What Is An Area Chart And How Do You Interpret It?


Providing the right context and accessibility, area charts can play a vital role in turning complex datasets into a decipherable visual context. To better understand the benefits, in this article, we will delve into the details of what an area chart is, how it works, and how to extract meaningful insights from it.

Understanding Area Charts

A data visualization model that uses color-coded areas on a graph to represent the volume of various interconnected variables over time, essentially that is what is an area chart. They are fundamentally line charts with their area between the line, and the axis filled with colors or patterns. The visual aspect is the first thing that lures many users to area charts. When comparing different variables, the contrast between the colored areas combined with their relative sizes makes it easier to comprehend the data.

But the visual appeal is just the beginning. The real beauty is their efficacy in showcasing trends, whether positive or negative, over an extended period. This ability makes them a reliable visual tool for analyzing stock market averages, population growth, and climatic changes, among other statistical data. The area under each line conveys not only the direction of the trends but also the magnitude of the change over time.

However, it is imperative to know that as much as area charts can simplify complex data interpretation, they can also be misleading if not accurately used or interpreted. It is for this reason that anyone intending to use them must acquire a deep understanding of the concept.

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A Detailed Look Into Creating an Area Chart

While creating an area chart, the most critical part is data preparation. You need to have all the data mapped out clearly to ensure that each variable is placed in its rightful position in the chart. The next step involves selecting your charting tool of choice. From the tool, you select the area charting option and input your data. At this point, the tool should be able to produce a standard area chart with your data.

The process may vary slightly depending on the tool you are using, but the concept remains the same. There are two primary types of area charts—stacked and layered. In a stacked area chart, various variables are stacked on top of each other creating a cumulative total. On the other hand, in layered area charts, variables are layered over each other. It is crucial to ascertain the type of area chart that matches the data to be analyzed.

Now, once you have your area chart, usually, the data variability is seen in the vertical scales, while the horizontal scales mostly represent the progression of time. The different colored areas represent the different variables. It is a straightforward and easy method to visually understand complex data.

Extracting Meaning From Area Charts

Desk with paperwork of data including an area chart with one employee holding a pencil going over the data

Interpreting an area chart involves capturing both the major trends and minor anomalies within the data set. The upward and downward movements in the colored areas represent fluctuations in the data. A staircase-like formation indicates periodic increases while a saw-tooth pattern points to a regular rise and fall in data values.

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Simultaneously, you must pay attention to the color interactions. A drastic change in color hierarchies, perhaps where one variable surpasses another in magnitude, suggests a significant shift in the data variables. This insight can’t be easily gathered from raw statistical data or other forms of data illustration methods.

Lastly, one should analyze long-term patterns. A macro-view of an area chart provides a broader perspective of patterns and trends over extended periods. This perspective can come in handy, especially in situations where the data variables are cyclical or seasonal.

Overall, area charts are undeniably robust visualization tools that can break down large datasets into digestible formats. However, to be truly meaningful and insightful, their usage must be grounded in careful consideration and understanding. With the correct perspectives and practices, area charts become a powerful instrument in the world of data visualization.