Types of Data Visualizations: Pie Charts

July 8, 2014 Kelsey Marchand

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 in our series was, sparklines.
Next up, pie charts!

What are Pie Charts?

Pie charts, for those few who don't already know, are circular charts that show data values through sections or "slices" of the circle, much like a pie (hence the name). Unfortunately for them, pie charts have quite the mixed reputation. While they remain to be one of the most widely recognizable visualizations, they are also one of the most disliked amongst experts in the data visualization industry.

Why are Pie Charts Useful?

Much like their cousin, the radial gauge, pie charts get more negative press than good. This is because they can only show the relationship between two pieces of data, precise measurements on the chart are impossible to show, and sometimes the data they present can be confusing without the proper labeling.

So, why do we keep these charts around if so many people are against their very nature?

1). They're compact
... relatively speaking. These charts can be the perfect choice if your dashboard is seriously lacking in vertical real estate. Compared to most visualizations, pie charts take up very little over-all space.

2). They're the perfect side-kick
Really want to drive that point home? Why not throw in a pie chart! On their own, pie charts can have a harder time succeeding in most situations. But much like sparklines, pie charts are the perfect minimal visualization to really drive home an already-presented set of data.

While they get a bad rap because people are still looking at them as a bar chart/stacked chart/column chart replacement, pie charts continue to prove that they still have a place in the data viz industry; just not the same place that they started out with.

RECAP: pie charts are circular charts shaped like, well, pies, and despite their bad rap they still hold a useful purpose within the industry (namely in dashboards with little space & to supplement pre-existing data viz).

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

Check out our samples of pie charts and more visualizations in our Data Visualization Gallery!

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