Balls: Harvey, Booz, and Smiley

Recently, a colleague of mine referred to “Harvey balls” when I knew he mean “Booz balls,” those quarter/half/three-quarter filled circles that graphically represent low to high scales.  If you need to show, say in a table, a set of values, you can use these Harvey/Booz balls instead of numbers; they make it easy to scan the table.  Consumer Reports uses them, for example.

Booz, or Harvey, balls

They’re a consulting staple, and I call them Booz balls because, I have always assumed, they were first used at Booz, Allen, Hamilton.

But why Harvey?

Wikipedia has the answer: Harvey Poppel, a Booz consultant, invented them, so you either honor the man (Harvey balls) or his employer (Booz balls.)

There’s even a very useful Harvey balls font, from a former Booz consultant of course, which gives you a lot of flexibility to use them in, say, Excel.  (For presentations, I think you’re still better off using a graphic.)  You have to be aware of how to use them, though, because in the example above the balls represent one to nine; five and above are variations on one to four, not actually higher values.

Your browser may not represent these properly, but there are also Unicode values for Booz/Harvey balls:

○ ◔ ◑ ◕ ●

Smiley face

Now — and this is really a large piece of awesomeness — you should be careful not to confuse Harvey (Poppel’s) balls with Harvey Ball, the inventor of the smiley face.

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