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Golden Rules for Designing Charts and Infographics

September 28, 2019 |
Brand & Identity, Design, Web Design
Designing Charts

One of the most effective ways of communicating information in a clear, precise and straightforward manner is through charts and infographics. Charts can help viewers understand complex data. They can help reveal patterns, describe relationships within datasets and provide context. However, the effectiveness of these charts and infographics surface only when they are done right. This article will cover some golden rules for designing charts that communicate effectively.

1. Select The Best-suited Chart Type

Majority of people choose the type of chart based on how easy it is to create the said chart. However, it’s certainly not the best approach towards designing charts. Conventional tools, like Excel, give you easy access to the most basic charts types, like the pie chart, the bar chart, and the line chart. You can even design advanced charts like bubble clouds, treemaps, icon charts, pyramids, timelines, etc. using the chart generator tools available on the internet.

The important point is to consider the factors which help you in deciding which type of chart will best convey the information you want to. There are two essential questions to ask – what kind of data you have? And what do you want to say about your data? For example – Bar charts are best suited for showing comparisons of data broken into discrete categories; line charts, on the other hand, are better suited to track changes over time with continuous data.

2. Highlight The Most Important Details while designing charts

Each chart should be created with a specific goal in mind. It should have a clear focus and must support the argument that you are making. The visual focus of the chart should directly reinforce that goal. Most of the visual elements on the page should be pushing towards making that conclusion. 

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Big bright bars and bold titles should be used to create a clear visual focus. Visual characteristics like color, size, or weight help in drawing attention to some details and suppressing others. Use bright, contrasting colors for the most important elements and use soft, muted colors to push less critical elements into the background. This technique works best if you don’t have too many colors in your graphic. Too many bright, saturated colors will compete with each other for user attention and will leave viewers confused.

3. Avoid Unnecessary Complexity

A minimal design is key for designing charts and infographics. The structural elements of your graphs should be as minimal as possible. A minimal design accentuates the effectiveness of your graphs and conveys the message most directly. Remove unnecessary chart elements like outlines, gridlines, backgrounds, and focus on the data. 

The essential elements like axes and tick marks must be clear, but unnoticeable. Give axes and tick marks a maximum line width of one and styles them in black or grey. Eliminate borders and background colors. Space out gridlines as much as possible and style them in light grey.

4. Propose Comparison In Your Chart Design

There’s a very thin line between minimal design and an over-simplified design. While you should simplify the structural chart elements, you don’t want to oversimplify your data. Charts and infographics that compare multiple data series can be much more persuasive than oversimplified charts or isolated numbers.

Allowing readers to make their own visual comparisons can add to the user experience. The typical approach to creating comparisons is to include multiple datasets in a single chart. Apply the same visual treatment to each chart and use the same axes and scaling. Line up and arrange charts in a meaningful order, so they’re easy to compare. Make each chart small, simple, and understandable at a glance.

5. Frame A Narrative Around Each Chart

The numbers and the data are the most important elements of any chart; however, that doesn’t strike out the importance of words in a chart. Words, in the form of titles, captions, and annotations, can be used to frame a narrative around each chart. These basic chart elements allow you to tell your story to the users, that’s in your data.

The simple way of using words in a chart title is to state the variables visualized in the chart. Like “Volume of liquids”. But that’s a missed opportunity. Chart titles should be striking; the ones which give out an interesting piece of information. Like“Population of India has doubled in the last 40 years”, if that’s the point we were trying to make. The title should say something meaningful about the chart. Use titles to convey the conclusions that you want your reader to take away from the graph. 

6. Show Right Amount of Data

An essential part of a proper chart design is choosing the right amount of data to display. You need to find that balance between complexity and clarity to create a chart that’s both clear and compelling. Ideally, in an infographic, you want to find the lowest common denominator. The smallest amount of data which can prove the point you’re trying to make. That said, there are factors like the audience, your message, and the data itself, which needs to be considered here. Audiences can be different, their intake of information and processing of information can be different. Some people will expect more context, more detail, and more data to take your word as a fact. Other audiences will be more concerned about the time it takes to read your graph, and will want to see lesser data, presented as simple as it can be. 

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Charts, when done right, are the perfect combination of visuals and information. Designers should leverage more on charts to create engaging content and draw user attention, which is crucial to convey the intended message. These golden rules will help you in designing the most compelling charts. If you have any questions, you can speak to our design experts.

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