How to Show Hierarchy with Data Visualization

Data visualization is multifaceted. It can help you showcase relations between objects and values, their correlation, their interconnectedness and hierarchy. Today we are talking about the latter – hierarchical data visualization and methods which explain how to show hierarchy with data visualization. 

Without a doubt, it is important to know which visualization methods are appropriate for which data relations in order to ensure your data is portrayed and understood accurately across various departments, investors and employees of your company. 

Ready? Let’s begin!

Hierarchy in Data Visualization 

According to the World Wide Web, a hierarchy comes from the Greek hierarkhia, and translates as a “rule of a high priest”. In our modern days, hierarchy is a system of values (titles, objects, positions, etc) in which each value is placed above, below or equal in relation to others. 

A hierarchical data structure is commonly used in politics, mathematics, organizational theory, and now also in data visualization. 

In terms of Business Intelligence and Data Analytics, hierarchical data visualization is used to display how certain items or data are ranked and in a system. 

So today we will learn about 4 best data visualization methods to show a hierarchical data structure in your chosen project or field. Let’s dive in!

Hierarchical Data Visualization

First things first, we want to mention that we have a great article on different data visualization types like Bubble chart, Line graph, Proportional area chart, etc and for which needs each one is suited, check it out here – Comparisons: Data Visualization Types & Methods. 

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Tree Diagram

Let’s start with the most hierarchical data visualization method ever – Tree Diagram. Tree Diagram is the mother of all hierarchical representations of data and has been used by humans since the beginning of times.

The idea behind the Tree Diagram hierarchical data visualization is to showcase relations of chart objects against each other in ranked order – it starts with a single value residing on top and all other values spiralling from it and their relations with each other. 

It is often used in organizations to determine superiors and subordinates in a management system, showcase seniority in family trees, display the hierarchy of items according to their value like in Maslow’s pyramid of needs, to fast-forward decision making and track the cause of a certain problem and its possible effects.


We’ll proceed with a hierarchical data visualization you’ve all heard something about – a Treemap. This visualizing hierarchical data chart shares a name with a Tree Diagram but is quite different from the ladder.  

Treemaps not only show value hierarchy by splitting the whole area into smaller rectangle pieces but also show value relations by obtaining rectangles of different sizes within each split category.

In the example below, you can see the size distribution of all car brands according to their weight in the market, and each separate car brand category split into the matching car series sub-categories. 

Visualizing hierarchical data using Treemaps is a great way to show items relations to the whole and to each other in a single system.


Sunburst Diagram

Next on our hierarchical data structure quest – Sunburst Diagram. Similar in shape to the Donut chart, Sunburst Diagram. Here hierarchical data format is distributed in a way, quite similar to the Treemap, but instead of a rectangle, a whole circle is divided into separate categories that take up space in accordance with its value. 

Sunburn Diagrams have multiple levels, which are using a hierarchical data structure and are placed one below the other in correspondence to each other’s values. 

Just like in the example below, a given theme – nature photography, is then split into several main categories, and then again, into sub-categories that compose it.


Circle Packing

The last item on our hierarchical data visualization list is Circle Packing. The most mysterious out of all hierarchical data visualization techniques, Circle Packing, also called a Circular Treemap, is called a Circular Treemap for a reason – it works by the same logic as the Treemap hierarchical data visualization chart, but instead of rectangles you’ve got circles. 

Circle Packing displays a whole area with a single circle and the biggest circles representing the main categories, with each smaller circle inside representing a value in proportion to the parent and the entire circle accordingly. 

This visualized hierarchical data structure is best suited to display a large area with multiple elements making it up, and their relations to the whole and to each other.



Visualization techniques and methods vary in functionality and usability – but know you know which ones are the best for showing hierarchical data visualization.

Contact us to carry out all data visualization for you – this is what we do best. And when you are ready to turn your company data-driven, you also know who to call 😉