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When deciding which chart to use, start by identifying what is the point for your data visualization and which data relationship is the most important to get your message across in an accurate and clear way. There are 9 functions that can help highlight these relationships:
Used to indicate the general direction of data over time. These types of charts usually have a time series on the horizontal (X) axis and quantitative scale on the vertical (Y) axis and time progresses left to right.
Best for: Revenue, income, market cap, commodity production, population by country
Used to visualize the relative size of components to one another and to the whole unit. Composition charts can also be used to highlight one part of the total value. This type of chart usually uses area to represent the value of each segment. To give a complete picture of the data, when using a composition graphs show all the components adding to the total (100%) of the unit.
Best for: Breakdown of revenue, composition of legislature, market share, completion status, progress bars
Used to visualize the relationships and connection between two or more variables. These types of charts are used to explore areas where meaningful associations between variables might exist. When using a correlation chart be mindful that many individuals will infer causation unless you tell them otherwise.
Best for: GDP and inflation, education and income, life expectancy and healthcare quality
Used to visualize how two or more variables diverge from each other and/or from a baseline. These types of charts are used to explore how discrete quantities deviate from one another but they can also be used to show sentiment (negative, positive or neutral). When using a deviation chart include a reference point or baseline. The reference point is usually zero but it can also be a target, average, median or another value.
Best for: Trade surplus/deficit, survey results, contrasting components
Used to visualize values on a dataset and the frequency they occur over an interval. These types of charts are ideal to highlight the concentration of values in a dataset. When using a distribution graph be mindful of its shape since it is the most effective way of highlighting the range of values in your dataset.
Best for: Yield curves, population pyramid, income distribution
Used to visualize the movement of data or elements from one category to another or through time. Flow charts are used to display the volume or intensity of the movement. Flow diagrams are used to display interrelated information such as steps in a process or interconnections or relationships inside a network.
Best for: Movement of funds, organization chart, decision tree, step-by-step directions
Used to order multiple items based on quantitative values. These types of charts are usually used when the position of a category in a list is more important than its value. Ranking charts should always be arranged in ascending or descending order.
Best for: Standing tables, wealth, election results, poll results
Used to visualize location-based datasets. Spatial charts are use when the geographical patterns or precise location is the more important than showing trends over time.
Best for: Locator map, population density, weather patterns, flight paths
Used to indicate the general direction of data over time. These types of charts usually have a time series on the horizontal (X) axis and quantitative scale on the vertical (Y) axis and time progresses left to right. When using a trend chart choose a time period that encompasses reference points that add perspective to the data.
Best for: Share prices, indices, exchange rates, time series