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A Brief History of Harvey Balls
Even if you don’t recognize the name, you know what Harvey Balls are.
They’re the circles used to compare different aspects of a product or other item made famous by Consumer Reports and countless product sheets and consulting decks.
Harvey Balls are a useful tool to lend a little analytical insight to qualitative information. At a glance, they provide an apples-to-apples comparison for metrics like safety, quality, market share, consumer sentiment and other data that don’t lend themselves to simple stats.
So why are they called Harvey Balls?
They were invented by Harvey L. Poppel, who led Booz Allen Hamilton’s IT consulting practice in the 1970s. (Not to be confused with Harvey Ball, inventor of the smiley face.)
Poppel used them to summarize long columns of data for internal reports. But the ideograms were so useful, consultants started using them on client-facing presentations. Soon Consumer Reports adopted them for everything from cars to hearing aids.
Consumer Reports has adapted its use of Harvey Balls over the years to match its evolving brand, but the original circles divided into quadrants remain a powerful data visualization tool. They’re easy to drop into documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and can convey a lot of information in a small amount of space.
They’re not right for every situation. The fact that they’re so easily digestible means they can oversimplify hard numbers while stripping some qualitative data of its more emotional impact. In some cases, supplementing Harvey Balls with data points or, conversely, key quotes or testimonials can help add depth and credibility to the circles.