Stacked comparison charts

When looking at data, what do you prefer?  Lots of bright colours?  As much data as possible so you can draw a conclusion?  If you are like me, you want JUST ENOUGH information to make your decision and clear concise visuals.  What do I mean, well lets take this example (the names have been changed to protect the innocent).  The common barchart:

the common bar chart

Let’s assume for the moment that all of the information is necessary.  Is it easy to read?  In my opinion, it’s kind of average as in this is what you would probably get from most people wanting to sway you with data.  If you work at it you can see which colour, A to F performed best and worst for each data set.  However, let’s turn that same information into a line chart (without the line) and use flat lines as bullets and we get:

stacked thermometers

In this chart it’s easier to see which colour is “winning” and “losing”.  However, as you can see with the first set of data, red and light blue have scored the same, so we’ve had to play with the formatting a little bit or we wouldn’t be able to see the red line at all.  It’s still not easy to see the trend for each colour.  Did red go up or down across the five different sets.  So, what else could we do?  This is where I get creative.  I give you stacked comparison barcharts:

stacked comparison chart

Here you can easily see the progression of each colour from left to right and you can see how close they are to the target (25), while still being able to compare the series.  I’ve removed the Y axis and added major grid lines to show the target of 25, and added data labels which I’ve repositioned to create the first mini-axis.  Finally I got rid of the legend and again used data labels positioned over the first column of data to show which colour is which.  What do you think?  Would you use this type of graph?

Of course you could go really crazy and add minor grid lines as well to make it very easy to read the exact levels for each colour, but that’s up to you!  I prefer it without…


You can download the sample excel sheet here Stacked comparison chart.


+Alesandra Blakeston

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