Data visualization happens when data and design intersect. For most people who use interactive dashboards (we’ll call them “dashboarders”), the design stage is the most exciting – and fun – step in the dashboard process. This is where your ideas come to life and you actually start to see your data. Dashboard design involves careful planning, though, which means you’ll need to choose the best possible charts and graphs for the information you want to deploy. While preference plays a big role in design, some dashboard charts and graphs work better for certain types of data.
Here are some of the most popular graphs that smart dashboarders, such as yourself, can use:
When to Use Bar Graphs
Never underestimate the power of a well-placed bar graph. These charts are one of the most familiar forms of data visualization; but, because they’re so common, they tend to get overlooked. This is especially true when your interactive dashboard offers a plethora of interesting chart types at your disposal. Because of its simplicity, the bar graph is often times the best way to present or compare data from the same category, such as sales value or product volume over a period of time.
Bar graph characteristics:
- Space efficient
- Familiar to users
When to Use Pie Charts
Pie charts are another popular choice for dashboarders. After all, who doesn’t like pie? The key to using pie charts effectively is to understand their purpose and their potential drawbacks. When used correctly, pie charts display important information quickly. In many cases, it’s even faster to absorb information from a pie chart than a bar graph. Because of this, it’s vital to keep a few guidelines in mind:
You can use pie charts to:
- Display parts of a whole (The sum of the slices should always equal 100%)
- Focus on the big picture, instead of exact numbers and details
- Draw attention to important information quickly, since pie charts are eye-catching
Read next: INFOGRAPHIC: How to Choose Your Charts
When to Use Line Graphs
At a glance, you might think line graphs are essentially bar graphs lying down. While the benefits of these dashboard chart types are similar, line graphs offer additional precision and detail. Furthermore, they tend to be more space efficient than bar graphs. As a rule of thumb, consider line graphs if you want to show several sets of data and how they relate. In most cases, line graphs are used to display the relationship between multiple sets of data over a period of time.
Line graph characteristics:
- Exact (Opposed to a pie chart, which is general)
When to Use Sparklines
Sparklines are a powerful yet easily overlooked dashboard chart. At a glance, sparklines look like tiny line graphs – but they serve an entirely different purpose. In short, sparklines show changes to one data set over time. Unlike bar and line graphs, they don’t compare information; sparklines simply show data trends. This draws attention to one set of important data and the direction the data is moving.
Tips for using sparklines
- Ideal for standalone metrics, such as revenue
- Extremely easy to understand and read quickly
- Ideal for trimming unnecessary data
- Space efficient (possibly the most compact graph)
Ready to use these charts in your interactive dashboard?
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Even if you’re not the artistic type, this guide will have you thinking like a graphic designer and making informed choices that support your data narrative.