I'm documenting a technical/scientific project, in which I'm needing an extensive amount of graphs to represent the data.

I would like this graphs to be as clear and representative as possible. Of course the priority is using properly the data and choose the most appropriate medium (meaning for instance bar plot against scatter plot).

But from a design perspective, what elements are important to make sure that the graphs are high quality and look professional?

I'm aware of the fact that they should be preferrably (if not mandatorily) vector images rather than rasters, and that the markings shouldn't be such to hide details of the represented data. But other than that?

  • 2
    Go read these books: edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi
    – DA01
    Jul 23, 2014 at 16:38
  • 1
    I'll wait to see what others think but as it stands this question is pretty broad. Professional is very subjective to audience and culture. As @DA01 just beat me to it though, look at Edward Tufte's theories and rules.
    – Ryan
    Jul 23, 2014 at 16:38
  • 1
    I might get stuck in and try to give you an answer later, but here is what not to do.
    – benteh
    Jul 23, 2014 at 19:32
  • Sorry, I made a mistake tagging with information graphics. The scope is technical/scientific documentation, like papers or reports.
    – clabacchio
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:22
  • Technically a chart is an information graphic. It's just that the term 'information graphic' has been abused and is now a synonym for google click-bait. :)
    – DA01
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:35

2 Answers 2


For bar charts:

  • If there are data labels above the bars or at the end of the bars, center them and make sure they are all the same distance from the end of the bar.
  • Your axes should be named. Center the label.
  • Use a key if you have more than one set of data. Center the key dingbat on the key label. (That is, the little green square should be centered vertically on the first letter of the key label.)
  • If you have a series of bar charts comparing the same things, make sure your key colors are consistent from chart to chart.
  • Your axis labels should be legible. Don't put them at 45 degrees. Make them smaller if they need to fit, or go every other item if necessary.
  • Use $ or % on every tick mark of an axis, not just the first one.

For line charts:

  • Most of the same rules as bar charts. If you have labels above the data points, make them all the same distance from the point dingbat.
  • If you have two lines and two sets of labels, color-key the labels if possible. (It's easier to follow a red set of numbers and a blue set than to pick out two sets of black.)

For pie charts:

  • Put the label in the center of each pie slice. If it doesn't fit, put it outside with a line. The "whisker" connecting the label to the slice can go at an angle, but then should become an underline under the label.
  • Try to make all the outside labels align to left and right rather than floating randomly.
  • 3
    and PLEASE PLEASE avoid using 3d for pie charts and bargraphs, unless it's REALLY a life or death choice.
    – tomtomtom
    Jul 23, 2014 at 23:08
  • @tomtomtom I don't mind some subtle 3D, but not at the cost of legibility. Jul 23, 2014 at 23:39
  • i.stack.imgur.com/OMmdq.png here for example (image posted below) the 3d is totally pointless and in the pie chart on the bottom right corner it even alters the perception of which slice is the biggest. There are really really few cases where 3d is justified, and where other options are totally fine anyways in my opinion
    – tomtomtom
    Jul 24, 2014 at 7:47

I think the number one thing that will make the graphs look professional is how consistent they are with the other material they are presented with. Here's some things to look at:

  1. Colors - Make sure the colors are in keeping with the rest of the project
  2. Type - Use the same font as the rest of the project
  3. Spacing - Keep the same margins and distances between graphs as you use between paragraphs

Those are some thoughts to keep in mind when placing and designing them.

The actual theme or whatever you want to call it is pretty subjective... The common trend right now is flat (look at the design of this site). Here's a few info graphic templates that are around just do a google image search for infographic and pick a style that fits with the style you've got for your project.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

  • 2
    Some of these are just bad. Particularly those last 2. Though I'm also perplexed at "Infographic Pie Chart" on the first group, which appears to be a venn diagram.
    – Ryan
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:25
  • I have no idea what the point of that last one is. "How to hide meaningful data in bells and whistles?"
    – DA01
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:36
  • I can see the point on the last one (its off now, I was wanting to show that there are MANY ways to design charts).
    – Circle B
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:42

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