Raise your hand if you love data.

Now raise your hand if data presented like this makes you want to stick a fork in your eye:

morewhitespace resized 600

It’s colorful. It’s brimming with data. But HOLY HORSESHOE is it confusing!

Having data is awesome. Using it to persuade others is powerful. Presenting it in a way that inspires eye-forking is criminal.

Here are three simple design tips to help you make sexier, simpler charts that are sure to elicit applause and approval, not violence.

TIP #1: Make friends with white space.

Tempting as it is to fill your chart with every possible data point, detail, and label, there’s an extremely good reason to fight this urge: The human brain uses contrast to distinguish objects from one another. White space is one of the easiest, most elegant design tools that creates this contrast and increases the likelihood that your audience will grasp the point you’re trying to make.

Compare this version of a basic bar chart with the one below it.


basic bar chart


describe the image

By removing the grid lines and tick marks along both axes, as well as the value labels along the vertical axis, and deleting superfluous content from the bottom left corner, we’ve made it much easier to glance at this chart and see that more blogging results in a lot more leads.

Which is a perfect segue into the next tip…

TIP #2: Don't just share data. MAKE MEANING!

It’s common practice for charts to be labeled with a sentence that simply describes what data is being presented. In the example above, the title clearly states that what we’re looking at: The Impact of Blog Size on Monthly Leads.

Fine, right?

Wrong. To maximize the impact of your charts and graphs, don’t just state the obvious, explain why it matters. What’s the core point you’re trying to make? Is it that 52 or more blog articles per month yields an average of 23 leads?

So? What action do you want your audience to take as a result of seeing this data?

Blog more?

So tell them that! Better yet, use a touch of color to draw their eye to the specific data element(s) that drive your point home.

better chart

Now isn’t that better?

Last but certainly not least, design tip #3…

TIP #3: Serve bite-size pieces.

Nobody likes biting off more than they can chew.  Well, except for maybe this guy.

dont bite off more than you can chew

Most of us, however, prefer tasty bite size morsels that we can savor and enjoy without unhinging our jaws.

So instead of something like this:

too much data

…consider chunking up the data into smaller pieces that are more easily digestible (and more effective at conveying your core message)…

bite size

…like so:


Better, right?

To summarize:



more white space



make meaning



bite size data


And voila! No more sucky charts.

Originally published Sep 30, 2011 9:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017