The Art of Being Venn

I was going to talk more about the Zika virus this month, but honestly, I'm too tired for serious. I have a fellowship application due next month and I'm all serioused-out.


So instead, I'm going to talk about one of my pet peeves: poorly drawn Venn diagrams. You may not know the name, but I guarantee everyone's seen this type of data representation. It's the one that's just over-lapping circles with words in them.

venn description

That's it. You'd think they'd be easy to get right, wouldn't you? But it's a little more nuanced than that. (Yes, that's a quote from the title song of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I already said I'm tired! Plus it's a fantastic TV show.) ANYWAY, back to Venn diagrams. So, slap 2 circles together, throw in some words and voila! Right? Not so much. That will get you nonsense like this:

venn bad 5

See, the circles are supposed to be descriptors that encompass a lot of things/people/ideas. The place where they overlap should be the things that have both of these descriptors. Dr. Peter Venkman (the ghostbuster pictured) is not a ghost, although he is "a thing I ain't afraid of". Here's a slightly better example of how this works:

venn platypus keytar

First off each circle should be one descriptor. Plus, the blue circle should be called "has a beaver tail and guitar strings", while the yellow one should be "has a bill and keyboard". That way the pictures are examples of the category and not the whole circle. Although, really, how many other creatures with that kind of tail slay at the guitar? But that's beside the point. The middle circle (the platypus with a keytar) would then encompass all 4 descriptors. I'll show an example of that later.

venn friends

Here's a good one, and rather applicable to me! Two descriptors with (assumedly) lots of people who fit into each separately. One very small area of overlap that encompasses my friends. Ta dah! You have successfully Venned at a very basic level.

venn santa

Add another circle with a new descriptor, and the number of extra categories goes up. Being careful and/or pedantic can still be funny!

venn superheroes

In case it's still not making sense, here's a good example. The writing in the circles is small, so here's a link to one you can zoom in on. 3 circles with 3 descriptors, each area has names of superheroes with 1, 2, or 3 of those descriptors, depending on how many circles are overlapped there. Technically, the size of the area should reflect how many names are in each though. That is, the green area has more names than the purple area, so it should be bigger by shifting the circles over slightly. But I'll let that one slide. Onward and upward!

venn singers

So. Many. Loops. There's a lot to unpack here, but I find it hilarious! Just keep in mind that the main circles have descriptors in bold. So, for example, Bob Marley is a smoker, toker and picker, but not a grinner, lover, sinner or joker. Dennis Leary is only a smoker and a joker. Steve Miller is all 7 and now that song will be stuck in my head for days. Science!