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Small Multiple

1 May 2010
Yaniv Malka

What is "Small Multiple"?

Small multiple is a visual concept coined by Edward Tufte. It refers to small displays (about the size of a postage stamp) that use a basic graphical chart to present different cross-sections of information. Small multiples can display multidimensional information without compressing all the data into a single chart. Small multiples include Grid, Trellis, Panel, and Lattice charts. These present information about multiple variables in an easy-to-view format, allowing users to conclude quickly. We will see examples of different types of charts later.

A map of the united states

Small multiples have several advantages

  1. They allow the presentation of multiple variables without confusing your audience.

  2. The reader can quickly learn to read an individual chart and apply this knowledge when reviewing the rest. Instead of struggling to understand how the chart works, they quickly understand the information.

  3. They allow comparison between variables and show various potential patterns in the charts.

What should one be careful about when using Small multiples?

  1. Charts based on small multiples should reflect a logical order, such as a dimensional matrix, geography, or time. This will help users quickly understand the charts that interest them.

  2. Small multiples should use the same metrics, scales, size, and shape. Changing these factors will impair readers' ability to use them again and understand the chart.

  3. Chart simplicity is critical. Users should be able to process information across many charts.

Andrew Gelman's analysis of support for "school vouchers" is broken down by region/ethnicity, income, and state.

A map of the united states

Dan Meth's Trilogy Meter shows enjoyment of movies:

A chart of different types of characters

Graphic description by Jorge Camoe for unemployment information:

A graph of the rate of unemployment

Source: Zach, G.(2010), Better Know a Visualization: Small Multiples

A person touching a screen with a map and graphs
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