Bar Chart Hack #2: The Icon Bar Chart


Welcome to Episode 2 of “How to Hack a Bar Chart.” This mini-series shows you how to take something that works well and that folks understand and move it in a more creative and engaging direction. This time, you meet a close cousin of the bar chart, but this cousin is more interesting than its relative. It has icons.

This is what you should NOT do with icons: make them into bars. Here’s why: bar charts are powerful (if boring) because we can easily compare their lengths. When icons or images are used in place of bars, such comparisons are more difficult to make. See the first example below showing how many clients live in different types of homes. It’s quite a challenge to determine how many more clients live in suburban homes vs. high rises. That’s because the height of the icons are difficult to assess.


The second example makes it a little easier. But I’d argue that in both examples 1 and 2, the icons make the viewer’s job (comparing lengths) unnecessarily difficult.


The third example, introduces bars back into the bar chart and thus requires minimal viewer effort.


And the fourth further lightens the load by removing the Y-axis and directly labeling the bars and placing the bars closer together.


See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data. 

Image credits: House by ANTON icon from the Noun Project, company by Angriawan Ditya Zulkarnain from the Noun Project, Farm by Ferran Brown from the Noun Project