Data visualization is fun. It turns serious data findings and analytics research into entertaining images you can pinch, twitch and play around with. It helps companies recognize trends, form long-term business strategies and make important decisions faster, staying ahead of their competitors.

And with the ever-growing variety of data visualization software so did types of data visualization methods, which is exactly what we are reviewing today. With the current abundance of data visualization methods, how do you choose which ones to use and for what?

Pie chart graphic gif

Data Comparison Tools

You see, it’s all about matching the required visual outcome with the proper data visualization method. For example, you have a market called Social Media, and you want to know how much each leading company like Facebook or YouTube takes up from the whole industry currently.

To see that you wouldn’t need to build multiple line graphs filled with numbers or a multilevel Treemap. All you have to do is choose a Pie Chart, like in the ironic Florida gif above, which is made for precisely that – show proportions of elements in relation to the whole.

Sometimes it is crucial to not only compare absolute values but relative indicators also, which is exactly why we created this comprehensive Visualization Methods for Comparison Guide. Oh, and if you haven’t yet, read our recent article on What is Data Visualization and Its Role for Business Growth.

So going back to data comparison charts, there are two basic categories in which all data visualization methods fall into:

  • With Axis
  • Without Axis
Graphic with axis gif
(black lines is an XY axis – just in case)

Axis is the space in which your values are placed between the vertical and horizontal XY axes. That thing we learned in algebra and geometry in middle school, remember?

So to simplify division between data visualization methods data scientists decided to divide them into those who use an axis like line, bar and bubble charts, and without axis, like heatmaps, treemaps and pie charts.

Let’s look into them in more detail:

Data Visualization Methods with an Axis 

Bar Chart

Bar Chart is the most basic, the most common and simplified way of data visualization and data comparison. It is so popular due to its simplicity –  all you have to do to determine which value in the data comparison chart is larger is to see which bar is taller. 

Bar charts can be vertical and horizontal, like in the example below. The other Bar Chart type is ed from Histogram, which showcases changes over a certain time period.  

Bar Chart

Multi-set Bar Chart 

Multi-set Bar Chart is a type of Bar chart that compares 2 or 4 degrees of the same variable stacked one near the other with a small space in between. 

Multi-set Bar Charts are highly useful when it comes to visualizing complex concepts that consist of multiple variables, but it’s important to keep the number of columns to no more than 4 as the more bars you add, the harder it is to read.

Multi-set Bar Chart

Line Graph

Meet, Line Graph, – probably the oldest of all data comparison tools from the beginning of existence. Along with Bar Charts, they are among the most commonly used types of data visualization methods and can be found in any data-related software from Excel to Google Analytics.

Their popularity can be explained by the ease of use – Line Graph is one of the best ways to showcase a trend over a given time period. 

Line Graph

Stacked Area Graph

Now, the Stacked Area Graph is used for a very specific reason. It is regularly utilized to compare multiple variables transforming over an interval.

The example below is a great representation of such purpose – here a large number of countries displayed according to the number of people using the internet over the last 2 decades.

Stacked Area Graph

Box and Whisker Plot

Box and Whisker Plot looks exactly how it sounds – hard to understand without further explanation and even harder to reproduce without diving deep into the ins-and-outs of the definition.  

This comprehensive data visualization method where long, pointy lines are called “whiskers” is used to give an assessment of the common trends: is data distributed symmetrical, how closely is it grouped, if it’s concentrated in the certain side of the graphic, and if that’s the case – which side is it.

Overall we recommend using Box and Whisker Plot data comparison tool internally only – meaning solely inside the company – and avoid showing this chart type to investors, customers or anyone who does not have a degree in data science. I mean, look at it 😂😳

Box and Whisker Plot

Bubble Chart

We all know how many things related to bubbles – bubble gums, soap bubbles and bubble baths – are fun, and bubble charts are no exception, my friend. 

This data comparison chart type is usually chosen to display relations between certain categories, say countries, represented by each circle with the whole image judged by circles’ sizes and position. 

Together they showcase a pattern and value interrelationships, although watch out for using too many circles, as doing so interferes with the chart’s readability.

Bubble Chart

Other, less common chart types with axis include:

  • Bullet Graph
  • Population Pyramid
  • Marimekko Chart
  • Parallel Coordinates Plot
  • Span Chart
  • Nightingale Rose Chart
  • Radial Bar Chart
  • Radar Chart
  • Radial Column Chart

Data Visualization Methods without an Axis 

Pie Chart

Pie charts are a universal data comparison tool which is loved and used by almost every office in every country that has ever decided to visualize data. The pie chart represents 100% as a whole pie, each category taking up a portion as a separate piece. 

The bigger the portion, the bigger the piece, easy to read, right? Pie charts are perfect for exactly that – show proportional differences among a limited (up to 15) number of values. And they also have an adorable name, which simply can’t be overseen 🙂

Donut Chart

Just like the Pie Chart, Donut Chart is circular, has a funny name and resembles food. And to save you the time in finding the differences between the two, we will state – there are none.

Donut Chart follows exactly the same logic as Pie Chart, although it has a center piece missing. Experts say this upgrade is due to Pie Charts being focused on proportions, which complicates comparison between two charts, and is supposed to be fixed by focusing on the length of the slices in Donut Charts.

Proportional Area Chart

Proportional Area Charts are made to convey proportions of values without using any numbers or scales – just like the name suggests. 

You won’t find out any meaningful explanation digits or analytics data looking at these charts, meaning it is mostly used to communicate messages with the use of shapes – squares, circles, even ice cream cones – and not to estimate or analyze the said values. 

Treemap Chart

Quite confusing at first, Treemap Charts are used to display hierarchical structures (in similarity to a tree, of course) but look nothing like trees – nothing! And not only that but while looking at a Treemap you’ll find yourself in a sea of rectangles placed gracefully one against the other.

To top that off, the whole idea behind the Treemap Chart data visualization method is a basic Pie Chart – the whole rectangle represents the total of all components and each separate component is sized according to its value in relation to the whole. 

A Pie Chart that is shaped like the sea of rocks and looks nothing like trees with the goal to display hierarchy – yep, that’s the Treemap, you read that right.

Treemap chart

Heatmap

Now heatmaps, in the contrary, are exactly what they sound like. They are extremely popular and frequently used in Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) in order to display how often a user interacts with a certain element of the webpage, where the redder the spot the more action from users the element gets. 

Conversion Rate Optimization-Heatmap
(CRO heatmap)

Heatmaps used in analytics look a bit different but also provide data visualization based on the colour shades.

Here they are used to display the correlation between various variables and are great at showcasing common trends, which is frequently used in Social Media engagement calendars.

Choropleth Map

Choropleth Maps, or so-called Geo Maps, are basically actual maps displaying a real geographical location with a variable layered over it.  

Let’s say you want to know people from which countries love eating ice cream in cold weather most. Then, by the map we have below we would conclude that people of China, the United States and Alaska are the biggest ice cream lovers, while Venezuela and Egypt are not so much into it.

By choosing new values to overlay your map, you can modify your Choropleth Map to showcase as many geographical trends as possible. 

Choropleth Map

Other, less common chart types without axis include:

  • Tally Chart
  • Venn Diagram
  • Dot Matrix Chart
  • Pictogram Chart
  • Parallel Sets
  • Chord Diagram

Conclusion

Data Visualization has already changed the way we receive, process and approach data, and it will continue growing as an industry helping big and small companies make decisions based on their data each year. 

By researching the best data visualization methods you are already a part of the movement. Contact us to improve your data accuracy and make a final step towards becoming data-driven today 😉