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Types of Data Visualizations: Radial Gauges

There are so many different types of data visualizations out there, it’s important to know which visualizations are effective for which purpose. In this series, we will be going over every major visualization (and then some) to help you better understand how each visualization should be used.
The first two in our series were Sparklines and Pie Charts.
This week, we're featuring radial gauges.

What are Radial Gauges?

When it comes to gauges there are two types: radial and linear. The radial gauge is the speedometer in your car, and the linear gauge, the thermometer you whip out when fever strikes. While both are similar in that they can only display one set of data, when it comes to their design, radial gauges are more commonly found on vehicle dashboards than business dashboards, unlike the linear gauge.

But more on that later.

Why are Radial Gauges Useful?

When it comes to measuring pressure and speed (or any singular measurement of time-sensitive importance), radial gauges are THE visualization to use. The fact that they can only display one set of data could be viewed as a “flaw”, but it’s this very characteristic that allows the radial gauge to excel in certain situations, such as measuring speed in cars and pressure in factory appliances. Radial gauges can be found in vehicles, machinery, canisters, cooking tools, and now less often, in business dashboards.

Why are radial gauges losing the business dashboard race?

While they certainly make for eye candy, the gauge has little versatility on a dashboard. Gauges hold a different and more visually engaging appeal then other types of visualizations, but your ability to digest the information the gauge displays can be slower.

For certain utilities, like the speed of your car, the radial gauge is the perfect visualization. This is because the information in these gauges:

  • Doesn't need to be compared to another set of data

  • Only needs to be measured in the moment (no need to display trends)

  • Like its cousin, the pie chart, the radial gauge gets a bad rap because people still read it like bar chart, stacked chart, or column chart, when really, these types of data visualizations are used for an entirely different purpose.

    RECAP: radial gauges are charts that are typically circular in shape and are quite limited in their data displaying ability. They are typically less useful on business dashboards, but are the preferred visualization in cars, machinery, and various cooking utensils, where only one set of data needs to be displayed. Radial charts work best in situations where comparisons between different data or trends is not necessary.

    Stay tuned for the next installment of our series, Types of Data Visualizations: Linear Gauge

    Interested in finding out more about data visualizations? Check out our samples of radial gauges and other visualizations in our Data Visualization Gallery!

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