December 11, 2020

Are interactive charts worth your time creating them?

It is not because you can create them that you should.


I get it, interactive charts are appealing, they really are. French might say there is a je ne sais quoi.

But have you tried to seriously make some of them?

You have basically three ways of creating interactive charts if you do not have access to rather expensive commercial solutions:

  • The low level approach with libraries such as D3.js where you can configure every tiny detail.
  • The in-between with Bokeh or Chartjs and equivalent libraries.
  • The high level / low code with Datawrapper.

The “higher” you get, the less code you have to write but you also lose in terms of customization and getting the exact result you want.

It was a fair amount of sweat to make some of them in my coffee market exploratory data analysis and my note on the importance of data literacy during Covid19 pandemic. In the first example, I used Datawrapper, my point was to dive in a market not making a technical demonstration. Even if that was the case, I did spend some time to have the charts the way I wanted to. In the second one, I used D3 and I spent quite a few hours to code the map but my goal was to spend some time exploring the library along the point on data literacy - two birds with one stone.

At the time of writing, I think that creating interactive charts is an investment. If you expect to produce something that will be read/analyzed by large groups of people or the interactivity enables true exploration of the data then, interactivity might be worth it.

Interactive visualizations have some drawbacks too. They are not that easy to share as they require libraries and code to run. Everybody has not the readership of the New York Times or Le Monde which mean that people are coming to a controlled space where you can host and share interactive charts. If you want to spread the visual and the story that you are building, having a *.jpeg or *.png file is much easier to share on social media.

Interactive charts should not become an excuse to communicate visually without purpose and let the reader to decide what he/she wants to see. Like with any kind of communication, determine your decision criteria that make it worth to spend the time crafting them.