Bar charts are boring. So I tried something a bit different…

Bar charts are boring. So I tried something a bit different…

Graphics can add texture to content. Simple bar charts are sometimes good enough, particularly if your brand has a formal feel. Investing a couple of hours in designing a bespoke one can lift your content and help build your audience.

Ongoing research into the world’s commitments to renewable energy revealed a worrying factoid in India. In the past two years, new commissions for wind energy had declined by over 70 percent. Showing this decline was a prime candidate for an infographic style chart.

The data was put into a classic bar chart, assembled in Apple Numbers. There was nothing flash or stylish about this, its job was purely to provide the ratios I needed to create the final product. It was exported as a PDF and imported into Affinity Designer on my iPad.

Wind turbines and a bar chart

A little lateral thinking and I settled on representing the bars as wind turbines. After a few experiments, I decided to use the top of the turbine body as the reference point. The blades rotate, so it felt a little odd to use the tip of a moving object to mark a value. I also experimented with tilting the blades so that one pointed to the body of the next, creating a hint of a line. It proved a little disruptive to the structure and the idea was put to one side.

The first finished version is a classic information-centric bar chart. The top of the turbine aligns with the amount of power being commissioned, which I reinforced using a light grey line. This allowed me to rotate the blades slightly, giving the impression of it being a scene rather than a flat chart. It’s reinforced by the landscape background.

For a formal piece of research presented through Dalmeny Close, this formality works well. However, while the landscape gives a sense of depth, I was concerned readers would attempt to force some deeper meaning into it.

Creating an informal infographic

I worked up a simple white-on-green style. The bar chart elements were removed, replaced with a simple “year and power” label beneath each. I also gave it a new title, swapping the entirely factual one for a more engaging narrative style, aligning it to the right to encourage exploration.

Losing the bar chart legends required changes to the turbines. Without clear labels, their relative sizes became more important. Instead of rotating each set of blades slightly, I used the same template for each year. The relative sizes of the entire structure now matches the results.

Some unspoken decisions

I designed both versions to be mobile friendly. For Dalmeny Close I used a “close to square” structure, which works for both mobile and desktop. These Social Times uses an explicitly portrait design, which is better for its mainly mobile audience.

Including the source, and the date the data was retrieved, puts the graphic in context. If they’re separated from their posts, the reader still knows what data they’re based on, and can make a judgment call whether they’re still relevant.

Final words

If you have some data that’s screaming to go on a bar chart, consider doing something a little different. Exporting a bar chart from Numbers would’ve taken 2 minutes and given me a graphic I could have used. Investing about 3 hours added some extra depth and made the content more interesting and engaging.

About Ross A Hall

A business researcher and writer, I help companies find new markets, form strategies and build successful businesses.

Find out more about my work.

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