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Tailoring infographics to specific types of data, part III

Use the most vivid color to highlight your trending variable.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief introduction to different charts and graphs. As their applications and popularity grow, it’s important you understand which kind of chart to use to make your data clear and accessible. With information increasing exponentially, we all need to better discern the accuracy and appropriateness of graphics used online and in print.

Bullet charts

Bullet charts are ideal for tracking progress towards a goal. A variation of the bar chart, it is an effective, elegant replacement for dashboard gauges and thermometers. A bullet graph gives you immediate visibility for the degree to which a primary goal (e.g., a yearly sales quota) has been achieved by individual sales personnel–or, another example–how actual profit vs. projected profit is tracking for a given period, etc.

Contrasting color is requisite to bullet charts.  Use the most vivid color to highlight your trending variable. You can also add a dashboard to provide summary insights.


Heat maps

Heat maps are my favorite tool for using color to compare geographically distributed data to focus on high-to-low or strong-to-weak associations.  We see how effective heat maps are every day on weather forecasts. They can also be used to great effect to show regional variations in the sales of products and demographic variables like relative income, the prevalence of crime and disease, etc.

You can integrate highlight tables with heat maps to add numbers for greater detail. Demarcated number ranges can also be inserted directly into larger heat maps.



Treemaps use rectangles nestled within other rectangles to illustrate hierarchical proportions of data. Each rectangle is a ‘branch’ with subdivisions that reveal patterns across data, giving you access to an entire data set at one glance.

Treemaps may be used to show computer storage allocations or side-by-side yearly budget allocations. They can be combined with bar charts to provide a quick, effective comparison for the distribution of a specific variable.


Box-and-whisker plot box

Box-and-whisker charts include a box with a distribution of median data (e.g., displayed by quintiles) contrasted with ‘whiskers’ to illustrate truncated data ranges–or maximum and minimum points for the data.

This chart is especially helpful in revealing how data can be skewed in one direction or another, identifying outliers that may be insignificant or indicative of otherwise hidden, but important information.

Using side-by-side boxplots make it easy to compare distributions between sets of data.


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