charts to display chart
Charts can effectively convey complex numerical information in a simple, appealing format. A well-designed chart can express a strong message and leave a lasting visual impression on viewers and readers. Since many viewers and readers immediately gravitate to them, charts have the potential to draw readers into a document or presentation almost instantaneously.
LO12.4. Develop charts and tables to concisely display data and accentuate key messages.
Overall, the message of the chart is central. As Dona Wong, graphics director of The Wall Street Journal from 2001 to 2010, explained, “It is the content that makes graphics interesting. When a chart is presented properly, information just flows to the viewer in the clearest and most efficient way. There are no extra layers of colors, no enhancements to distract us from the clarity of the information.”4 As with other business messages, planning is the key component of developing charts.
Effective business communicators carefully select the few data relationships that most support their business messages. Top graphic designer Nigel Holmes, who is credited with coining the term explanation graphics, notes that charts must do more than describe or inform. They should explain important business ideas or relationships that support the key messages of a communication. Furthermore, charts should not require much mental effort for the reader. As Holmes points out, “Charts that don’t explain themselves are worse than no charts.”5
Throughout this chapter you’ll find charts and tables that illustrate the strategic use of data to address the concerns of Andrea from the chapter case. While dozens of chart options are available, this section focuses on the three types used primarily within the workplace: line charts, pie charts, and bar charts. Several other chart and figure types are illustrated with less detail. Mastering the design principles of these most common and relevant charts will enable you to create other, less-common types if you choose to do so.
Generally, line charts are useful for depicting events and trends over time. For example, stock prices over time would make the most sense when presented in the form of a line chart. Pie charts are useful for illustrating the pieces within a whole. Market share would be best illustrated with a pie chart. Bar charts are useful to compare amounts or quantities. The bar chart, with its many forms, is the most versatile of these charts since it can be used to compare many types of data.
As you create charts, focus on the following criteria: (a) title descriptiveness, (b) focal points, (c) information sufficiency, (d) ease of processing, and, most important, (e) takeaway message. In the following pages, you will find a discussion of each of these criteria. Also, you will find less-effective and more-effective examples for each major type of chart. Each of the examples is supplemented with explanations about these five criteria.
Most readers look first at the chart’s title to grasp its message. Thus, the title should explain the primary point of the chart. However, it must be short enough for the reader to process quickly (generally less than ten words). In some cases you may add a subtitle if the short title is not sufficient.
Consider Figure 12.2, which illustrates identical information with a less-effective and more-effective line chart. In the less-effective chart on the left, the chart title is a short and relatively unhelpful phrase, “Staff & Service Ratings.” By contrast, the chart title in the more-effective chart on the right uses a title and a subtitle. The main title, “Improvement in Staff & Service Ratings,” uses the first word to immediately point out the main theme of the chart. The subtitle, in just seven words, accentuates the idea that the improvement was intentional or goal-based (“Raising Our Performance”) and that the improvement far exceeded that of primary competitors.
Figure 12.2 Less-Effective and More-Effective Line Charts
Key Design and Formatting Problems in Less-Effective Chart Adjustments in More-Effective Chart Title descriptiveness Nondescriptive, bland title. It does not tie into any primary message. Title and subtitle focus on intentional improvement. Focal points Lacks focal points. All parts of the chart are treated equally—thus, there is no emphasis or indication of what should be the key points of comparison. The callout box focuses attention on the staff and service initiative as the cause of rising customer satisfaction. A darker, thicker line with a bold label draws attention to the Prestigio data series. Information sufficiency Inadequate information about the rating scale. What do the numbers represent? What is the year for which data was gathered? The note provides information about the rating scale. Ease of processing Legend placed on the right side. This forces the reader to move back and forth between the legend and the data series in the plot area. Further, the colors do not aid in the information presentation. Instead of a legend, data labels are placed directly at the end of each data series (line) to make identification of each hotel’s performance easier. Additionally, the color scheme is kept to a minimum, thereby prominently displaying the dramatic rise in ratings. Takeaway message Staff and service ratings have improved for the Prestigio over the past year. However, the message requires too much effort for the viewer and could easily be missed or forgotten quickly. All elements of the chart capture the message that the Prestigio staff and service initiative has successfully improved customer satisfaction compared to competitors.
A chart should draw the reader’s attention to the most-critical relationships and ideas. Much like unified paragraphs (Chapter 3), in which all sentences focus on one main idea, each of the chart’s focal points should support one main idea. The focal points can be visually generated in many interesting ways—for example, font choices (bold, italics), color, size, and callout boxes.
In the more-effective line chart in Figure 12.2, a variety of focal points highlight the improvement in staff and service ratings at the Prestigio. The callout box centered in the chart directs the reader to the point in time when the Prestigio launched its staff and service initiative, allowing the reader to trace the improvement in ratings since that time. The Prestigio data series is emphasized with a darker, thicker line that is placed on top of the other data series (for the other hotels).