Those who master different data visualization types and techniques (such as graphs, charts, diagrams, and maps) are gaining the most value from data.
Why? Because they can analyze data and make the best-informed decisions.
Whether you work in business, marketing, sales, statistics, or anything else, you need data visualization techniques and skills.
Graphs and charts make data much more understandable for the human brain.
On this page:
- What are data visualization techniques? Definition, benefits, and importance.
- 21 top data visualization types. Examples of graphs and charts with an explanation.
- When to use different data visualization graphs, charts, diagrams, and maps?
- How to create effective data visualization?
- 10 best data visualization tools for creating compelling graphs and charts.
What Are Data Visualization Techniques? Definition And Benefits.
Data visualization techniques are visual elements (like a line graph, bar chart, pie chart, etc.) that are used to represent information and data.
Big data hides a story (like a trend and pattern).
By using different types of graphs and charts, you can easily see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data.
They allow you to get the meaning behind figures and numbers and make important decisions or conclusions.
Data visualization techniques can benefit you in several ways to improve decision making.
- Data is processed faster
Visualized data is processed faster than text and table reports. Our brains can easily recognize images and make sense of them.
- Better analysis
Help you analyze better reports in sales, marketing, product management, etc. Thus, you can focus on the areas that require attention such as areas for improvement, errors or high-performing spots.
- Faster decision making
Businesses who can understand and quickly act on their data will gain more competitive advantages because they can make informed decisions sooner than the competitors.
- You can easily identify relationships, trends, patterns
Visuals are especially helpful when you’re trying to find trends, patterns or relationships among hundreds or thousands of variables. Data is presented in ways that are easy to consume while allowing exploration. Therefore, people across all levels in your company can dive deeper into data and use the insights for faster and smarter decisions.
- No need for coding or data science skills
There are many advanced tools that allow you to create beautiful charts and graphs without the need for data scientist skills. Thereby, a broad range of business users can create, visually explore, and discover important insights into data.
How Do Data Visualization Techniques work?
Data visualization techniques convert tons of data into meaningful visuals using software tools.
The tools can operate various types of data and present them in visual elements like charts, diagrams, and maps.
They allow you to easily analyze massive amounts of information, discover trends and patterns in data and then make data-driven decisions.
Why data visualization is very important for any job?
Each professional industry benefits from making data easier to understand. Government, marketing, finance, sales, science, consumer goods, education, sports, and so on.
As all types of organizations become more and more data-driven, the ability to work with data isn’t a good plus, it’s essential.
Whether you’re in sales and need to present your products to prospects or a manager trying to optimize employee performance – everything is measurable and needs to be scored against different KPIs.
We need to constantly analyze and share data with our team or customers.
Having data visualization skills will allow you to understand what is happening in your company and to make the right decisions for the good of the organization.
Before start using visuals, you must know…
Data visualization is one of the most important skills for the modern-day worker.
However, it’s not enough to see your data in easily digestible visuals to get real insights and make the right decisions.
- First: to define the information you need to present
- Second: to find the best possible visual to show that information
Don’t start with “I need a bar chart/pie chart/map here. Let’s make one that looks cool”. This is how you can end up with misleading visualizations that, while beautiful, don’t help for smart decision making.
Regardless of the type of data visualization, its purpose is to help you see a pattern or trend in the data being analyzed.
The goal is not to come up with complex descriptions such as: “A’s sales were more than B by 5.8% in 2018, and despite a sales growth of 30% in 2019, A’s sales became less than B by 6.2% in 2019.”
A good data visualization summarizes and presents information in a way that enables you to focus on the most important points.
Let’s go through 21 data visualization types with examples, outline their features, and explain how and when to use them for the best results.
21 Best Types Of Data Visualization With Examples And Uses
1. Line Graph
The line graph is the most popular type of graph with many business applications because they show an overall trend clearly and concisely.
What is a line graph?
A line graph (also known as a line chart) is a graph used to visualize the values of something over a specified period of time.
For example, your sales department may plot the change in the number of sales your company has on hand over time.
Data points that display the values are connected by straight lines.
When to use line graphs?
- When you want to display trends.
- When you want to represent trends for different categories over the same period of time and thus to show comparison.
For example, the above line graph shows the total units of a company sales of Product A, Product B, and Product C from 2012 to 2019.
Here, you can see at a glance that the top-performing product over the years is product C, followed by Product B.
2. Bar Chart
At some point or another, you’ve interacted with a bar chart before. Bar charts are very popular data visualization types as they allow you to easily scan them for valuable insights.
And they are great for comparing several different categories of data.
What is a bar chart?
A bar chart (also called bar graph) is a chart that represents data using bars of different heights.
The bars can be two types – vertical or horizontal. It doesn’t matter which type you use.
The bar chart can easily compare the data for each variable at each moment in time.
For example, a bar chart could compare your company’s sales from this year to last year.
When to use a bar chart?
- When you need to compare several different categories.
- When you need to show how large data changes over time.
The above bar graph visualizes revenue by age group for three different product lines – A, B, and C.
You can see more granular differences between revenue for each product within each age group.
As different product lines are groups by age group, you can easily see that the group of 34-45-year-old buyers are the most valuable to your business as they are your biggest customers.
3. Column Chart
If you want to make side-by-side comparisons of different values, the column chart is your answer.
What is a column chart?
A column chart is a type of bar chart that uses vertical bars to show a comparison between categories.
If something can be counted, it can be displayed in a column chart.
Column charts work best for showing the situation at a point in time (for example, the number of products sold on a website).
Their main purpose is to draw attention to total numbers rather than the trend (trends are more suitable for a line chart).
When to use a column chart?
- When you need to show a side-by-side comparison of different values.
- When you want to emphasize the difference between values.
- When you want to highlight the total figures rather than the trends.
For example, the column chart above shows the traffic sources of a website. It illustrates direct traffic vs search traffic vs social media traffic on a series of dates.
The numbers don’t change much from day to day, so a line graph isn’t appropriate as it wouldn’t reveal anything important in terms of trends.
The important information here is the concrete number of visitors coming from different sources to the website each day.
4. Pie Chart
Pie charts are attractive data visualization types. At a high-level, they’re easy to read and used for representing relative sizes.
What is a pie chart?
A Pie Chart is a circular graph that uses “pie slices” to display relative sizes of data.
A pie chart is a perfect choice for visualizing percentages because it shows each element as part of a whole.
The entire pie represents 100 percent of a whole. The pie slices represent portions of the whole.
When to use a pie chart?
- When you want to represent the share each value has of the whole.
- When you want to show how a group is broken down into smaller pieces.
The above pie chart shows which traffic sources bring in the biggest share of total visitors.
You see that Searches is the most effective source, followed by Social Media, and then Links.
At a glance, your marketing team can spot what’s working best, helping them to concentrate their efforts to maximize the number of visitors.
5. Area Chart
If you need to present data that depicts a time-series relationship, an area chart is a great option.
What is an area chart?
An area chart is a type of chart that represents the change in one or more quantities over time. It is similar to a line graph.
In both area charts and line graphs, data points are connected by a line to show the value of a quantity at different times. They are both good for showing trends.
However, the area chart is different from the line graph, because the area between the x-axis and the line is filled in with color. Thus, area charts give a sense of the overall volume.
Area charts emphasize a trend over time. They aren’t so focused on showing exact values.
Also, area charts are perfect for indicating the change among different data groups.
When to use an area chart?
- When you want to use multiple lines to make a comparison between groups (aka series).
- When you want to track not only the whole value but also want to understand the breakdown of that total by groups.
In the area chart above, you can see how much revenue is overlapped by cost.
Moreover, you see at once where the pink sliver of profit is at its thinnest.
Thus, you can spot where cash flow really is tightest, rather than where in the year your company simply has the most cash.
Area charts can help you with things like resource planning, financial management, defining appropriate storage space, and more.
6. Scatter Plot
The scatter plot is also among the popular data visualization types and has other names such as a scatter diagram, scatter graph, and correlation chart.
Scatter plot helps in many areas of today’s world – business, biology, social statistics, data science and etc.
What is a Scatter plot?
Scatter plot is a graph that represents a relationship between two variables. The purpose is to show how much one variable affects another.
Usually, when there is a relationship between 2 variables, the first one is called independent. The second variable is called dependent because its values depend on the first variable.
But it is also possible to have no relationship between 2 variables at all.
When to use a Scatter plot?
- When you need to observe and show relationships between two numeric variables.
- When just want to visualize the correlation between 2 large datasets without regard to time.
The above scatter plot illustrates the relationship between monthly e-commerce sales and online advertising costs of a company.
At a glance, you can see that online advertising costs affect monthly e-commerce sales.
When online advertising costs increase, e-commerce sales also increase.
Scatter plots also show if there are unexpected gaps in the data or if there are any outlier points.
7. Bubble chart
If you want to display 3 related dimensions of data in one elegant visualization, a bubble chart will help you.
What is a bubble chart?
A bubble chart is like an extension of the scatter plot used to display relationships between three variables.
The variables’ values for each point are shown by horizontal position, vertical position, and dot size.
In a bubble chart, we can make three different pairwise comparisons (X vs. Y, Y vs. Z, X vs. Z).
When to use a bubble chart?
- When you want to depict and show relationships between three variables.
The bubble chart above illustrates the relationship between 3 dimensions of data:
- Cost (X-Axis)
- Profit (Y-Axis)
- Probability of Success (%) (Bubble Size).
Bubbles are proportional to the third dimension – the probability of success. The larger the bubble, the greater the probability of success.
It is obvious that Product A has the highest probability of success.
8. Pyramid Graph
Pyramid graphs are very interesting and visually appealing graphs. Moreover, they are one of the most easy-to-read data visualization types and techniques.
What is a pyramid graph?
It is a graph in the shape of a triangle or pyramid. It is best used when you want to show some kind of hierarchy. The pyramid levels display some kind of progressive order, such as:
- More important to least important. For example, CEOs at the top and temporary employees on the bottom level.
- Specific to least specific. For example, expert fields at the top, general fields at the bottom.
- Older to newer.
When to use a pyramid graph?
- When you need to illustrate some kind of hierarchy or progressive order
Image Source: Conceptdraw
The above is a 5 Level Pyramid of information system types that is based on the hierarchy in an organization.
It shows progressive order from tacit knowledge to more basic knowledge. Executive information system at the top and transaction processing system on the bottom level.
The levels are displayed in different colors. It’s very easy to read and understand.
Treemaps also show a hierarchical structure like the pyramid graph, however in a completely different way.
What is a treemap?
Treemap is a type of data visualization technique that is used to display a hierarchical structure using nested rectangles.
Data is organized as branches and sub-branches. Treemaps display quantities for each category and sub-category via a rectangle area size.
Treemaps are a compact and space-efficient option for showing hierarchies.
They are also great at comparing the proportions between categories via their area size. Thus, they provide an instant sense of which data categories are the most important overall.
When to use a treemap?
- When you want to illustrate hierarchies and comparative value between categories and subcategories.
Image source: Power BI
For example, let’s say you work in a company that sells clothing categories: Urban, Rural, Youth, and Mix.
The above treemap depicts the sales of different clothing categories, which are then broken down by clothing manufacturers.
You see at a glance that Urban is your most successful clothing category, but that the Quibus is your most valuable clothing manufacturer, across all categories.
10. Funnel chart
Funnel charts are used to illustrate optimizations, specifically to see which stages most impact drop-off.
Illustrating the drop-offs helps to show the importance of each stage.
What is a funnel chart?
A funnel chart is a popular data visualization type that shows the flow of users through a sales or other business process.
It looks like a funnel that starts from a large head and ends in a smaller neck. The number of users at each step of the process is visualized from the funnel width as it narrows.
A funnel chart is very useful for identifying potential problem areas in the sales process.
When to use a funnel chart?
- When you need to represent stages in a sales or other business process and show the amount of revenue for each stage.
Image Source: DevExpress
This funnel chart shows the conversion rate of a website.
The conversion rate shows what percentage of all visitors completed a specific desired action (such as subscription or purchase).
The chart starts with the people that visited the website and goes through every touchpoint until the final desired action – renewal of the subscription.
You can see easily where visitors are dropping out of the process.
11. Venn Diagram
Venn diagrams are great data visualization types for representing relationships between items and highlighting how the items are similar and different.
What is a Venn diagram?
A Venn Diagram is an illustration that shows logical relationships between two or more data groups. Typically, the Venn diagram uses circles (both overlapping and nonoverlapping).
Venn diagrams can clearly show how given items are similar and different.
Venn diagram with 2 and 3 circles are the most common types. Diagrams with a larger number of circles (5,6,7,8,10…) become extremely complicated.
When to use a Venn diagram?
- When you want to compare two or more options and see what they have in common.
- When you need to show how given items are similar or different.
- To display logical relationships from various datasets.
The above Venn chart clearly shows the core customers of a product – the people who like eating fast foods but don’t want to gain weight.
The Venn chart gives you an instant understanding of who you will need to sell.
Then, you can plan how to attract the target segment with advertising and promotions.
12. Decision Tree
As graphical representations of complex or simple problems and questions, decision trees have an important role in business, finance, marketing, and in any other areas.
What is a decision tree?
A decision tree is a diagram that shows possible solutions to a decision.
It displays different outcomes from a set of decisions. The diagram is a widely used decision-making tool for analysis and planning.
The diagram starts with a box (or root), which branches off into several solutions. That’s why it is called a decision tree.
Decision trees are helpful for a variety of reasons. Not only they are easy-to-understand diagrams that support you ‘see’ your thoughts, but also because they provide a framework for estimating all possible alternatives.
When to use a decision tree?
- When you need help in making decisions and want to display several possible solutions.
Imagine you are an IT project manager and you need to decide whether to start a particular project or not.
You need to take into account important possible outcomes and consequences.
The decision tree, in this case, might look like the diagram above.
13. Fishbone Diagram
Fishbone diagram is a key tool for root cause analysis that has important uses in almost any business area.
It is recognized as one of the best graphical methods to understand and solve problems because it takes into consideration all the possible causes.
What is a fishbone diagram?
A fishbone diagram (also known as a cause and effect diagram, Ishikawa diagram or herringbone diagram) is a data visualization technique for categorizing the potential causes of a problem.
The main purpose is to find the root cause.
It combines brainstorming with a kind of mind mapping and makes you think about all potential causes of a given problem, rather than just the one or two.
It also helps you see the relationships between the causes in an easy to understand way.
When to use a fishbone diagram?
- When you want to display all the possible causes of a problem in a simple, easy to read graphical way.
Let’s say you are an online marketing specialist working for a company witch experience low website traffic.
You have the task to find the main reasons. Above is a fishbone diagram example that displays the possible reasons and can help you resolve the situation.
14. Process Flow Diagram
If you need to visualize a specific process, the process flow diagram will help you a lot.
What is the process flow diagram?
As the name suggests, it is a graphical way of describing a process, its elements (steps), and their sequence.
Process flow diagrams show how a large complex process is broken down into smaller steps or tasks and how these go together.
As a data visualization technique, it can help your team see the bigger picture while illustrating the stages of a process.
When to use a process flow diagram?
- When you need to display steps in a process and want to show their sequences clearly.
The above process flow diagram shows clearly the relationship between tasks in a customer ordering process.
The large ordering process is broken down into smaller functions and steps.
15. Spider/Radar Chart
Imagine, you need to rank your favorite beer on 8 aspects (Bitterness, Sweetness, Sourness, Saltiness, Hop, Malt, Yeast, and Special Grain) and then show them graphically. You can use a radar chart.
What is a radar chart?
Radar chart (also called spider, web, and polar bar) is a popular data visualization technique that displays multivariate data.
In can compare several items with many metrics of characteristics.
To be effective and clear, the radar chart should have more than 2 but no more than 6 items that are judged.
When to use a radar chart?
- When you need to compare several items with more than 5 metrics of characteristics.
The above radar chart compares employee’s performance with a scale of 1-5 on skills such as Communications, Problem-solving, Meeting deadlines, Technical knowledge, Teamwork.
A point that is closer to the center on an axis shows a lower value and a worse performance.
It is obvious that Mary has a better performance than Linda.
16. Mind Map
Mind maps are beautiful data visuals that represent complex relationships in a very digestible way.
What is a mind map?
A mind map is a popular diagram that represents ideas and concepts.
It can help you structure your information and analyze, recall, and generate new ideas.
It is called a mind map because it is structured in a way that resembles how the human brain works.
And, best of all, it is a fun and artistic data visualization technique that engages your brain in a much richer way.
When to use a mind map?
- When you want to visualize and connect ideas in an easy to digest way.
- When you want to capture your thoughts/ideas and bring them to life in visual form.
Image source: Lucidchart
The above example of a mind map illustrates the key elements for running a successful digital marketing campaign.
It can help you prepare and organize your marketing efforts more effectively.
17. Gantt Chart
A well-structured Gantt chart aids you to manage your project successfully against time.
What is a Gantt chart?
Gantt charts are data visualization types used to schedule projects by splitting them into tasks and subtasks and putting them on a timeline.
Each task is listed on one side of the chart. This task also has a horizontal line opposite it representing the length of the task.
By displaying tasks with the Gantt chart, you can see how long each task will take and which tasks will overlap.
Gantt charts are super useful for scheduling and planning projects.
They help you estimate how long a project should take and determine the resources needed.
They also help you plan the order in which you’ll complete tasks and manage the dependencies between tasks.
When to use a Gantt chart?
- When you need to plan and track the tasks in project schedules.
Image Source: Aha.io
The above example is a portfolio planning Gantt Chart Template that illustrates very well how Gantt Charts work.
It visualizes the release timeline for multiple products for an entire year.
It shows also dependencies between releases.
You can use it to help team members understand the release schedule for the upcoming year, the duration of each release, and the time for delivering.
This helps you in resource planning and allows teams to coordinate implementation plans.
18. Organizational Charts
Organizational charts are data visualization types widely used for management and planning.
What is an organizational chart?
An organizational chart (also called an org chart) is a diagram that illustrates a relationship hierarchy.
The most common application of an org chart is to display the structure of a business or other organization.
Org charts are very useful for showing work responsibilities and reporting relationships.
They help leaders effectively manage growth or change.
Moreover, they show employees how their work fits into the company’s overall structure.
When to use the org chart?
- When you want to display a hierarchical structure of a department, company or other types of organization.
Image Source: Organimi
The above hierarchical org chart illustrates the chain of command that goes from the top (e.g., the CEOs) down (e.g., entry-level and low-level employees) and each person has a supervisor.
It clearly shows levels of authority and responsibility and who each person reports to.
It also shows employees the career paths and chances for promotion.
19. Area Map
Most business data has a location. Revenue, sales, customers, or population are often displayed with a dimensional variable on a map.
What is an area map?
It is a map that visualizes location data.
They allow you to see immediately which geographical locations are most important to your brand and business.
Image Source: Infogram
The map above depicts sales by location and the color indicates the level of sales (the darker the blue, the higher the sales).
These data visualization types are very useful as they show where in the world most of your sales are from and where your most valuable sales are from.
Insights like these illustrate weaknesses in a sales and marketing strategy in seconds.
In recent years, the use of infographics has exploded in almost every industry.
From sales and marketing to science and healthcare, infographics are applied everywhere to present information in a visually appealing way.
What is an infographic?
Infographics are specific data visualization types that combine images, charts, graphs, and text. The purpose is to represent an easy-to-understand overview of a topic.
However, the main goal of an infographic is not only to provide information but also to make the viewing experience fun and engaging for readers.
It makes data beautiful—and easy to digest.
When you want to represent and share information, there are many data visualization types to do that – spreadsheets, graphs, charts, emails, etc.
But when you need to show data in a visually impactful way, the infographic is the most effective choice.
When to use infographics?
- When you need to present complex data in a concise, highly visually-pleasing way.
Image Source: Venngage
The above statistical infographic represents an overview of Social Buzz’s biggest social platforms by age and geography.
For example, we see that 75% of active Facebook users are 18-29 years old and 48% of active users live in North America.
If you want to compare and contrast items in a table form, T-Chart can be your solution.
What is a T-Chart?
A T-Chart is a type of graphic organizer in the shape of the English letter “T”. It is used for comparison by separating information into two or more columns.
You can use T-Chart to compare ideas, concepts or solutions clearly and effectively.
T-Charts are often used for comparison of pros and cons, facts and opinions.
By using T-Chart, you can list points side by side, achieve a quick, at-a-glance overview of the facts, and arrive at conclusions quickly and easily.
When to use a T-Chart?
- When you need to compare and contrast two or more items.
- When you want to evaluate the pros and cons of a decision.
The above T-Chart example clearly outlines the cons and pros of hiring a social media manager in a company.
10 Best Data Visualization Tools
There is a broad range of data visualization tools that allow you to make fascinating graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, and dashboards in no time.
They vary from BI (Business Intelligence) tools with robust features and comprehensive dashboards to more simple software for just creating graphs and charts.
Here we’ve collected some of the most popular solutions. They can help you present your data in a way that facilitates understanding and decision making.
1. Visme is a data presentation and visualization tool that allows you to create stunning data reports. It provides a great variety of presentation tools and templates for a unique design.
2. Infogram is a chart software tool that provides robust diagram-making capabilities. It comes with an intuitive drag-and-drop editor and ready-made templates for reports. You can also add images for your reports, icons, GIFs, photos, etc.
3. Venngage is an infographic maker. But it also is a great chart software for small businesses because of its ease of use, intuitive design, and great templates.
4. SmartDraw is best for those that have someone graphic design skills. It has a slightly more advanced design and complexity than Venngage, Visme, and Infogram, … so having some design skills is an advantage. It’s a drawing tool with a wide range of charts, diagrams, maps, and well-designed templates.
5. Creately is a dynamic diagramming tool that offers the best free version. It can be deployed from the cloud or on the desktop and allows you to create your graphs, charts, diagrams, and maps without any tech skills.
6. Edraw Max is an all-in-one diagramming software tool that allows you to create different data visualization types at a high speed. These include process flow charts, line graphs, org charts, mind maps, infographics, floor plans, network diagrams, and many others. Edraw Max has a wide selection of templates and symbols, letting you to rapidly produce the visuals you need for any purpose.
7. Chartio is an efficient business intelligence tool that can help you make sense of your company data. Chartio is simple to use and allows you to explore all sorts of information in real-time.
8. Sisense – a business intelligence platform with a full range of data visualizations. You can create dashboards and graphical representations with a drag and drop user interface.
9. Tableau – a business intelligence system that lets you quickly create, connect, visualize, and share data seamlessly.
10. Domo is a cloud business intelligence platform that helps you examine data using graphs and charts. You can conduct advanced analysis and create great interactive visualization.
Data visualization techniques are vital components of data analysis, as they can summarize large amounts of data effectively in an easy to understand graphical form.
There are countless data visualization types, each with different pros, cons, and use cases.
The trickiest part is to choose the right visual to represent your data.
Your choice depends on several factors – the kind of conclusion you want to draw, your audience, the key metrics, etc.
I hope the above article helps you understand better the basic graphs and their uses.
When you create your graph or diagram, always remember this:
A good graph is the one reduced to its simplest and most elegant form without sacrificing what matters most – the purpose of the visual.