12 Design Tips for Awesome Bar Charts


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Depending on what kind of data you’re presenting, bar charts may be the best way to display your information. (For more help deciding which chart will display your data, check out our blog post). If a bar chart is the right format, here are 12 design tips to make sure you’re visualizing the data as efficiently as possible.

1. Arrange data intuitively

The point of a chart is to make data easier to read. Don’t make your viewers’ lives harder by visualizing in random order.

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2. Watch your bar widths

Believe it or not, something as simple as your bar width can throw off your chart’s aesthetic—and even distract your viewer. Keep bar widths consistent. The space between them should be half the width of the bars themselves.

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3. Don’t use 3-D

3-D is great when it comes to James Cameron movies, but your data does not need to jump out at your viewers. (It can actually skew the data.) Stick to 2-D to keep the data accurate.

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4. Use the proper direction

Bar charts can be vertical or horizontal. Opt for vertical when your data is chronological or if you have negative values. Horizontal bar charts work best when you have lots of different categories with wordy labels.

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5. Start the y-axis at zero

Always have the y-axis start at zero; otherwise your data insights could be misinterpreted as more or less significant than they actually are.

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6. Use consistent colors

Unless you have a grouped bar chart, stick with one consistent color. Too much variation will distract from the data. This is also a great opportunity to keep branding consistent.

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7. Keep y-axis labels short

Swap out unnecessary zeros for a unit of measurement to keep your chart from looking cluttered.

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8. Ditch the grid

Most likely your audience is more interested in overall trends than minuscule incremental differences. Grid lines are distracting and unnecessary when your goal is the bigger picture.

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9. Don’t forget a title and source line

Chart labels are left off all the time. Naturally, this is very confusing. Make sure the title and any other essential information is present. Also keep labels concise and descriptive. And don’t forget to include a source—this gives your data more credibility.

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10. Group or stack when necessary

You’ve designed a chart to save your viewers time, so don’t make them sift through five different bar charts. Opt for one grouped or stacked chart depending on your data.

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11. Keep it simple

Concise and clear—that’s the goal with bar charts. Don’t clutter them up with unnecessary data labels, legends, or other chart junk.

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12. Avoid white backgrounds

Most websites already have a white background, so opt for something more colorful to keep your data from melding into the background.

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