Play Your Charts Right: Tips for Effective Data Visualization – by Geckoboard

In a world where data really matters, we all want to create effective charts. But data visualization is rarely taught in schools, or covered in on-the-job training. Most of us learn as we go along, and therefore we often make choices or mistakes that confuse and disorient our audience.
From overcomplicating or overdressing our charts, to conveying an entirely inaccurate message, there are common design pitfalls that can easily be avoided. We’ve put together these pointers to help you create simpler charts that effectively get across the meaning of your data.

Geckoboard

Based on work by experts such as Stephen Few, Dona Wong, Albert Cairo, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, and Andy Kirk, the authors at Geckoboard wrote down a list of recommendations which I summarize below:

Present the facts

  • Start your axis at zero whenever possible, to prevent misinterpretation. Particularly bar charts.
  • The width and height of line and scatter plots influence its messages.
  • Area and size are hard to interpret. Hence, there’s often a better alternative to the pie chart. Read also this.

Less is more

  • Use colors for communication, not decoration.
  • Diminish non-data ink, to draw attention to that which matters.
  • Do not use the third dimension, unless you are plotting it.
  • Avoid overselling numerical accuracy with precise decimal values.

Keep it simple

  • Annotate your plots; include titles, labels or scales.
  • Avoid squeezing too much information in a small space. For example, avoid a second x- or y-axis whenever possible.
  • Align your numbers right, literally.
  • Don’t go for fancy; go for clear. If you have few values, just display the values.

Infographic summary

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