Pie Charts are (almost always) Bad UX

Every enterprise tool out there has a pie chart somewhere in it. Yet, these visualizations often are confusing, hard to read, and a waste of space. let’s look more closely at the notorious pie chart.

Where do Pie Charts go wrong?

More than a dozen slices make me crazy. These are pure monstrosities. Any designer who does this on purpose is nuts. How can anyone tell one color of red from another?

Even with 6 items, you still need to work hard to compare things.

Down to 3, still hard to decipher and compare

At 2, it starts to be easy to read.

This is all compared to the ease of readability of a bar graph. See the same data as pie vs bar:

See how much easier it is to read and compare? Pie charts inherently make it difficult to compare because there are no grid lines to look at.  Even just showing a table the data is easier.

What about Donut charts?

Nope, same problem. Harder to read than a bar chart.

So, why do we use them?

Because they are pretty and different. Don’t underestimate how much a nice dashboard can help a salesperson tell a story. The last thing sales wants to show are tables and a repetitive series of line charts. They want pizazz! They want diversity! Designers have to design for prospects just as much as they design for users.

How can I have something pretty and different and also useable?

Speedometers can be better than a pie chart for showing similar data.

Mix up the details to make it visually appealing.

Be creative with your visualizations

Bottom Line

Pie Charts exist for a reason, but most of the time when I see them in an analytics tool, they are not helpful. There are always better ways to show data. We have to support sales with sexy charts, but slapping on a pie chart alone won’t do the trick.

For example: I just put in a small pie chart in an app I am designing.

It’s small and simple. It has a single important slice and the space it was in wasn’t being used for something else otherwise.

Yes, I have a bias against pie charts, but that doesn’t mean to hate them 100% of the time. Just 95% of the time. I wish I had a chart to explain that.

I scheduled this post for March 14.

Image result for see what i did there

Get it? Pie? Pi Day. 3/14? #DadJokes

Whatya think?