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From Bad Chart to Good Chart

Chart design is one of the subjects that we cover a lot here at Spreadsheet Life. We write about chart design to help our readers understand the importance of building charts correctly.

These days, programs like Microsoft Excel, among many others, make it easy to create data diagrams and charts. This is wonderful news, but at the same time, it opens the door to many poorly designed charts and graphs.

There is no need to worry, though. Building an effective graph to communicate what the data is trying to say is not difficult. You just need a little practice and a little guidance to get it right.

In this article, we will show you a seemingly well-made graph and show how to transform it into a much better and more effective chart overall.

You will learn a few ideas along the way, and as they say, practice makes perfect. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

A Seemingly Acceptable Chart

Take a look at the chart below. What do you think? Is this a well-made chart, or can we do a few things to improve it?

At first, the above pie graph may seem pretty good. However, there is a lot that can be done to improve it. Let’s take a look at how to make this bad chart better!

Step 1 – Change to 2D

When creating data visualizations in the form of charts and graphs, always create them in 2D and avoid 3D like the plague.

The 3D effect may seem to add style, but it takes away much more than it gives. 3D charts are more difficult for our brains to perceive.

Therefore, let’s change the 3D chart to 2D, and you can start to see a clearer picture of the data.

Step 2 – Add a Title

At this point, we’ve improved the chart a little, but there is still a massive communication issue going on here.

What in the world is this chart showing us? What are these categories supposed to represent?

Without more context, the reader of this chart is effectively lost. The good news is that adding context is fairly simple.

Just add a title to describe what the chart is trying to communicate.

Now we have a much better understanding of what this chart is trying to show us.

Step 3 – Add Data Labels

To make this chart even easier to comprehend, it’s a good idea to add data labels to the pie slices.

Data labels are a good idea here because some of the pie slices are similar in size. Adding the data labels takes care of this confusion and gives us a better comparison to look at.

Step 4 – Change the Pie Graph to a Bar Graph

Adding data labels is about as far as we can go in improving this pie graph. If we want to improve our chart further, we must change the chart type entirely.

Pie charts are actually not very effective when it comes to clearly communicating data. This is simply because comparing pie slices is not the easiest thing for our brains to do.

In fact, our brains have a much easier time comparing bar lengths rather than pie slices. This is why transforming the pie graph into a bar graph is the next best thing we can do!

If you are curious to learn more about why pie graphs aren’t as good as you may think, check out our article, Too Much Pie.

Step 5 – Remove the Excess Color

Now that we have a clearly labeled bar graph, there is no need for all the different colors.

The category labels themselves differentiate the bars, so making all of the bars the same color cleans up the chart without taking anything away from it.

Step 6 – Re-order the Bars

This final step is optional, but it can be helpful when you want to highlight the largest and smallest values in your dataset.

When you put the bars in order it is much easier to draw the reader’s attention to the top and bottom categories. They can instantly recognize the ends of the spectrum and have a clear picture of how things compare from top to bottom.

And that’s how you can take a seemingly good chart and transform it into a great chart. We hope you enjoyed this article and also learned something new along the way.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Avoid 3D like the plague… got it! Haha, all joking aside, this is a great article, thanks for the help on charts!

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