Anything but bars: The 10 best alternatives to bar graphs

What if you wish to present a comparability however can’t deliver your self to attract one other bar graph?

I don’t ask this query flippantly. A bar graph or a line graph can illustrate the overwhelming majority of information; they’re the 2 workhorses of the dataviz world.

However let’s be trustworthy: bar graph after bar graph will get boring. That’s once you wish to have an alternate or two up your sleeve.

Listed here are the ten finest methods for instance comparisons with out utilizing a bar graph.

The commonest forms of graphs — line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts — are frequent for a motive.

Every graph kind makes a speciality of telling a sure kind of story. Line graphs present tendencies over time. Pie charts (and their donut brethren) present parts of a complete. And relating to comparisons, bar graphs actually shine.

Bar graphs play on people’ pure capability to evaluate distances. We’re nice at figuring out which form is longest, and by how a lot. The bar graph takes benefit of this capability by changing numbers with rectangles.

Line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts are frequent as a result of they’re the only, handiest methods to inform every story kind.

I generally participate within the Data for a Cause Challenge, a venture led by Olga Tsubiks that lets information visualizers play with nonprofit and cause-driven information. They not too long ago featured information from UNEP on protected areas. Since I’ve been working with the information currently, I believed I’d use it as in the present day’s instance.

The dataset covers tons of of 1000’s of protected areas across the globe, every with particulars on places, sizes, governance, and extra.

There are numerous methods to indicate multifaceted information like this, however we’re maintaining it easy in the present day. We’ll simply examine how a lot of every North American nation is put aside in protected areas. (For ease of calculation, I’m ignoring marine reserves and parks that cross nation borders.)

Our bar graph is fairly easy: three numbers for 3 international locations. As a share of whole space, it seems like Mexico has put aside essentially the most land in North America, adopted by the USA and Canada.

The bar graph will get the job finished, however it might be extra thrilling. Let’s see what else we are able to do with the information.

“Hold on,” you would possibly say, “this graph seems awfully acquainted.”

And also you’d be proper. The row chart is mainly a bar chart that has been rotated 90 levels. Nevertheless it’s not a complete cheat; this delicate twist (har har) may come in useful.

In case your information labels have been a bit longer — say you needed to spell out “The USA of America,” for instance — the vertical bar graph would rapidly run out of room. Excel normally switches labels to a vertical or diagonal orientation, however each are arduous to learn.

The row chart solves this downside by providing extra format flexibility whereas maintaining the bar graph’s rugged beauty and attraction (and effectiveness). Should you’re writing a report, you possibly can organize the graph to match the width of a column of textual content with out taking a lot vertical area.

The radial column chart is a bar graph that’s been curled round on itself. Within the instance at left, I’ve added Central America to the combination to make issues extra attention-grabbing. (On a associated be aware: good work, Guatemala!)

Not like a lot of the different graphs on this article, I made this radial column chart in Illustrator. So far as I do know, there’s no method to make it in Excel.

To be trustworthy, I’ve combined emotions on the radial column chart. One the one hand, it’s very eye-catching, and will go properly with a “hitting our targets” sort of theme. However, it’s very tough for a reader to check values as a result of no two columns are actually side-by-side.

To assist tackle this subject, I’ve added labels and faint concentric rings. Labels inform the reader precise numerical values, whereas the rings assist the reader gauge distances, identical to on an Excel-default bar graph.

Ah, our previous good friend the donut chart. I wrote a full article on donut charts a while back, however right here’s the gist: a donut chart is actually a hybrid of pie charts and bar graphs. You learn it like a bar graph, however it has the pleasant, space-conscious form of a pie chart.

You’ll discover that I’m utilizing areas right here, not percentages. Right here’s what the graph would’ve appeared like as a row of percentages. That is the WRONG method to symbolize the information — are you able to see why?

This donut chart is WRONG — please don’t do that!

It isn’t simply that the odds don’t add as much as 100. Should you group numbers, folks will assume the issues they symbolize belong collectively.

Within the row chart, placing percentages on separate rows made it clear that every quantity was the p.c protection of a totally different nation. However after I throw these percentages into the identical pie chart, they now appear to say that the international locations protected 17, 13, and 22% of the identical land mass — completely incorrect.

Should you’re crunched for area, it could be time to place your geese in a row. The stacked row chart strains up your information so all the pieces is in a single comparatively slender line. Consider it as a flattened-out donut chart — which is why the areas are again once more as an alternative of the odds.

As with the donut chart, we have to be cautious about what we suggest. Stacking a line of percentages would ship the identical incorrect message because the second donut chart.

In a bubble chart, the realm of every circle displays the dimensions of your quantity — on this case, the p.c of land protected in every nation. I’ve discussed the challenges and potential pitfalls of using circles before, however know that circles are nonetheless nice in case you’re in search of a pleasant, eye-catching method to symbolize information.

I’ve lined up the bubbles within the instance above, however you possibly can additionally cluster them in a circle or different form relying on the wants of your format. And don’t overlook your labels! When the numerical values are comparatively shut collectively (as they’re above), they save the day by serving to your reader make exact comparisons.

Circles are enjoyable, however they don’t have a lot to do with the subject at hand. Right here, I’ve changed our bubbles with bushes to symbolize protected forest cowl.

I desire to make use of the identical icon for all classes to assist my reader examine international locations straight. If the US had a pinecone and El Salvador had a banana leaf, the variations in every icon would possibly overshadow the totally different sizes. Briefly: preserve it easy to let your information shine via.

The dot matrix is nice for highlighting components of a complete. Within the instance above, we’re utilizing it for instance land safety within the US alone. The entire matrix represents all US land, whereas the orange circles symbolize the fraction that has been protected.

Like the opposite graphs on this article, you’ll nonetheless have to be cautious of the way you mix your numbers. Should you needed to check the three international locations, you possibly can put three matrices side-by-side — however clearly separate. In the event that they get too shut, you would possibly give your reader the flawed thought.

The dot matrix may also be good for combining a number of classes — so long as it is smart to take action.

Within the instance above, I recalculated every nation’s protected areas, this time as fractions of all the North American land mass. Through the use of totally different colours for every nation in the identical matrix, I can present every nation’s contribution to the entire.

Pictograms substitute the bar chart’s boring rectangles with photographs; our previous good friend the forest, on this case. Every share level will get a tree in my graph, however you possibly can all the time scale issues in another way — a single tree may symbolize 5% or 100,000km2, relying on the wants of your information.

A choropleth makes use of coloration saturation to symbolize values; within the instance above, it’s the p.c of land protected by every nation.

Labels are essential for choropleth maps, as a result of your reader can’t simply eyeball your map and say “yeah, that shade of orange simply screams 17%.” The colours give your reader a touch in regards to the worth, however you’ll nonetheless want a label to complete the thought.

I made these in Illustrator, however apparently it’s additionally potential to make them in Excel utilizing an add-in. This tutorial seems to know what’s up — please report again in case you give it a shot!

Final however not least: the large ol’ quantity. Should you solely have 1–2 numbers to focus on, there’s nothing flawed with merely writing it out.

Bear in mind: by no means illustrate for illustration’s sake; solely do it if it helps your reader!

Excel, Phrase, and a number of different on-line and offline instruments will help deliver a little bit of artistry to your chilly, arduous information.

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