back when I wrote my post. The purpose of the lollipop graph is different to that of the lollipop chart, but coining cutesy names is certainly not something exclusive to me (tadpole or barbell graph, anyone?

Which all renders my claim to inventing them hanging on by a thread! I probably wasn’t the first to make a lollipop chart. I wasn’t the first to come up with a cute name. Maybe, just maybe, I can claim the ever-shrinking privilege of coining the lollipop chart!

Lollipop charts, revisited

Easy on the eye

Stephen Few has written about lollipop charts in his latest blog. “Malformed bar graphs,” he calls them. The poor things – lollipops are more than that.

The problem is, he didn’t consider the problem I was trying to solve when I first created them in 2011*:

Problem: A bar chart with many bars of a long length are unpleasant to look at.

My eyes! They hurt!

I believe lollipops create a visual experience which is easier to look at. In his post, Steve used an example using 7 bars with a large range. I didn’t create the lollipop for that situation. While I believe a bar or lollipop works for that kind of data, criticizing the lollipop without addressing the original intention is disingenuous. I did consider fat bars and thin lines, too, in seeking a solution. Fat bars are just too inky, and the thin lines don’t have enough definition. Lollipops are an attractive compromise to solve the problem.

*Did I invent lollipop charts? Alberto Cairo credited me with their invention in his book The Truthful Art, and I’m not going to argue against that! The images on my original post are no longer available, unfortunately.


The Book of Circles, by Manuel Lima

I highly recommend you check out Manuel Lima’s The Book of CirclesCheck out my thoughts in the 2 minute video below:

Where else would you find data visualization sat next to illustrations of starfish or works of art? I loved this juxtaposition of data and art and nature. I highly recommend this book.

Left: Martin Krzywinski, Comparing Chromosomes, 2007 (credit: Martin Krzywinski) Right: Ernst Haeckel, Drawing of an ophidea, 1904 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

[for full disclosure, I was sent my copy by the publishers, with no obligations]