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How to choose the right visualization for your data

Confused about which chart type to choose? This post will help you pick the most effective Flourish visualization for your data

What’s the right visualization to use with my data? This is a question we often get asked. The choice can feel overwhelming - but narrowing it down is straightforward once you know how.

The one question that will help you choose the right visualization

What is your data trying to communicate?

Do you want to show change over time? A list of rankings? Correlation between two variables? Once you know that, the options are clearer.

The Financial Times’s data visualization team has made a great visual vocabulary for this. We’ve used their categories to help you pick the right Flourish visualization.

1. Change over time

If you mainly want to communicate change over time, we recommend these. Click on them to make one now!

Line:
The standard way to show changing time series
Area:
Great at showing total change, though individual series are less clear
Column:
Another way to show change over time, especially for a single series
Slope:
Good for clearly conveying ‘before and after’ data

2. Size

Use these when you mainly want to communicate size comparisons, relative or absolute.

Column:
The standard way to compare the size of things; y-axis should always start at 0
Bar:
Like columns, especially when the data are not time series, or axis labels are long
Grouped column:
As per column, but for multiple series
Grouped bar:
As per bar, but for multiple series

3. Parts of a whole

Use these to show how an entity breaks down into its components. If you’re mainly interested in the absolute size of the components, consider one of the size charts above instead.

Pie:
Common, though hard to accurately compare the segments
Donut:
Similar to a pie, though the center can be used to convey additional information
Stacked column:
Good for combining with change over time, though can be hard to read
Treemap:
Use for hierarchical part-to-whole relationships
Sunburst:
Attractive alternative to treemap, though may be harder to read
Packed circles:
Attractive alternative to treemap, though may be harder to read

4. Correlation

Use correlation visualizations when you want to show the relationship between two or more variables.

Scatterplot:
The standard way to show the relationship between two continuous variables
Bubble chart:
Like a scatterplot, but sizes the circles by a third variable
Connected scatterplot:
Aka Rosling chart: show how relationship has changed over time

5. Ranking

Use where an item’s position in an ordered list is the most important thing you want to show.

Ordered bar:
A simple bar chart. Just order your data as you want it to display
Horserace:
Also known as a bumps chart. Show more detailed comparison over time
Slope chart:
Perfect for showing effectively how ranks have changed over time

6. Distribution

Show values in a dataset and how often they occur. The shape of a distribution is often useful to see. Coming soon: histograms!

Dot plot:
A simple way to show raw values in the data, across categories
Box plot:
Summarize multiple distributions by showing the median & range of the data

7. Flows and relationships

Use these to show volume, movement or connections between two or more states.

Sankey:
Show changes in volume between different conditions
Chord:
A complex but powerful way to illustate two-way flows
Network:
Use to show the strength and connectness of relationships
Directed network:
With arrows to show directed relationships

8. Geospatial

Use when geospatial patterns in your data are more important than anything else.

Choropleth:
Use with your own GeoJSON data
Icon map:
Simple point map, using icons or emojis
Connections globe:
Unique way to show flow between countries

9. Flourish special: Election visualizations

This category is specifically for people wanting to visualize the outcome of elections.

Parliament chart:
Aka arcmap, often used for election results
Election chart:
Searchable bar chart ideal for election results, includes a coalition builder feature
Sankey:
Also good for showing voting changes between elections

10. Flourish special: Individual users’ responses

Another Flourish special! If you have data about individual events or entities, use the Flourish survey visualization to let your users query your data however they wish.

Survey:
Powerful interactive ‘dot’ visualization, good for exploring survey results


Before picking any chart, it’s really worth studying the FT’s visual vocabulary - they even have a handy PDF you can print out and put on the wall!


You can choose from all these visualizations, and lots more, at the Flourish templates page.