Making Charts

Why write a paragraph when you can replace it with a chart? Effective and simple data visualizations can be made by anyone, given the right training. And luckily there are a plethora of tools and articles that will help you get a handle on how to get started charting and continually improve your plotting ability. Check them out below 📈


  1. The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics

    By Dona Wong

    If you’re looking for charting dogma, this is all you need. Wong is rigid in her assertions. She describes singular right ways to chart and gives copious examples of wrong ways. She covers not only the style considerations but also lays out why certain types of data should only be charted in certain ways. While some chart makers may stray from her advice, following Wong’s rules will mean you never make a bad chart. If you don’t want to buy it, be sure to check the library. My local suburban branch had two copies available for checkout!

  2. Visual Vocabulary

    By Alan Smith, Chris Campbell, Ian Bott, Liz Faunce, Graham Parrish, Billy Ehrenberg, Paul McCallum & Martin Stabe, Financial Times

    If you’re ready to break out of Dona Wong’s prescriptions but still need some guidance on how to pick the right chart form, the Financial Times has you covered with a poster-sized PDF. The document—inspired by a similar creation by Jon Schwabish and Severino Ribecca—is sorted by concepts of comparison and only moves to visual forms after that, which will no doubt help you think critically about your data before charting it.

  3. It’s OK Not to Start Your Y-Axis at Zero

    By David Yanofsky, Quartz

    Excuse my self promotion, but I wrote this back in 2015 because there wasn’t any good literature on the topic. I describe not only why it’s silly to listen to zero-y-axis absolutists but also when you actually should zero out your chart. Vox ended up publishing a video on the topic that makes much of the same argument if you prefer 153 seconds of animations to 971 words.

  4. Data Looks Better Naked

    By Joey Cherdarchuk

    AKA, how to make a better chart in one GIF. Watch as Cherdarchuk quickly and gracefully takes an overdesigned and cluttered chart and transforms it into something simpler and clearer, step by step.

  5. What I Learned Recreating One Chart Using 24 Tools

    By Lisa Charlotte Rost

    Posted on

    Through two blog posts, Lisa Rost examined the ease and practicality of 12 code-based charting tools and 12 point-and-click charting tools to make the same chart. In this item on Source that summarized her observations, Rost lays out a great framework for finding the right toolset for the right purpose. All three posts are worth reading. Her reviews are succinct and pithy. You’ll be able to decide which—if any—are worth your time to try very quickly.

  6. Breaking Excel Defaults–A Government Chart Remake

    By Jon Schwabish

    Do you like using Excel and never want to leave its comfortable familiarity? Jon Schwabish offers a step-by-step case study in turning an ugly, hard to understand, and amateurish chart into a concise, clear and professional graphic—all in Excel. Similar results definitely require obtaining Schwabish’s level of expertise, but it’s always good to see examples of what’s possible.

  7. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

    By Edward Tufte

    This is the Tufte book that covers “data-ink ratio” and “chartjunk.” As you move away from using off-the-shelf tools for charting and start creating more customized or bespoke plots, understanding these two concepts will be critical to keeping your charts understandable and looking good.

  8. How Information Graphics Reveal Your Brain’s Blind Spots

    By Lena Groeger, ProPublica

    This is more advanced reading about charting considerations. While a lot of this wisdom focuses generally on various biases that humans have when interacting with the world, much is specifically about visual perception and how graphics can exacerbate or limit our biases.

Current page