Variations from convention in bar and column plots

We continue our observations of bar or column plots that vary elements from the conventional standard. Littler Mendelson Employer 2013 [pg. 9] uses a color gradient in the bars. It also includes a superfluous line for the bottom axis, but does a nice job nice fitting the axis labels (rather than angling them or running them alongside or in the bars). The gap between the tallest column and the question seems wide and is a result of the y-axis scale maxing at 100% but the tallest percentage is only 87.

Dykema Gossett MA 2016 [pg. 15] places its plot in a table. Also unusual is carrying the percentages to the hundredths position, which many would criticize as false precision\index{false precision}. We also point out the redundant percentages along the bottom, the unnecessary horizontal line between the bottom two responses and the visual complexity of four different colors (a dark blue title, white in the middle, light blue in the bottom row, and a fourth shade for the bars). The final oddity is the staple over the percentages along the bottom.

Morrison Foerster GCsUp 2017 [pg. 7] designed this bar chart circled as a polar presentation. Each bar starts at noon and extends clockwise in proportion to its percentage. Also worth mentioning is that the firm chose to combine ratings of 8, 9 or 10 as “very important”, which produce the percentages, and explained that consolidation in the grey rectangle below the plot.

A fourth example, from Perkins Coie VirtualReality 2016 [pg. 10], shows a plot with no axis on either side. It also states the long labels of the bars under the bars.

Bar plots and some variations from conventional treatments

By far the most common genre of plot, bar (or column plots) probably outnumber all other types by a factor of three. Most of these plots are workmanlike and unmemorable. Some of them, however, utilize techniques that designers of plots should consider for their arsenal.

We start with Davies Ward Barometer 2007 [pg. 29] because of its conventional treatment of the bar plot. The labels for each bar are on the left axis, the bars are sorted from high to low (top to bottom), and the percentages are given at the right end of each bar. Some of the elements of this plot that are not standard, however, include the black outline of each bar, the tick marks at the base that look like staples around the label, and the choice to cut off responses under 4%.

The next plot, from Freshfields Bruckhaus Crisis 2013 [pg. 10], centers each segmented bar at zero, a neutral position. It also uses colors for the segments and embedded percentages to convey the data collected by the survey. Note, too, that the plot has no y-axis line.

KL Gates GCDisruption 2017 [pg. 6] chose to represent negative values, decreasing percentages, as a different color bar (purple), located in the lower right, with a space between it and the positive values. This technique is confusing. It would have been better to present the negatives on the left side of zero, as the preceding Freshfields Bruckhaus plot does.

DLA Piper RE 2017 [pg. 8] introduces several techniques. First, the designer places the labels of the bars within the bars, sometimes even stretching them outside to the right of the bar. Second, the firm summarizes the key point of the plot in the first bullet on the right and adds more context in the second bullet. Third, the explanation in the second bullet has a footnote regarding its source. Fourth, unlike most bar plots that put the percentage or number at the end of the bar, this one stacks them flush right.