thumbnail for video 04 - a powerful chart tells a story

A powerful chart tells a story

A powerful chart tells a story

A powerful chart has a clear message. It should be short and meaningful, and obvious in the blink of an eye. If there’s only one thing our audience remembers at the end of the day, this should be it.

Answering the ‘so what’ question

A visual without a clear key message might show the data, but it doesn’t show what’s interesting, surprising or noteworthy about the data. It leaves our audience guessing, they have to do all of the thinking work. Ideally, we want to create a visual that helps them to quickly see what’s important. A visual that not only answers the ‘what’ question, but more importantly also the ‘so what’ question.

Here’s one of my favourite examples to illustrate the importance of visual storytelling. This chart shows the evolution of meat consumption in the US since the 1960s. By itself, this chart is pretty clear. It shows us the data, in a way that is easy to understand. It answers the ‘what’ question. The design is satisfactory, with pleasing colours and good readability. But can it be improved?

US per capita consumption of poultry and livestock

Here is an attempt at a rework. Even though we’re looking at exactly the same data – we wouldn’t want to lie to our audience! – the message in this new visual is loud and clear. It’s right there in the title: Americans are eating more chicken than ever before!

Americans are eating more chicken than ever before

The power of data visualization at work

Two simple changes turned the original ‘what’ visual into this super-clear ‘so what’ visual.

  • First of all, clever colour choices: the line that interests us – the one for chicken consumption – gets a bright orange colour, the other two become grey. They’re still there, but pushed a bit to the background.
  • Secondly, clever text: the original title was very factual – ‘US per capita consumption of poultry and livestock’. All the thinking work is left for the reader. But what if we simply tell them the interesting part? The new title ‘Americans are eating more chicken than ever before’ is still 100% true, but now it tells us why this visual is actually quite surprising.

These two small but impactful changes turned the original visual, which simply shows the data, into a great visual that actually tells a story. For me, that’s the real power of data visualization at work.

If you want to know more about visualizing data in the right way, you can check out the other videos in this series. Or I invite you to read my book, Powerful Charts, that will give you actionable insights and practical guidelines to create data visuals that truly engage and inspire your audience.

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!


Navigating the landscape of powerful charts

Navigating the landscape of powerful charts

Once we’ve decided to create a data visual or infographic, there are a lot of questions we should ask ourselves to determine the most suitable format. These considerations could include size, readability, possible interactive functionality, and the level of detail we need.

Consider your audience

Our audience is crucial in this: in the end, it’s all about them. Even when we have the most important message in the world, if our audience doesn’t understand it or they’re not interested, it’s all for nothing.

So, take a moment to consider what your audience is trying to achieve. Which decision are they trying to make? What data or information do they need in order to make this decision? And how much time do they have to do so?

The landscape of powerful charts

Depending on our answers to these questions, the charts we create can vary wildly. If time is of the essence, we should build charts which can be interpreted in the blink of an eye. These could be static charts for reports, animated online charts, or interactive charts in mobile applications.

On the other end of the spectrum we have a bit more time for visual storytelling. This includes infographics for print or social media, or maybe breathtaking interactive visual essays. We can take our audience by the hand and guide them, step by step, through a visual story.

In between these two extremes we can create reports or dashboards that can guide our audience through a collection of clearly presented key insights.

the landscape of powerful charts

Don’t start your computer (yet)

Once we have figured out our place in this landscape of powerful charts, the production of our visual can start. However, I urge you not to open your computer at this point of the workflow. It’s a common mistake: we want to start creating as quickly as possible, so we open our favourite tool right away. But then it hits us – the blank screen is staring us in the face, and we start doubting. Where should we put the first line? What was it again we were trying to achieve?

We’re not there yet. It’s time to first define a clear message.

If you want to know more about visualizing data in the right way, you can check out the other videos in this series. Or I invite you to read my book, Powerful Charts, that will give you actionable insights and practical guidelines to create data visuals that truly engage and inspire your audience.

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!


Kenneth Mejia's billboard in the city of Los Angeles, showing a bar chart with a breakdown of the city budget.

How powerful charts can boost your career

How powerful charts can boost your career

An American accountant managed – as the youngest ever! – to win a crucial election in Los Angeles – thanks to the power of data visualization.

Kenneth Mejia, a 32-year-old accountant of Filipino descent, is very committed to issues of poverty, affordable housing and mobility. In the 2022 elections he ran for “City Controller”, a sort of treasurer, for his hometown of Los Angeles. It’s a department with responsibilities almost as big as those of the city’s mayor and chief justice. For example, the City Controller can commission audits to evaluate the effectiveness of city departments.

Data visualization as election propaganda

Kenneth took a remarkably creative and unusual approach in the run-up to the election: he made imported data about the city instantly accessible and visible. On his campaign website, for example, he created a whole series of interactive maps, reports and searchable databases. He even put up billboards showing with graphs what the anticipated city budget will be used for in 2022-2023.

Kenneth Mejia's billboard in the city of Los Angeles, showing a bar chart with a breakdown of the city budget.

That transparent communication did not miss its mark. Kenneth won, as the youngest city controller ever. This approach shows how powerful data visualization is to unlock information, which may seem difficult and unfathomable to the general public, in a very accessible way. As a result, citizens not only gain insight but also become more engaged in politics. They become better informed and can vote more knowledgeably.

You too can make a difference thanks to powerful data visualization

Whether you have political ambitions, want to present your scientific research comprehensibly or convince your management of your brilliant ideas… Would you also like to learn how to create powerful graphics that can inform, convince and engage your audience? Charts that not only accurately represent the numbers, but also have a clear message and are attractive to look at?

In the book “Powerful Charts” physicist and Baryon founder Koen Van den Eeckhout explains in an accessible and practical way how this can be done. An indispensable guide for anyone who communicates with and about figures.

This brand new book is available now at Owl Press.

Order the book here

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!


Why is data visualization so challenging?

Why is data visualization so challenging?

Data visualization is very powerful, but it can also be hard. That’s because a great data visual combines three different aspects simultaneously.

The three properties of a great data visual

  • A great data visual is clear: it communicates a strong message and is easy to understand without too much additional explanation.
  • A great data visual is correct: it presents the data in an accurate and appropriate way, and is unambiguous.
  • A great data visual is beautiful: it is inviting to look at, and uses colour, typography and other design elements in the right way to support its message.

the venn diagram of great data visuals, showing that a great data visual is simultaneously clear, correct and beautiful

That also implies that we, as data visualizers, need to consider three different aspects when creating a data visual:

  • the communication aspect, in order to make our visual clear,
  • the analytical aspect, in order to make it correct, and
  • the design aspect, in order to make it beautiful.

If one of these aspects is missing, we end up with a suboptimal chart. A chart can be beautiful and correct but confusing to navigate, causing the message to be lost. Or it can be very beautiful and clear, but fall apart because the underlying data or the representation of it is flawed. A lot of charts we encounter are clear and correct, but simply boring or uninviting to look at, because they were not designed to look good.

Three different skills

So, in order to create a powerful chart we must apply our communication, our analytical ánd our design skills. Most people feel comfortable with one or two of these skill sets, but not with all of them. Many people in analytical jobs, such as researchers, engineers or consultants, struggle with the design aspects of a visual. People with a role in communication, such as journalists or marketeers, often feel uncomfortable to dive into data analytics and the theoretical principles behind charts. And professional designers can make their visuals look beautiful, but don’t always succeed in crafting a crystal-clear message.

If you recognize yourself in one of these worries, fear not! I am convinced that anyone can create great data visuals on the intersection of clarity, correctness and beauty.

If you want to know more about visualizing data in the right way, you can check out the other videos in this series. Or I invite you to read my book, Powerful Charts, that will give you actionable insights and practical guidelines to create data visuals that truly engage and inspire your audience.

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!


Books on a bookshelf - infographics resources

Data visualization resources: all the links you'll ever need!

Data visualization: all the resources you'll ever need!

You want to start creating clear and attractive data visuals, but don’t know where to start? No worries, here’s a complete overview of tools, resources and inspiration you can use as a starting point for your designs.

Finding useful datasets

Inspiration for data visualization

Digital tools to create infographics and data visuals

Illustrations and icons

Colour schemes

Typography

Creating graphs

Creating maps

Creating tables

Ethics in data visualization

  • Dealing with outliers: https://flowingdata.com/2018/03/07/visualizing-outliers/
  • Visualizing projections and missing data: https://flowingdata.com/2018/01/30/visualizing-incomplete-and-missing-data/
  • Spurious correlations: https://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations
  • About dynamite plots: http://biostat.mc.vanderbilt.edu/wiki/Main/DynamitePlots
  • Alternatives to box plots: https://nightingaledvs.com/ive-stopped-using-box-plots-should-you/
  • Visualizing the uncertainty in data (Flowing Data): https://flowingdata.com/2018/01/08/visualizing-the-uncertainty-in-data/
  • Visualizing uncertainty (Claus Wilke): https://clauswilke.com/dataviz/visualizing-uncertainty.html

Books about infographics and data visualization

  • Data visualisation, Andy Kirk
  • Dear Data, Giorgia Lupi & Stefanie Posavec
  • Information graphics, Taschen
  • Infographic designers’ sketchbooks, Steven Heller & Rick Landers
  • Storytelling with data, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
  • The visual display of quantitative information, Edward Tufte
  • Trees, maps and theorems, Jean-Luc Doumont
  • Visual journalism, Gestalten
  • Visual thinking, Willemien Brand

People on Twitter talking about data

Videos about data visualization

Dataviz blogs and online magazines

Dataviz podcasts

Books on a bookshelf - infographics resources

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!


thumbnail for video 01 - why is data visualization so powerful

Why is data visualization so powerful?

Why is data visualization so powerful?

The amount of data coming our way is growing exponentially. In 2021 alone, it is estimated that humankind generated 74 zettabytes of data – that’s about 10,000 GB per person. How on earth are we going to keep this manageable?

Visualization: our most powerful tool

Visualization is one of the key solutions to cope with the endless stream of data, content and information – together with other strategies such as filtering and organization. Visualization might very well be the most powerful tool we have to turn complex information into manageable insights. But why is that?

There are three important reasons why data visualization is a very strong way to present information:

  1. its information density is extremely high,
  2. it attracts the attention of your audience, and
  3. visual information is easier to process and memorize.

Reason 1: information density

Researchers at MIT have shown that we can detect the meaning of a picture in as little as 13 milliseconds – that’s extremely fast.

We could spend hours looking at this dataset for example, created by visual journalism professor Alberto Cairo, without learning anything. But as soon as we turn the data into a scatter plot, it’s obvious that we’re looking at a dinosaur. In the blink of an eye!

The datasaurus dataset, developed by Albert Cairo, looks like a dinosaur when plotted in a two-dimensional scatter plot.

Reason 2: attractiveness

Visual information is also attractive. Not in the sense that it is beautiful to look at (although that’s often also our goal), but literally: it attracts the attention of your audience. In a book or newspaper, people will often look for the pictures first, before they start reading all of the text.

Reason 3: easier to process

Finally, charts and infographics are easier to process than written text. The dual-coding theory, developed by Allan Paivio, states that our brains process information both in a visual, as well as a verbal way. If we only get verbal stimuli, only a part of our brain is working. That’s why during a long phone call we automatically start doodling – the visual brain is bored and looking for things to do. By providing our audience with a combination of text and images, the entire brain is stimulated, leading to better focus, better understanding, and better memorization.

A visual summary of the dual coding theory, showing how a tree can be presented simultaneously as a visual stimulus and a verbal stimulus.

Harnessing the power of data visualization

So in summary, data visualization is powerful because it combines a high information density, attractiveness, and easier processing and memorization.

If you want to know more about visualizing data in the right way, you can check out the other videos in this series. Or I invite you to read my book, Powerful Charts, that will give you actionable insights and practical guidelines to create data visuals that truly engage and inspire your audience.

Read more:

Small multiples can save your chart

When you're dealing with a chart that has too much information on it, the most straightforward advice to follow is: break it down into multiple charts, each with less information on them. A powerful example of this is a so-called small multiple approach.

Read More

Data visualization podcasts 2023

At Baryon, we’re huge fans of podcasts! Data visualization podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in data visualization.

Read More

thumbnail for video 10 - can you use excel to create a powerful chart

Can you use Excel to create a powerful chart?

Spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Numbers might not be the first thing on your mind when considering data visualization tools, but they can be pretty solid choices to build data visuals. Don’t let anyone convince you that using Excel to create data visuals is unprofessional.

Read More

thumbnail for video 09 - choosing the right font for your data visual

Choosing the right font for your data visual

Fonts evoke emotions: there are very sophisticated fonts, playful fonts, attention-grabbing fonts, and elegant handwritten fonts. Using the wrong type of font can have a lot of impact. In data visualization the implications of typography are mainly focused on readability. Labels and annotations can easily become so small they get hard to read. Above all else, we should choose a font which is readable at small sizes.

Read More

thumbnail for video 08 - three roles of colour in a data visual

Three roles of colour in a data visual

Colour is one of the most crucial tools we have to turn a normal chart into a powerful chart with a clear message, a chart which tells a story rather than simply presenting the information.

Read More

thumbnail for video 07 - 7 different goals for your chart

7 different goals for your chart

A crucial step in building a powerful chart is choosing the right type of chart. A lot of charts don’t work because they simply use the wrong type of chart. To avoid this trap, we must ask ourselves a basic question: what’s the ultimate goal of our data visual? What do we want to show with our data?

Read More

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!