12. What Charts Not to Use

Overview

PowerPoint provides a number of charts which are not easy for an audience to grasp. Here I outline which charts I tend to avoid and suggest some better alternatives.

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Summary

  1. Lesson Goal (00:04)

    The goal of this lesson is to learn about the chart types that you should avoid when visualizing data in PowerPoint.

  2. Pie Charts and Donut Charts (00:20)

    Pie charts, and to a lesser extent, donut charts, are common visualization types. However, they can be difficult to interpret, as our eyes are not as good at measuring angles as they are at measuring length or distance. If a pie chart has multiple segments of similar size, it can be very difficult to figure out which segment is the largest. For this reason, pie charts should be avoided if possible.

  3. Radar Charts and Spider Charts (01:03)

    Radar charts or spider charts are sometimes used to compare multiple characteristics of multiple products. However, these charts can be highly complicated and difficult to understand. There are two issues with radar charts. First, parts of the chart block other parts of the chart. Second, the chart has multiple axes which are all different. By contrast, a simple line chart could be used to express the same information using only a single axis.

  4. 3D Surface Charts (01:58)

    3D Surface charts tend to be highly confusing. Audiences will struggle to make any sense of these charts and they should be avoided under all circumstances. The same can generally be said of virtually any 3D chart in PowerPoint. Although simple 2D charts like bar and line charts might seem boring, their simplicity actually makes them highly effective methods of visualizing data. As a result, they should be your first port of call when creating charts.

Transcript

While it's important to know how to use the various chart types in PowerPoint, it's just as important to know what charts not to use. In this lesson, I'll go over some charts which I think are very difficult for an audience to intuitively grasp, and therefore, should be avoided. I'm going to start with a common chart type. The pie chart.

Unfortunately, our eyes are not as good at measuring angles as we are at measuring length or distance. Let's take this example of two pie charts. In each chart, can you tell which segment is the largest of the five? Quite difficult, isn't it? Now let's try it when the information is represented on a bar chart. On the left, we can see that the red segment in the biggest, and on the right, the green segment. So if you can help it, always avoid using the pie charts, if possible. Needless to say, this insight also applies to the donut chart.

The next chart to avoid is the radar chart or spider chart. This is often used when comparing different characteristics for a set of products. In this case, a car. Radar charts are notoriously difficult to read and should be avoided, if at all possible.

The first problem with the radar chart is aclusion, which means part of the visualization obscures another part. For radar charts, this is inevitable when multiple series are plotted. The next issue for the radar chart are the angles of the axis. Which are all different from each other which makes the radar chart much harder to read than a line chart. Which would have parallel axis. As noted to the radar chart, why not just use a simple line chart with each type of car in this case getting a separate line color. For me, this is a much easier chart to read.

The last chart I'd encourage you to avoid is a 3-D surface chart. As you can see from this example, it's very difficult to make any sense from this chart and it will be sure to confuse your audience. Even if they are impressed by the 3-D visualization. Although they may seem boring and pedestrian, 2-Dimensional bar charts and line charts can serve almost all of your charting needs. Sometimes they're made to be stacked or grouped, but audiences find them intuitively easy to read and as a result, should be a first port of call when creating charts.

PowerPoint Essentials
Construct Charts for Your Data

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