I don’t hate pie charts. That’s it. That’s the post.
I wanted to write this post in the style of the Best Internet Post Ever, I’m Comic Sans. I feel I’ve been ineffective.
There’s an awful lot of hate for pie charts. There’s the classic piece, Pie Charts Are the Worst. Read it, and you’ll see all the same Tuftian arguments about how it’s inaccurate, can easily be manipulated, etc. It’s a lot of hate.
But keep reading. When you get to the bottom:
The one single thing pie charts are good at is when you’re comparing 2-3 different data points with very different amounts of information. That’s it.
Here’s the thing. That’s a big deal. I need to do (and convey) that. A lot. Traffic by device category. Conversion rate of an A/B test. US vs. non-US traffic. Conference attendance by gender? SLAM, you’ve got a pie chart.
While it’s hated because it’s so prevalent, its prevalence makes it better than other charts regarding simple parts of the whole. For a time in 2016, I hopped on the pie-chart hate bandwagon. I made simple bar charts and stacked 100% bar charts up the wazoo. Pie charts were for suckers.
Then I spent hours converting all of those back into pie charts. Because pie charts are the fastest at conveying that, seriously, NO ONE CAN USE YOUR WEBSITE ON A MOBILE PHONE. Or, GEEZ, THERE’S ALMOST NO DIFFERENCE WHEN WE A/B TEST TWO BUTTON COLORS.
Haters gonna hate. But we seriously need to lose the extremes. Sometimes, the pie chart is the right chart.