Presentation Design

33 Things you should know when designing charts in PowerPoint

By Kristy Shangpliang
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Things you should know when designing charts in PowerPoint.png

When was the last time you presented a document or gave a presentation without having to show some numbers? 

I bet most of your presentations have some numbers and you probably used charts for presenting them.

Charts can be easily created in PowerPoint, but to give your presentation an edge you need to work on your charts a little.

So, what you should do when designing charts in PowerPoint?

15 Ways of Visualizing Corporate PowerPoint Slides for Presentations.

Charts are commonly used for data visualization. But are you formatting them the right way?

Here are some simple yet effective pointers to design charts in PowerPoint. You can apply these rights away to make your data presentable.

1. Round off decimal numbers in your graph


When calculating figures and plotting graphs, use decimal places for accuracy.

However, while labeling your chart, round off the numbers to one or two digits. This will help your reader comprehend your chart easily.

For example, 2.854 may be more precise than 2.9, but it distracts the reader and takes away from the visual impact of the chart.

2. Keep your chart titles specific

The chart tiles don’t necessarily have to tell the story of the chart. Just be specific. To the point. You will be explaining the rest anyway.


3. Narrow bars

Vertical bars measure discrete quantities. When the bars are too narrow, your eyes focus on the negative space, the space between the bars which carries no data.


Ensure your bars are well spaced, creating a balance.

4. Do not use shades or patterns in simple bar charts

Since all the bars measure the same variable, different shades or patterns have no relevance, they only distract readers from comparing the bars.


It is best to use one simple shade and color to present the chart and avoid distraction.

5. Avoid 3D effects in bar charts


Where is the top of the bar?

Three- dimensional vertical bars are flat out wrong. The reader is left to guess where the top of the bar meets the grid. Rendering the bars in 3D adds no information, but may bring in confusion.

Keep it simple; don’t use any chart effects like the 3D effect or patterns, etc., when you are creating bar charts.

6. Avoid special effects unless they help comprehension


Why would you want to add effects like the one you see above?

Using effects just to add variety to the visuals can be distracting. It can make your data difficult to read. Keep it simple and easy to read.

7. Keep the typography simple

Don’t permit typography with extra effects to oppress the underlying data.


Keep the typography simple. The headline can be either bold or in a larger font size than the font size used in the graph.

8. Use colors to help understanding of your chart/graph

Do not apply the same color to both positive and negative bars. It will lead to misinterpretation of the concept of the graph.


Red is mainly used to denote negative values. So, the color itself conveys a message. That is the right way to use color.

9. Avoid multiple colors


10. Include clear information on the graph

Do not leave the graph on a slide without labeling the data. This will lead to confusion.


Add essential information on the graph. Use information that will help the audience understand the graph better, but do not go overboard with the information.

11. Use suitable highlights in a bar chart

Do not highlight the bars with pattern fill, shape fill, image fill, or anything that comes as a default.

It might come out looking bizarre, just like the example here.


Highlight the bars with a contrast color (red is a common color). This will make the data easy to understand.

12. Avoid Bevel effect in bar charts

Do not use unnecessary effects, such as the Bevel effect, in the chart. Keep the chart as simple as possible so that it will give the audience a clear idea of what the bars are depicting.


13. Align graph direction with data values

Never plot horizontal bars with negative values on the right side of the size zero line, even if there are no positive numbers in the data set.


Negative numbers in a graph should always be in the left side of Y axis. Negative bars can be red in color for added emphasis.

How to Visualize Charts for Corporate Presentations the Right Way: A Step-by-Step Guide.

14. Keep Axis labels at a readable angle

Do not rotate the axis as shown in the image below.


For easy visibility, if there is a lot of text in the axis label, make sure you always rotate the labels to 270o or 90o.

15. Start Y axis with zero

For bar charts, the numerical Y-axis must start at zero. Our eyes are very sensitive to the area of bars, and we draw inaccurate conclusions when those bars are truncated.


16. Keep your charts free of clutter

Keep charts simple. One way to simplify charts is by removing extra elements, like borders, gridlines, decimal numbers, etc.


17. Try horizontal bar charts to fit long labels

To increase readability for bar graphs that have multiple categories with long names, horizontal bar graphs can be used.


18. Format Y axis values to include the largest data point

Make sure that your data does not overflow but falls under the x axis.

Look at the last bar (highlighted in red) in the image below. The bar is out of the chart area because the data is more than the Y-axis. Always make sure you reset the Y-axis from the format axis option.


19. Keep bar heights optimal

In the figure, the UK bar is too high and hard to compare with the rest of the countries.


Adjust the bar height manually and add a breaking symbol on top of the bar.

20. Label data in pie charts according to size of chart

Do not place the data labels outside a pie graph. If the pie chart is big, the chart will look empty.


This chart is easy to read because the labels are integrated within the chart.

21. Keep special effects to a minimum in complex pie charts

Do not add too many effects to complex pie charts.


Make them simple and easy to read.

22. Opt for solid fill to highlight sections in pie charts

Do not highlight a section of a chart with outline. This does not make the section stand out well.


Instead, the chart can be highlighted by fully filling the sections in a contrast color or a darker shade of the same color.

23. Use legends if you have too many data labels

Don’t overload the chart with information.


You can add just the data labels and add a legend for the categories, to make the chart look clean.

24. Place data logically

Segments chart clockwise from smallest to largest.


It’s intuitive to read top to bottom and clockwise. Reading a pie chart is like reading a clock. Whoever is reading the chart will start at 12 0’ clock and go clockwise, so place your information accordingly.

25. Maintain the bar graph height according to the numbers.

Always use actual graphs instead of graph-like shapes.


26. Use suitable background images

Unsuitable background images can be distracting.


To keep the image behind the graph, you can either make the background lighter or darker so that the reader can easily make out the difference between the content and the background.

27. Use color schemes that enhance visibility

Your focus should always be on the message you want to share. A dark background for a dark-colored graph will dilute the intensity of the data or message and will affect the visibility and/or clarity.


Clean is the new trend. In the figure above see how your data pops out. It looks clean and professional, unlike the graph on the left.

28. Use highlights based on information be conveyed

Highlights in a line chart will depend upon the information that is to be conveyed. In the example here, Portland is highlighted since it has the highest value. To ensure that your highlight stands out, have lighter shades for the other data. If you do not have to highlight, then make them all grey but use different shades. However, it all depends on the type of information that you want to show.


29. Make comparison apparent


Notice that the chart above is a comparison between 2015 and 2016, and that even though the data points in 2016 are higher than in 2015, still 2015 looks greater than 2016. That gives the wrong message to the reader/audience.

To ensure that such mistakes do not happen, make sure that you always set the Y-axis to the same value so that the difference is apparent at first glance.

30. Use colors judiciously

A multitude of colors can confuse readers.


An elegant way to use colors would be to make sure that the shading of the bars moves from light to dark.

The effect would be both easy on the eye and also make comparison easy.

31. Use appropriate shapes in a flow chart

In a flow chart, do not use same type of shapes for each section.


Each shape has a meaning or function. Always use the correct shapes according to the function.

32. Use the right fit to represent percentages

In the figure, the shapes have been given heights at random. The height of the shapes does not align with the data points (percentages, in this case) that they represent.


Here, the right way is to adjust the height of the shapes according to the percentage values that go in.

33. Don’t let pictures overpower data

The picture superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.


Pictures are powerful. So, take care that they do not overpower your data.

Designing charts can be difficult when a lot of data is involved. But by using the minimalist design concept, in a presentation you strike a balance between your charts and content.

Here is how to Use Think-Cell for Visualizing Charts Effectively.

Are you looking for better ways to design your charts? Leave a comment below.

Maybe you do not need a lead-in sentence here? If so just remove it. Maybe this will just appear as a link in the middle of the post.

How to Visualizing Charts for Presentations

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