Lies, Pouts and Data Visualization

The wonk in me has been ADD’ed by several nerd-like pursuits of gaining wisdom as I advance towards meeting my lofty goals for 2013. And so has the beauty enthusiast. After all ‘a better version of me everyday’ is only half met unless the mirror approves, right? So, my monthly (read: weekly) visit to Sephora was perfectly aligned with my goals as I looked to splurge some bucks on what might be the next new product that can give me Salma Hayek’s looks. Oh wait, I started with the blog talking about my  nerd-like pursuits in 2013.. Earlier this year, I attended Mr. Tufte‘s workshop on data visualization and got some signed copies of his books which I eventually started reading in the fall, starting with ‘The visual display of quantitative information’.

Back to Sephora in upscale Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC..As I sashayed across the aisles with no particular product or brand in mind, an image in the ‘Too Faced’ aisle caught my eye.  Bee-stung lips without fillers/surgery? Now, I am not really  insecure about any part of my physiognomy but if I could get some plumpness in my lips, I think I would really like that. So I stood there reading the label, and suddenly it clicked. There’s  something wrong with the image, something I have been reading about in my E.Tufte book…the ‘Lie Factor’ !


Lie factor = Size of Effect shown in graphic/Size of Effect in data

Where Size of effect = |Second value – First Value|/First Value

So, in simple English, the picture is creating a visual illusion of plumpness which is  greater than their claim of 40%.

Acceptable Lie Factor range is between 0.95 and 1.05. I took a picture, came back and did a quick analysis (simple measurements using powerpoint rulers). This is what I found.

Size of Effect = (Surface area of pic with gloss/surface area of pic without glass) = 54%

So, Lie factor = 54%/40% = 1.35

The picture is overstating the effect by 35%. This is not earth shattering.  I mean, you don’t need a Don Draper to tell you what creative is going to sell Lip Plumping lip glosses. Brands get creative with the truth (Read – Lie) all the time . Branding is not my forte but I enjoy observing brands and the effect they have on me or people around me  as a consumer.

And while we are on the topic of a wonk in Sephora, this is not the first time. On two occasions, I have helped Sephora staff struggling with answering “Wattage” question about hairdryers to customers. I have never figured out why the manufacturers don’t mention it on the box. But as an electrical engineer by  education, I  interjected and asked them to simply multiply the ‘V’ value by the ‘I’ value mentioned on the box to get the wattage. Voila, smiles all around ! Power (W) = Voltage (V) x Current (I)….everybody should know that, right??

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