Introduction to racing bar charts
Bar chart races are a popular form of data visualization that can be used to show changes in data over time. In a bar chart race, each bar visualizes a different ‘participant’ in the race (country, person, brand) and extends or retracts in length over time, based on the value it represents at any given moment.
Thanks to its interactivity and animation, this chart type has been exceedingly popular in the latest years. You can often spot a racing chart on the web and on social media, successfully engaging audiences and making complex data more digestible.
Anatomy of a bar chart race
Bar chart races are extremely versatile and can be used to visualize any data that can be measured over time. Similarly to a static bar chart, you have an X and Y axis, with the former usually showing numerical values, and the latter displaying each category. In a racing column chart, the roles of the two axis are swapped.
In addition to the dimensions above, bar chart races also include time series data displayed as a timeline at the bottom of your chart. This innovative feature is what brings otherwise static bar charts to life – the length of each bar changes with time, creating a mesmerizing racing effect that captivates the audience and makes these visualizations so engaging.
Flourish bar chart races
With Flourish, you can create a racing bar chart for free by simply uploading a spreadsheet. You can add images which can display at the end of the bars or at the start, add captions, customize the color palette and fonts of your visualization, as well as add controls which allows the user to show the smallest values in your dataset as opposed to the largest.
The color legend of this template is also interactive, which makes it easy to filter out categories from your visualization. The counter in the corner automatically sums up all values in your chart, which makes it convenient to check the total at any given time.
Last but not least, the timeline at the bottom can be customized to show a line chart, which further emphasizes the growth of your values. In a Flourish story mode, you can choose to only play a specific timeframe of your visualization – see an example below and learn how to do this in our help doc.
Data structure for a bar chart race
To build a bar chart race, your data needs to contain a separate row for each participant in the race. The first column A should contain the name of each participant, and each subsequent column, such as column D-G should provide a value from a specific timeframe – for example, days, weeks or months. The column header of your numerical columns will then be displayed on the timeline and in the counter. You also have the option to add additional columns for images and categories – the latter will determine how your bars are being colored.
In most cases, the data for your bar chart race should be cumulative. In other words, the values for each category must be added cumulatively from left to right, with each subsequent column’s raw value being added to the sum in the previous column. Check our help doc to learn how to make your data cumulative.
Flourish bar chart races in the wild
Bar chart races can be used to visualize a wide range of data, including financial data, sports statistics, election results, and more. Here are some examples of how our users use the Flourish “Bar chart race” template – click on each card to learn more about each project.
Here are some resources to help you get started with bar chart races: