When it comes to visualizing data, it’s important to pick the right graph and the right kind of data range. Make it too detailed, and information gets lost and the reader leaves confused. Too simplified, and your data’s integrity is weakened. Choosing the right infographic element shouldn’t be an art but common sense. After all, it’s an infographic – readers should get the gist of things at first glance and not have to get crossed-eyed in making sense of things.
Ideal for showing trends, line graphs need a continuous variable, such as time, to make sense. They show relationships better than tables do and make correlating variables easily identifiable. Avoid line graphs if there’s either too little or too much variation in values. Keep in mind when comparing different sets of data, too many lines spoil the element.
Bar charts are great for making comparisons amongst data. Unlike line graphs, bar charts can depict trends in discrete data, though the downside to this means data can be reordered to emphasize certain effects and be manipulated. Bar charts work best at showing magnitude, rather than trends. With the option of being grouped or stacked, multiple sets of data can be compared. Stacked columns are good for comparing the differences in each group, whereas grouped columns are good for making sense of a category as a whole.
A close relative of the line graph, area charts obviously differ by showing an area under a line. Though both are good for showing changes over time, an area chart is good when the area under the line is a countable figure, such as population. Stacked area charts are good when tracking changes for groups that make up a single category – such as male and female segments of a population.
Love them or hate them, pie charts are the popular choice for representing data as a whole. Tips are to limit the number of slices to ideally six or less. Have a percentage that’s 25% or 30%? Perfect. Skip this chart entirely, though, if your data values are too similar or too difficult to estimate using the naked eye.
Data maps make location-focused data easily recognizable. The nature of a map-based graph means abrupt changes can be missed and anomalies hidden. Clusters of information with small boundaries can be difficult to read, which would make a bar graph or table more preferable.
Easy to read and visually appealing, pictographs can make large data digestible. Their disadvantage is that partial pictofigures are hard to quantify and a legend is needed to know what information is being presented. So if you have figures that aren’t wholes or halves, move on.
When trying to visualize differences or similarities between groups, Venn diagrams are the way to go. They make complicated things look simple and are perfect for visual learners. Disadvantages, however, are the limited comparisons allowed, as well as the potential difficulties in conveying data for new and unfamiliar ideas. So there you go. Detail over clarity? Not in an infographic. Using the right set of elements can make a huge difference in how information is read and ensure your overall message is being heard amongst the data. Danny Ashton is the brains behind Neomam, an infographic design agency based in Manchester. Keep up with his latest work on Twitter.