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Last week, someone asked me why I never use 3D charts in reporting. It looks quite fancy, I must admit. But I stopped using them many years ago and not without a reason.

Do you want to know why I avoid 3D graphs? Check out this blog post!

It's not about looking great

Data Visualization should give you a clear view of otherwise boring numbers. So the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is all about understanding the numbers. Not about creating stunning visuals.

With that in mind, take a look at this 3D Pie Chart:

When you look at this Pie Chart, the biggest slice is clearly Rotterdam. Right? It just looks way bigger than Amsterdam.

Ok, keep that in mind while we sort the results in a different order:

Now Rotterdam seems to be the biggest slice. Bigger than Amsterdam!

Actually, both Rotterdam and Amsterdam are the same size. But to create the 3D illusion, the Pie Chart gets distorted. Slices at the bottom will appear bigger than they actually are. And slices on the top will appear smaller than they actually are.

While it might look better than a 2D Pie Chart, it missed the main objective: Visualising Data so the user can easily make sense from the numbers.

How to fix this

Peter Gadelaa from CLS Trainingen has some great tips on how you can improve 3D Pie Charts if you still want to use them. The post is in Dutch and can be found here. Also check out his other tips on tricks on visualization in PowerBI, MS Project or Powerpoint, to name a few. One I really like is the way he adds Traffic Lights in MS Project. A great example how visualization can help you pinpoint where your focus should be.

So what about 3D Bar Charts?

With 3D Bar Charts, the distortion effect is not as bad as with a Pie Chart. The reason I tend to avoid them is consistency.

When Pie Charts are 2D, other charts must be 2D as well. It just feels better to me to stick to one model.

My Conclusion

Data Visualization is all about the data first. So don't go overboard with stunning visuals that distract from the data. Or even worse, misrepresent the data.

Stick to simple 2D Charts using primary colors. It just works so much better!

Thanks and a big shout out to Peter Gadelaa for the inspiration for this one!

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You can leave a comment or send a question to andre@andrespeek.com. Let me know if you got inspired and stay safe and healthy always!

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