9 Reasons Why Your Diagram Isn’t Effective

A picture tells a thousand words, or so the saying goes. Visualizations of data are powerful tools in communication, but they’re easily misused. Here are nine common errors to watch out for when designing your next diagram:

1)  Using diagrams to emphasize what you want people to see.

Data visualizations should present an objective view of reality; it’s easy to draw misleading conclusions based on the subjective selection of data points. For example, if only positive reviews of product X are shown (or vice versa), this will influence viewers by biasing their opinion towards a favorable view towards the product. So try to be as impartial and fair as possible in presenting your information — show everything relevant and prioritize breadth over depth.

2)  Failing to simplify complex data.

The most effective visualizations are simple and direct. But don’t be fooled — even a basic bar chart can communicate a lot of information if it’s well-designed. Remember that people will look at your diagrams for only a few seconds, so find the best way to present your data in a digestible manner. 

3)  Overcomplicating with needless design choices or effects.

The visual encoding of data into lines and shapes is usually enough. General rules are that your diagrams should be as clear as possible and can’t be any simpler than they already are; adding unnecessary details will only end up detracting from the information you’re trying to show. If it’s not relevant, leave it out. Extra design elements (e.g., symbols, gradient fills) also require additional effort for interpreting, which increases cognitive load and decreases user attention span – something you definitely don’t want to do.

4)  Using a 3D perspective where it’s not helpful.

3D perspective is one of the more complex elements of design that can sometimes lead to issues with legibility. 

5)  Mixing different data types without good reason.

Data visualization is about communicating information, so if your goal is just presentation then try using alternative means for your message delivery (e.g., text, images). But remember that text is not for data; avoid using words to explain what you’re trying to show, as this counts as “chartjunk” and clutters the diagram.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t explain what’s going on in a diagram in 1 to 2 lines then it probably needs simplifying.

6)  Using too much 3D perspective.

The same rules that apply to 2D diagrams also apply to 3D visualizations, which means they’re usually harder to read than their flat counterparts. Generally speaking, don’t use more than two levels of perspective (e.g., positive and negative XYZ axes), unless there are specific reasons for doing so (e.g., demonstrating how something changes over time). To avoid the problems associated with multiple perspectives, try using parallel projection instead — this distortion effect is often preferable to any form of perspective because it doesn’t cause legibility issues.

7)  Using colors that hurt your viewers’ eyes.

Colors should always be used to enhance the information you’re trying to show, and never as the main focal point. If it detracts from other elements on the page then it’s probably not worth using! Keep in mind that different combinations of hues and saturation can create very different shapes — so use them sparingly and with caution.

  8)  Adding too much extra text.

Text is one of those things where less is more; if possible, avoid providing any explanations within diagrams unless absolutely necessary. Instead, use titles for each section (e.g., pie chart), labels for specific points (e.g., trend data), and text for supplementary information (e.g., axis information).

9)  Using a monospaced font.

Monospaced fonts are designed with typewriters in mind, where they were fine because every letter occupied the same amount of horizontal space. But on a computer monitor, their spacing is too even and makes them rather difficult to read – especially when used for large blocks of text. To make things worse, there are not really any equivalent typefaces that use proportionally spaced letters! If you must use monospaced characters then try using them sparingly to highlight specific aspects of your diagram. To give you a better idea, here are some diagram examples from Venngage.


Venngage: Your One-Stop Diagram Maker

Venngage is an online diagram maker that provides you with various diagram templates to help you with your visual presentations. Venngage templates are well-designed and applicable for all industries to use. 

Simple diagrams are a great way to visualize data, but you need to make sure they’re clear and easy for the user’s brain to process.  Try to avoid these design pitfalls, and start making your way to creating great diagrams with Venngage today!

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Lorenzo Gutierrez
Digital Marketing Strategist at Lorenzo Gutierrez Digital Marketing
A little bit about myself: Lorenzo Gutierrez, founder of Lorenzo Gutierrez Digital Marketing, has a decade of experience growing business revenues with cutting edge digital marketing. With an MBA from Western Governors University and a passion for the craft, he offers a results-driven approach to digital marketing, ensuring your online success.

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