How To Hack A Bar Chart

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Choosing a chart type is like making breakfast for your kids. Bar charts are Cheerios. You know they will eat it and it’s healthy. Now come the buts:

But #1:  Cheerios is boring and you wish they had a wider palate.

But #2: If you give them a quinoa breakfast bowl, it will go uneaten and you might as well have given them Cheerios.

When it comes to data visualization, Maarten Lambrechts says don't settle for Cheerios. He calls the problem “xenographobia” or the fear of weird charts. And he implores us to boost our viewers’ “graphicacy” by feeding them the equivalents of quinoa breakfast bowls in the chart world.

Here’s what I think. We should neither spook our children at breakfast time nor our funders, board members, and staff throughout the day. But we should try to slowly widen their palates. One way to do that is to take something they know and love and hack it a bit. Throw some nuts on the Cheerios. Use color in novel ways to enliven a bar chart.

Over the next several weeks, I will offer up different ways to hack a bar chart. Stay tuned!

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