The Bubble Plot: It's A Beautiful Display

As you may know, we added Bubble Plots to Minitab's menu of meaningful graphs in Release 17. If you are familiar, I think you'll agree that Bubble Plots make a perfect addition to the pantheon of impressive and powerful plots that you can produce in Minitab. They’re great. Of course, they would have been even greater if they used my idea...but that’s spilt milk under the bridge now.

If you haven’t met the Bubble Plot yet, it’s a lot like a scatterplot, only the dots on the plot (a.k.a. the aforementioned “bubbles”) are different sizes so you can visualize the value of a 3rd variable in addition to the x-variable and the y-variable. For example, the bubble plot below shows gross sales (in thousands of dollars) on the y-axis and quarter of the year (1 through 4) on the x-axis. The size of each bubble indicates the number of orders that were received during the quarter.

The first bubble (far left) shows that the company earned approximately $350,000 in revenue during Quarter 1. The second bubble is smaller and lower than the first bubble, which indicates that both the number of orders and total sales revenues were down in Q2 as compared to Q1. Things rebounded a bit in Q3. Q4 was in progress when the graph was made, but the preliminary data look promising. The red bubble was added to show the projected orders and sales for Q4.

It’s a great graph, and it really speaks to you. But it doesn’t quite sing.

Boring Bubble Plot

You can’t say that I didn’t try. I traveled endlessly up and down the hollowed corridors of Minitab and shared my idea with all who would listen (and several who would not).

I started with a visit to the Software Development department. The developers seemed generally impressed with my idea. At least they smiled a lot while I was explaining it. But they said that I should talk to Research and Development first, so I ventured over there.

The R&D folks were inquisitive and asked thoughtful questions like, “You want to do what?” and “Are you serious?” and “Is that even legal?”  In order to address that last question, I took a trip to the Legal Department.

Initially, I was concerned that the folks in Legal would talk over my head. I imagined that they would use Latin words and legal jargon and cite obscure precedents from volumes of landmark court cases. In the end, however, I found them to be quite plain-spoken. I think the exact words were, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Legal then sent me to Human Resources. As a reward for my brilliance, HR added an extensive psychotherapy rider to my existing health insurance policy and encouraged me to use it. Which I did. (It’s going very well, by the way. I’m learning a lot about my mother.)

You get the idea. I basically got the run around. Frankly, I think that everyone is simply jealous or embarrassed that they didn’t think of this themselves. Especially since it’s so obvious when you think about it. I mean, instead of settling for a mere bubble plot, who wouldn’t want to showcase their data in a fabulous Bublé Plot!

Introducing the Bublé Plot

Just think of the extra attention that you’ll garner at your next meeting when your data are brought to life...not by boring old bubbles, but by the viral and vivacious visage of the one and only Mr. Michael Bublé!

The Bublé Plot

Now there’s a graph that just sings out to you. Looking at that graph, how can you possibly doubt that things are looking up? (Or at least looking left?)

And when that happy day comes and you finally do meet those fourth-quarter projections, how do you want to receive the good news? Would you rather stare blankly at expressionless bubbles? Or crack a smile with the chart that smiles back with a look that says, “You did it, Kid! You’re the greatest. That therapist doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

You did it Kid!

I know which graph I’d rather use. Reminds me of a song ...

I’m not surprised
There’s been slump
I’m not gonna let that get me,
down in the dumps
Revenues they come in,
and expenditures out
We get all worked up
then we let our guard down

We’ve tried so very hard to improve it
Now is not the time for excuses
Let’s think of every source of variability

And I know that Q4 it’ll all turn out
They’ll make us work so we can work to work it out
And we promised, yes we did, and will, but we haven’t quite met
Fourth quarter projections yet



Credit for the original image of a smiling Mr. Bublé goes to www.vancityallie.com.  Credit for the original image of a smoldering Mr. Bublé goes to Dallas Bittle. Both are available under Creative Commons License 2.0. 

Credit for the bubbles in the first plot go to the colors Blue and Red, and to the letter Q. All are creative, common, and available in Minitab Statistical Software.

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