Everyone knows the clichés of the graph world--bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, even the occasional scatter plot. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with them. Clichés are clichés for a reason: they get the job done.
The only thing is, sometimes, what you want to show doesn’t fit neatly into the box (literally!) of what a bar graph or line graph is designed to communicate. That’s when you turn to more specialized graphs. They’re like the pizza cutters of the data communication kitchen--you’ll only ever pull it out when you’re eating pizza, but boy, does it work like a charm.
So pizza-eaters, let me introduce you to two of your new best friends.
Level up your graph game
Let’s ease into the world of lesser-known graphs by starting with something familiar: the waterfall chart--a cousin to our old friend, the bar graph. Also called “floating bricks” or “Mario charts,” these graphs are especially great for financial analysis because even the uninitiated can see at a glance how things add up.
A few more examples of how you can use a waterfall chart:
- Showing how you get a net value through gains and losses over time
- Displaying changes in cash flows
- Visualizing income statement line items
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: humans aren’t great with numbers. Don’t get me wrong--give us an hour or two alone with an Excel spreadsheet and some of us can wow you, but when you’re communicating data, your audience won’t get that opportunity.
One of the hardest things to get a good sense of from a cursory glance at a list of numbers is proportions. How does revenue break down over quarters? Which geography contributed the most to sales? When you need to answer those ratio- or percentage-based questions quickly, use a sunburst chart.
The purpose of showing you these graphs is to avoid that dreadful moment during a presentation when you have to watch your audience’s eyes glaze over the second you show a slide with an Excel screenshot on it. There are so many creative and engaging ways to show data--take advantage of them.