Launch, grow, and unlock your career in data

December 4, 2011

Choosing a good chart type – A Cheat Sheet


Charles Schaefer’s session at TCC11 “Understanding and Working with Chart Types” included this decent flow diagram for choosing a chart type.  As the title says, it’s “A Thought-Starter”.  In other words, use it as a way to get you going down the right path.  This absolutely shouldn’t be taken as gospel; use your common sense.  For example:

  1. Don’t ever create 3D area charts.  In fact, don’t ever create a 3D chart of ANY kind.
  2. Never create a circular area chart
  3. When created a stacked column chart don’t connecting the same colored bars with lines.

You can download the materials from Charles’ session here.  Included are a JPG and PDF version of the flow chart.

The flowchart originates from a blog post back in 2006 on The Extreme Presentation Method blog.  This blog, in turn, links to an interactive version of the chart chooser on Juice Analytics.  Although Tableau does a lot of this thinking for you, definitely check out the interactive tool to get a feel for some best practices and download the sample excel workbooks to quickly recreate these charts yourself.


  1. My recent blog post, "Thinking Outside the Chart Menu," is relevant here

  2. On my blog I have a similar webpage for a while: and in addition a blog post about dimensionality of charts:

  3. Thanks Naomi and Andrei! I'm now following your RSS feeds.

    I thought maybe I was posting something new, but you've obviously beaten me to the punch.

  4. 3D charts are admittedly rubbish. What you really to keep down with the kids are 4D charts. Especially 4D pie charts.

  5. You can also find more information on the graphic in Abela's book Advanced Presentation by Design, page 99.

  6. I posted this guide in my office at work, and if I had a dollar for every time it strikes up a conversation, I'd retire early. Thanks for sharing Andy.