Data visualization and storytelling


How to identify trends and patterns with data visualization

Discover five engaging chart types to show the story behind your data, from dynamic bump charts to informative scatter plots

Visualizing trends and patterns is a fundamental aspect of analyzing data and it’s one of our most reliable decision-making mechanisms. It helps us simplify complex information and turn it into insights.

When we visualize the trends and patterns within data, we unlock a powerful tool for understanding the world around us. Our brains are naturally wired to make sense of information visually. It’s no surprise that we generally process visual information far faster than text or numbers.

Whether it’s listening habits (Spotify Wrapped, anyone?) or looking at macroeconomic trends, data visualizations help us interpret complex information, reveal hidden insights, and make decisions. Not to mention they’re an effective tool for presentations, reports, and dashboards.

Where to start?

Start by choosing the right type of chart. This will largely depend on the nature of your data and the message you want to convey. We’ll explore six templates to use when visualizing trends and patterns.

1. Showcase change over time with line charts

Looking to visualize trends over time? Line charts perfectly show how different variables evolve, making them the go-to chart type for time series data.

In Flourish, you can shade the area between lines to visualize uncertainty.

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To illustrate volume change over time, you can use line charts with the areas below filled in, also called area charts. This way, you can showcase multiple variables stacked on top of each other.

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Another way to visualize changes over time, specifically changes in rank over time amongst various categories, is by using bump charts. It’s similar to a line chart but focuses specifically on showing rank changes rather than specific values.

Thinking of visualizing competitions or performances? A bump chart is ideal for visualizing the changing ranks of teams, products, companies, or countries.

However, when using bump charts, it’s essential to keep the data set size manageable, as too many lines will make the chart cluttered and difficult to read. Consider using color to highlight some series while making the other ones grey.

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In the Flourish editor, you can easily switch between line, area and bump charts with the click of a button – and even turn them into bar, column and waterfall charts.

2. Compare the ups and downs of your data with waterfall charts

Exploring the progression of a topic over time can be fascinating, as it gives us insight into complex dynamics. Waterfall charts provide a great way to showcase the progressive change of values over time. Unlike line charts, they show how a value increases or decreases at a specific moment: the longer the bar, the bigger the change compared to the previous value.

Pro tip: adding colour will also enable you to differentiate between positive and negative values and make it much more insightful!

Consider Tesla’s stock performance over the last six months. The red bars represent instances where the share price decreased, with the length indicating the extent of the decline.

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3. Show patterns with heatmaps

Heatmaps are exceptional at showing patterns. Firstly, they are easy to interpret. Each cell represents the relationship between the X axis and the Y axis, so you can quickly understand how both interact.

Secondly, they clearly illustrate clusters of values, especially when colouring the cells numerically or categorically.

In the example below, we’re illustrating the varying sea extent levels each month and year in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Darker colours mean higher sea ice levels, often seen during winter months, while lighter colors represent lower sea ice levels, typically observed in summer.

The colors indicate a distinct pattern: the seasons in the two poles are reversed, with the warmer months occurring earlier in the year for the South Pole compared to the North Pole. Pretty interesting, right?

There are many use cases for heatmaps – explore them in our blog.

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3. Uncover hidden relationships with scatter plots

Showing the relationship between variables is crucial in understanding how they interact and influence each other. Scatter plots are the ideal chart type for identifying correlations between two variables. They are particularly useful for smaller data sets or when it’s important to highlight individual data points within the data distribution.

Not only that, but scatter plots are helpful in comparing distributions across different groups. In the example below we can see that countries in Europe and Oceania have higher freedom scores compared to those in Asia and Africa.

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The Scatter template is also ideal for visualizing a combination of lines and dots to show individual events together with an average. Dots represent each individual crossing in the chart below whereas the line presents the fortnightly average.

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Another chart type to consider is the box plot. It helps you visualize the distribution of your data by highlighting the median and quartiles of each category. Optional “whiskers” extend out from the boxes and can be used to show which data points are outlier. In the example below, extending to younger and older players.

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You can also illustrate the relationship between variables through violin plots. They allow you to show both the overall distribution of a dataset and the position of each individual point. The distribution is drawn around the dots, in a shape that resembles a violin.

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5. Add an extra dimension with marimekko charts

Marimekko charts are great for revealing hidden patterns within magnitudes. By adding a second numeric dimension, we can compare values more clearly than with a simple bar chart. Look at the example below – this chart shows the percentage of forest land in a country over time.

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Each of these visualization types we have covered offers a unique window into the stories hidden in your data sets. We’re excited to see what you experiment with and as you do, remember that each chart isn’t just a presentation of numbers, it’s an opportunity to inform, inspire and connect your audience with a bigger story.

Happy visualizing!