16. marts 2018

Columns vs. Lines – The Great Debate


“Data is only as good as how well you can communicate what it means”

Have you ever been working in excel or powerpoint and wondered when to use a column or a line chart? I think most of us have. In my experience, we have grown accustomed to communicating through charts and visualizations, but become notoriously bad at choosing between them. Here is my take on how to get to grips with your chart toolbox.

Imagine your data over time
One of the first things I consider when choosing a chart is how it will behave over time. A chart should not just show a snapshot of some data, but it should communicate how the data was collected and aggregated.

Is your data aggregating or floating?
When it comes to charts, we can categorize data as being either aggregating or floating. A column chart is the best example of an aggregating visualization. Each vertical bar in a column chart starts as nothing, but then grows upwards as it starts to aggregate a value. On the other hand, a line represents a collection of floating points that are connected to one another. In short, if your data is aggregating, then choose a column. if it represents single data points or floating values, go with a line.

Storytelling is key
A chart needs to be able to speak for itself. You should be able to present a chart to someone who has never seen it before, and have them present it back to you. If a chart isn’t concise and self-explanatory, the data and story you are telling will lose focus. 

At the end of the day, choosing the right chart type can seem like an arduous task, but the three above points can hopefully steer you towards clearer visualizations.