If you are an adventurous kind, you might discover a vast array of fancy chart types beyond the regulars you see or use every day: Sankey chart, spider chart (radar), waffle chart, candle stick chart, stream graph, sunburst, word cloud, stacked bubbles, and you name it. Best yet, the innovation in alternative data visualization displays never stops. At some point, you might start to question: do I really need to know every visualization display ever created to be an effective analyst? After all, certain situations demand eye candy, particularly in data journalism or other public facing data consumption scenarios.
My advice is: master core chart types first before getting fancy! It’s like storing house-fixing tools in your garage. Will you buy every tool available in Lowe’s or Office Depot? Perhaps not. But there is a tremendous value to know and master the essential tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches. Core chart types are like your screwdrivers and wrenches. Mastering them will give you a great foundation for your future success as an analyst or a visualization specialist.
What charts are the cores? Based on Steven Few, one of the well-regarded statisticians and data visualization experts, there are 12: text table, bar chart, line chart, area chart, dot plot, scatter plot, histogram, box plot, geographic map, heat map, treemap, and Gantt chart. The chart types he listed are distinct chart types rather than variations. For example, bar chart is a chart type. Within that category, we have many variations such as stacked bars, side-by-side bars, bullet chart, small multiples, and so on.
You may ask: are these 12 chart types enough for creating enticing visualizations? I would say “yes” and I can prove it. In my Tableau years, I produced over 300 exemplary data visualization examples covering a wide range of industries and business scenarios, and over 95% of the charts I used are core chart types and their variations. Check out interactive data visualizations in my public portfolio or the screenshot below to see how many exceptions you can find.