Communication of statistics through visualisations

Statistics explained visually

December 6






Maarten Lambrechts?


What do users want?

Why data should be visualised and how


Pitfalls in datavisualisation

Making make-overs







Who in the room has made charts for Statistics Explained?

My apologies

What do users want?


Answers to their questions


16 year old schoolgirl

Addicted to her mobile phone

Assignment on SDG poverty in EU

'Pfff.... Poverty? What do I know about that?'

'What? A scatterplot? I thought someone spilled her latte over that page 😂'


37 years old journalist

Reads 3 economical newspapers each day

Needs story for a special on European SDG targets

'Ok, chef, article will be ready in 2 hours'

'Yes, I'll find the data for the chart to illustrate the article'

What are sustainable development goals?

What is poverty?

Is poverty a big problem in Europe?

Where in Europe is poverty the worst?

What is the goal and how will we reach it?

Is the EU going to reach the poverty SDG?

What aspect of poverty is doing the worst?

Which countries are the worst performers?

What groups of people are most at risk?

Where is the data for my chart?


42 years old business analyst

Consulting for small businesses umbrella organisation

'Where is the data? I need the data!'

'A visualisation is worth a 1000 words'


63 year old professor

Research: 'UK SMEs trade after Brexit'

'Wait, let me get my reading glasses'

'Right mouse click... How do I do that again?'

Where do small enterprises trade the most?

How much do small enterprises import on average?

And in total?

How do enterprises behave on import vs export? Intra-EU vs extra-EU?


Is Brittish trade very different from other countries trade?

Will SME's suffer more from Brexit than big companies?




Chart Design


Add a clear and descriptive chart title

Make text run horizontally

Respect hierarchies in the data visually

Be consistent

Avoid log scales, or be very clear about it

Don't cut scales for bars and time scales

Use appropriate chart type

Always show units

Add some absolute numbers to indicate scale

Targets are often the story




Element of the page a lot of people look at first

Charts should be self sufficient: have a title, units, keys

Don't bury the lead, support it with a visualisation

Ensure good interplay between text and charts

When you use visual language ('clusters', 'outliers', 'big gap', ...), think about making a visualisation

Offer data link in all views

Why data should be visualised

and how


Why visualisation?

  1. Interpreting numbers becomes easier
  2. Trends become clearer
  3. Let users contextualise themselves
  4. Message is supported and amplified
  5. Augments reliability
  6. Makes long text breath
  7. Replaces lengthy paragraphs full of numbers
  8. Easy sharing of message
  9. Can be aesthetically pleasing
  10. Draws attention

Chart integration

Take a Stats Explained article

With the different users and their possible questions in mind, answer the following questions:

  • If you would have to pick 1 chart to go with the text, which one would it be? Why?
  • What charts are missing from the article in your view? Are there claims or explanations in the text that lend itself well to be visualised?
  • Look for 'Figure 1', 'Figure 2', ... in the text. What does the text say about what you see on the chart? Is that clearly visible in the chart?
  • Do the charts tell a story? Or are they just meant for looking up values or countries?

When not to use visualisation


When you want to offer quick lookup of values. Use a table for that


When you don't have a clear goal for the chart. Ask yourself: 'For whom and why am I making this visualisation? What questions does the chart answer?'


When you have too little data

Chart design

How to choose a chart type?

How to design a chart?


The Datavisualization Checklist



more design tips


Seen so far:

Horizontal text

Descriptive titles


Meaningful colors


Don't cut scales

What else?

Choose an appropriate aspect ratio

One chart, one message

No double axes

Don't cut bars

Guide your reader: where does he/she need to look?

Label directly

Axes, axes labels and grids should be supportive, in the background

Be careful with stacked charts

Data density shouldn't be too low nor too high

Charts should tell something

Respect and show the data structure and hierarchy

Experiment, but guide the reader

Correlations are powerfull

but dangerous

Tell the story, with the title, annotations and colors

Think about fonts

Sketch & draft


Get feedback





Take a Statistics Explained article

Think about how visualization could improve the article.


  • The datavisualisation checklist
  • The pitfalls in data visualisation
  • Appropriate chart types
  • Chart integration, text-visualisation interplay
  • Consistency (colors, forms, ...)
  • Telling a story with visualisations
  • Different user profiles and the questions they might have

Thank you