Top Charts & Graphs for Your Data
Charts and graphs are the building blocks of data visualization – and your dashboard. Picking the right chart or graph to depict unique sets of data can be a challenge. The goal is to represent your data in a way that’s easy for users to grasp and digest, which involves two essential elements: aesthetics and function. In other words, the right chart or graph is both beautiful and useful. In order to find the right visual aid to accompany a specific metric, you’ll need to ask yourself the following question: What am I doing with this data? Are you comparing sets of information? Do you need to break down a larger set of information into small, bite-sized pieces? Are you hoping to see how your data has changed over a given period of time? Once you have the answer to these questions, you’re one step closer to finding the perfect chart or graph.
Some of the most commonly used charts and graphs are:
Using Charts and Graphs
Bar Graphs and Column Charts – Column and bar charts are a great way to compare data sets. Let’s say you need to compare spending or revenue data for each department in your organization. A bar graph could help you evaluate the performance of each department by showing the highest and lowest values, along with everything in between.
Line and Area Charts – These graphs are valuable in situations where you want to understand changes or trends over time. For example, if you want to see how sales have gone up (or down) in the last year, a line chart might be your best option because it can provide visual aids for both value and time. Area charts offer similar flexibility with a slightly different aesthetic. They are particularly effective at showing cumulative impact and data composition over time.
Pie, Funnel, and Pyramid Charts – Pie, funnel, and pyramid charts are dissimilar in their appearance but serve a common purpose: understanding how a larger data set breaks down into smaller pieces of information. If you wanted to know what percentage of sales came from referrals, cold calls, and other avenues, a pie chart would be useful. If you wanted a more detailed breakdown of each component and how they relate to one another, consider a funnel chart.
Speedometer, Bullet, and Thermometer Charts – If you want to visualize a single data set that has a threshold or an upper limit, like a goal or “danger” zone, a speedometer or a thermometer can be very effective. These chart types are best for representing numeric data that falls within a certain range. A speedometer will easily show where your data falls within that range, while a thermometer can show how close you are to your upper limits.
Presentation Charts – In iDashboards, you can add all sorts of non-data elements into your data dashboard. This includes images, logos, labels, and more. Best of all, these non-data elements can still interact with your data, using patented Interactive Intelligence. This means that, for example, you can view the energy consumption data for multiple facilities, and see the image of the building while you view the relevant data.
Tabular Charts – When you need to get granular, tabular charts are the way to go. These are best used as drilldowns, because they can be a bit overwhelming on the initial view. Nestled beneath another chart type, tabular charts give a curious audience all the detail they could ever want on a particular data set.
Calendar Charts – Running a campaign? Building up towards an event? Use a calendar chart to consolidate data from multiple sources as they relate to individual days in your time frame.
Maps – Putting your data into context can provide a completely different perspective. Map charts, like iDashboards GeoPlots, allow you to overlay data points onto world, country, state, and local maps, so you can see trends in a holistic way. You can use our preloaded maps or your own.
Line Graph – A Closer Look
Line graphs are one the most common and versatile chart types, so they deserve a little extra attention. There are three sub-types of line charts to discuss: trend, sparkline, and stacked.
Trend lines are the most commonly used line graphs and indicate the tendency or “trend” of your data. If you have a graph depicting sales growth, a trend line could be used to show exactly how fast your sales are growing and, given the current sales rate, where they’ll be in the future.
Sparklines, on the other hand, are best used for displaying a quick “summary” of information. If you want to convey a general idea about your data, such as increased customer retention rates or website traffic, you can do that with a sparkline. Because they are so tiny, sparklines are best used to show general trends – not specific numeric values. If you want users to have more information about the data in your sparkline, consider using a drilldown.
Stacked line graphs are unique because, as the name suggest, they function like several line graphs stacked on top of each other. Unlike most line graphs, there is not opportunity for the lines to overlap. Much like a pie chart, a stacked line can be used to show the cumulative value of several smaller data sets. This way, users can compare data sets as part of a greater whole.
The Problem with Pie Charts
Despite their omnipresence in popular culture and PowerPoint presentations, pie charts have a less than sterling reputation. Edward Tufte, considered by some to be the “Jimi Hendrix of Data Visualization,” famously derided the pie chart, saying “the only worse design than a pie chart is several of them.” Still, the pie chart is a familiar and dynamic element of many data visualizations, and can be an effective chart if used properly. First, it’s important to recognize the drawbacks of this particular chart type.
- It’s more difficult for us to perceive differences in area vs. differences in length
- Angles in a pie chart can make it hard to see proportion
- Often, the colors used are incongruent and not friendly to the colorblind
How to avoid a pie chart fumble:
- Make sure your metrics add up to 100%! A pie chart must display a meaningful whole.
- Keep the center of the pie chart clear and defined. This is the best way for people to judge angles and proportion (i.e. don’t use donut charts… sorry, Homer Simpson)
- Consider only using pie charts when showing part-whole relationships. Bar charts are better for showing relationships of parts to other parts.
- Never use (or eat) more than six slices of pie. Any more than that is too much to digest!
Chart and Graph Best Practices
Most charts are versatile and relatively forgiving, but you can get the most out of them by following a few simple guidelines:
- Each time and value interval between marks on the graph should be consistent.
- You don’t always have to start the axis at zero. However, most people assume the axis will start there, so it’s generally a better idea to start at zero if you’re showing the chart to a broad audience.
- In the chart, time should always run from left to right, otherwise your audience could misinterpret it.
- Labels are important, but you shouldn’t need to include guidelines or explanatory information – your chart should speak for itself. If you need to provide guidelines, consider finding a simpler way to present the data.
- If possible, shoot for a 45-degree slope. Finding the right aspect ratio will help your audience interpret your information.
Do you have the right data reporting tools?
You know how to find the right chart or graph for your data – do you have the right tools to create and deploy it? At iDashboards, our data visualization software can help you manage your data and display it effectively, and you can try it 30 days for free! Get in contact with a representative from iDashboards today to learn more.