11 Comments

  1. Gregor says:

    Ha, and now make a 300px version of this for mobile. Not always as simple as it looks..

  2. This is good stuff. I hate legends. Why add needless complexity as you work for engagement?

  3. Great solution. I think the other thing that would help is if they used a categorical color scheme for the different categories rather than mixing in a sequential color scheme. Four distinct colors would be ideal, encoding with color hue rather than color value.

    1. hrbrmstr says:

      I suspect the reason for the color choices was to significantly highlight the comp sci downturn which directly aligns with their story/segment. I think it makes more sense this way. If it was a more general chart, perhaps not.

  4. Brian Stacey says:

    Another visual problem with this graph is the missing data – at the critical point!
    What happened in Law School and Physical Sciences for the past few years?
    Should Law School actually end up above Medical School – based on presumed trends?
    Should your labels be re-ordered to show the latest position (once again, based on presumed trends)?

  5. Ann K. Emery says:

    Please check out Bob Rudis’ post for a tutorial on directly labeling line graphs in R: http://rud.is/b/2015/08/27/coloring-and-drawing-outside-the-lines-in-ggplot/

  6. Tyler Lubben says:

    Hey Ann K. Emery,
    Nice write up!!
    I must say that the idea of removing the legend is amazing. Thanks you so much for providing the steps to insert labels in the chart. I will surely try them
    Looking forward for more posts 🙂

  7. […] the mostly edited version: reduced clutter; custom color; labels directly beside the data; reduced gap […]

  8. […] isn’t helping much because it requires zig-zagging eye movements (no worries–solution here). Their eyes would eventually shift over to the right side of the graph. They’d they’d […]

  9. Isaac Musa says:

    Trillion thanks! It was helpful

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs

Aug 25th, 2015 / Data Visualization / , , , , ,
Although we're used to seeing legends, we rarely need them. Legends can lead to unnecessary zig-zagging around the screen or page, and legends can also be difficult to interpret if your graph is printed in grayscale. Instead of using legends, directly label the data. Direct labels mean that you add labels as close as possible to the data. For example, in a line graph, you would delete the separate legend and place the category labels off to the right of each line. For bonus points, color-code the text in the labels to match the line.

I recently saw this graph at http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding.

Ann K. Emery on Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs
The topic caught my attention but the separate legend about the line graph made me cringe.

This graph is challenging to read in color (which turquoise category goes with which line?) and would be impossible to read when printed or photocopied in grayscale.

These data labels and separate legend score a big fat zero on the Data Are Labeled Directly section of the Data Visualization Checklist.
Ann K. Emery on Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs
The solution is simple. First, remove the legend.
Ann K. Emery on Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs

Then, insert those labels beside their corresponding lines. The goal is to get the labels as close as possible to the actual line so that your viewers aren’t zig-zagging their eyes back and forth between the lines and the legend.

To insert labels next to the lines, you can:

  1. Format the data labels so that the label contains the category name. In Microsoft Excel, right-click on the data point on the far right side of the line and select Add Data Label. Then, right-click on that same data point again and select Format Data Label. In the Label Contains section, place a check mark in either the Series Name or Category Name box.
  2. Insert text boxes next to the lines. There’s no magic behind text boxes; insert the as you normally would just like when you’re using Word or PowerPoint. Text boxes take a few seconds longer but give you greater flexibility than traditional data labels in terms of placement.

Ann K. Emery on Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs

Finally, for bonus points, color-code the labels so that they match their lines. Use turquoise for medical school, law school, and the physical sciences, and use red for computer sciences.
Ann K. Emery on Directly Labeling Your Line Graphs

Direct labeling! A small edit for you and a huge advantage for your viewers.

11 Comments

  1. Gregor says:

    Ha, and now make a 300px version of this for mobile. Not always as simple as it looks..

  2. This is good stuff. I hate legends. Why add needless complexity as you work for engagement?

  3. Great solution. I think the other thing that would help is if they used a categorical color scheme for the different categories rather than mixing in a sequential color scheme. Four distinct colors would be ideal, encoding with color hue rather than color value.

    1. hrbrmstr says:

      I suspect the reason for the color choices was to significantly highlight the comp sci downturn which directly aligns with their story/segment. I think it makes more sense this way. If it was a more general chart, perhaps not.

  4. Brian Stacey says:

    Another visual problem with this graph is the missing data – at the critical point!
    What happened in Law School and Physical Sciences for the past few years?
    Should Law School actually end up above Medical School – based on presumed trends?
    Should your labels be re-ordered to show the latest position (once again, based on presumed trends)?

  5. Ann K. Emery says:

    Please check out Bob Rudis’ post for a tutorial on directly labeling line graphs in R: http://rud.is/b/2015/08/27/coloring-and-drawing-outside-the-lines-in-ggplot/

  6. Tyler Lubben says:

    Hey Ann K. Emery,
    Nice write up!!
    I must say that the idea of removing the legend is amazing. Thanks you so much for providing the steps to insert labels in the chart. I will surely try them
    Looking forward for more posts 🙂

  7. […] the mostly edited version: reduced clutter; custom color; labels directly beside the data; reduced gap […]

  8. […] isn’t helping much because it requires zig-zagging eye movements (no worries–solution here). Their eyes would eventually shift over to the right side of the graph. They’d they’d […]

  9. Isaac Musa says:

    Trillion thanks! It was helpful

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Courses

Most “professional” reports are too long, dense, and jargony. Transform your reports with these practical tips. You’ll never look at reports the same way again.

Learn More

Data visualization best practices, practical how-tos, tutorials in multiple software platforms, and guest experts. Designed with busy number-crunchers in mind.

Learn More

SPONSORED

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

Learn More