The Do's and Don'ts of Bar Graph Design

The Do's and Don'ts of Bar Graph Design

What is a Bar Graph?

Before we dive into the do's and don'ts, let's first clarify what a bar graph is. A bar graph, also known as a bar chart or bar plot, is a chart or graph that presents categorical data with rectangular bars with heights or lengths proportional to the values that they represent.

Bar graphs are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of situations to compare data across categories. For example, if you wanted to compare the population of different countries, you could create a bar graph where each bar represents a country and the length of the bar corresponds to the population.

One of the great things about bar graphs is that they're easy to understand, even for those who aren't data experts. Thanks to online tools like Tableau, Microsoft Excel, and Google Sheets, creating them is also a breeze.

Do's of Bar Graph Design

Start Your Y-Axis at Zero

When designing a bar graph, always start your Y-axis at zero. This is because the length of the bar is directly proportional to the value it represents. If you start your Y-axis at a value other than zero, you can misrepresent the data and lead your audience to inaccurate conclusions.

Use Consistent Colors

Using consistent colors throughout your graph helps your audience quickly understand what they're looking at. For example, if you're comparing the sales of three different products, use the same color for each product across all bars.

Label Your Axes

Always label your axes. The X-axis typically represents the categories being compared, and the Y-axis represents the values for those categories. Without labels, your audience won't know what your graph is supposed to represent.

Don'ts of Bar Graph Design

Don't Use Too Many Bars

While it might be tempting to include as much data as possible in your graph, too many bars can make your graph look cluttered and confusing. As a rule of thumb, try to limit your graph to around 10-15 bars.

Don't Forget About Scale

When designing your bar graph, remember that scale matters. If your values range from 1 to 100, don't use a scale of 1 to 1,000,000. This will make your bars look incredibly small and make your graph difficult to understand.

Don't Neglect Your Title

Your title is one of the first things your audience will see, so make sure it clearly and accurately describes what your graph is about.

The Power of Segmented Bar Graphs

Lastly, let's talk about segmented bar graphs. A segmented bar graph, also known as a stacked bar graph, is a graph in which bars are divided into multiple segments, each representing a different category. These are particularly useful when you want to show the total size of groups, as well as the composition of those groups.

Creating segmented bar graphs is easy with online tools like Plotly, an online graph creator that offers a variety of customization options.

Wrapping Up

Designing bar graphs is more than just throwing some numbers and categories into a template. It requires careful consideration of your data, your audience, and your purpose. But with these do's and don'ts in mind, you're well on your way to creating clear, effective bar graphs that accurately represent your data.