Uncommon chart types: Waffle charts

If you thought a pie chart was the only food-related chart type out there, think again! There is the donut chart – basically just a pie chart with a hole in the middle – but as a Belgian, I am particularly fond of what’s called a waffle chart. It’s a great alternative to a pie chart, and very easy to make. Oh dear, my stomach’s growling already!

What is a waffle chart?

A waffle chart is basically a square display, usually consisting of 100 smaller squares arranged in a 10-by-10 layout. The squares are colored according to the proportions you are aiming to visualize, similarly to how you would color different slices of a pie chart. As this square layout somewhat resembles a delicious waffle, this immediately explains the name of the chart:

waffle chart about waffles

However, compared to a pie chart, a waffle chart is much easier to read – our brain is not well suited to compare different angles and slices, but we can quite easily compare different areas.

Alternative waffle charts

You will notice that many waffle charts are not made up of squares, but of alternative shapes, usually circles. Other shapes, such as small icons, are also possible – in this case we are approaching the realm of pictogram charts.

economist waffle chart

Another alternative are waffle charts consisting of more (or less) than 100 units, where the items represent actual numbers rather than fractions or percentages:

5g waffle chart

Here, each square represents $10 million, rather than 1%.

In the latter case, there are some similarities with charts we typically see after elections, showing the distribution of the different seats. One could argue that these kind of charts (‘Parliament charts’) are just a form of ‘warped’ waffle charts:

parliament chart

A Parliament Chart created using Flourish.

Some people prefer to turn their waffle charts by 45°, simply for design purposes, but well, some people are just weird:

diamond charts

Creating waffle charts

Making waffle charts is maybe a little bit tedious, but very simple! For example, you could create square cells in Excel, and color them using intelligent cell formatting to recreate the effect. If you google ‘waffle chart Excel‘ you will immediately get hundreds of blog posts and video tutorials describing the necessary steps.

Or you could take your favourite graphics software (such as Paint.NET, GIMP, or Inkscape), draw 100 identical shapes and color them according to your data.

And some people have managed to do it in Infogram, apparently.

More waffles than you'll ever need

To conclude, some wonderful things people have done with waffle charts, including this tile grid map of waffle charts about internet use in Africa:

waffle chart on internet usage in Africa

Apparently created by one.org, but I can’t find the exact source!

Oh, and a circular waffle chart is sometimes called a plum pudding chart, after J.J. Thomson’s plum pudding model for the atom, which is in turn named after a Christmas cake. The more you know!

plum pudding chart

Finally, if you would ever think about creating a 3D waffle chart… it’s not impossible, but let’s say it’s frowned upon. Maybe we should keep that 3rd dimension for real waffles only?

3d waffle chart

More uncommon chart types? We have already covered:

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