A deep dive into… bar charts

A deep dive into… bar graphs | What makes a good bar graph? Read all about bar charts.

How does a bar chart work?

Shapes of bar charts

A chart that has a lot of similarities with a bar chart, the so-called “proto bar chart” was first created in the 14th century by Nicole Oresme. In his publication titled On the Latitude of Forms, Oresme visualized the velocity of an accelerating object against time.

Proto bar graph discovered by Nicole Oresme and published in On the Latitude of Forms
Proto bar chart discovered by Nicole Oresme and published in On the Latitude of Forms
William Playfair’s bar chart in The Commercial and Political Atlas from 1785
William Playfair’s bar chart in The Commercial and Political Atlas from 1785
Column chart by Column Five Media
Column chart by Column Five Media
Alternative chart redesigned with the Datylon for Illustrator plug-in
Alternative chart redesigned with the Datylon for Illustrator plug-in
100% stacked bar chart created with Datylon for Illustrator plug-in.
100% stacked bar chart created with Datylon for Illustrator plug-in
Divergent bar graph created by Data Revalations
Divergent bar chart created by Data Revalations
Lollipop and bar graph recreated with Datylon for Illustrator plug-in, design by Jacqueline Nolis
Lollipop and bar chart recreated with Datylon for Illustrator plug-in, design by Jacqueline Nolis.
Radial bar chart created by Script & Seal together with Doubleday & Cartwright for Nike’s Summer of Fuelband program
Radial bar chart created by Script & Seal together with Doubleday & Cartwright for Nike’s Summer of Fuelband program

Creative bar charts

Since a lot of designers think the bar chart is boring and are trying to avoid using it, a lot of them become really creative with using the bar chart as a base for their data visualization.

Example of a bar graph by Lauren Manning, fries were used instead of columns to communicate the French fry consumption by month.

3D bar charts: Deluding, Distracting and Difficult

There is always the risk of going too far with your creative bar chart. One way of stretching creativity is by using 3-dimensional (3D) bar charts.

3D bar chart by XueQiong Li
3D bar chart by XueQiong Li

Passing with flying colors

At Datylon, we always follow the general rule of only using color if it communicates additional information. Therefore, for most basic bar charts, one color should be enough. Using colors to make a bar chart more beautiful will only make them harder to read.

Bar graph by Simon Scarr
Bar chart by Simon Scarr

References

  • Clagett, Marshall (1968), Nicole Oresme and the Medieval Geometry of Qualities and Motions; a treatise on the uniformity and difformity of intensities known as Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum et motuum, Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, pp. 85–99, ISBN 0–299–04880–2

Further reading and resources

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