A focus on visualizations: Combo charts


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We always want the best of both worlds. Take, for example, an unusual recent gastronomic trend. If you are craving the sweetness of chocolate, but you’re also feeling up for something salty and fried… why not have them together? And so the Fried Snickers bar was born. Or, the newest apps designed to optimize your runs, by not only tracking your route, pace, and calories burnt, but also providing real time coaching and feedback to motivate you and push you further (something we all may want to try after taste testing one of those fried treats!).

The point here is, we value combinations, and that doesn’t stop at what we like to eat, or the apps we download. It includes the way we do what we enjoy most here at Sweetspot: visualize and report data. Specifically, we would like to turn our focus today to the power of using combination charts to truly get the best mix of your marketing efforts in one neat visualization.

When to use a combination chart When NOT to use a combination chart
Combo charts are best used to:

  • communicate the shape of data over the value of categorical data
  • show a relationship between two or more sets of data
Because of it’s many functionalities, combo charts can be used on many occasions, although other charts may be better suited in certain circumstances, such as:

  • measuring parts to a whole – Pie Chart
  • representing geographic data – Map Chart

Classic Combos:

Bar & Line Combination Chart:

We’ve already covered the ins and outs of bar graphs and line charts in our visualization series, now it’s time to take a look at them together. Overlaying a line over a bar graph offers readers visualizations capable of providing richer information, which in turn allows them to discover the most useful insights.

bar and line combo chart

Column & Line Combination Chart:

Column charts, just like bar graphs, serve dashboard readers by helping them visualize categorical data and comparing it side by side. The main purpose of both the column and line chart remains the same, even when they are combined. Columns are best used to represent categorical data, while lines displays the distribution of data over time (trend).

line and column chartMulti Series Column & Line Chart:

The ability to add multiple series to the same chart allows data crunchers to visualize how various categorical data compares. If you would like to measure the effectiveness of your twitter account you may measure the number of subscribers and tweets to amount of shares your audience is generating.

Multi Series Column and Line ChartStacked Column & Line Chart:

Continuing from our last example, you may take your engagement analysis a bit further by using a stacked column and line chart together. Stacked columns not only compare data, but allow you to represent variables in a sequence. Here you see the main engagement variable in the columns. A stand alone column represents shares, while there is a second column combining tweets and likes. To see the full effect, a line is overlaid displaying how many subscribers are following your twitter account.Stacked Column and Line Combo

Things to Consider:

Bar or Column?

The difference? Bar charts are oriented horizontally whereas the Column charts are oriented vertically. When deciding whether you’d like to use a bar or column chart in your combination graph, personal preference should be taken into account, as well as what is to be measured and organizational visualization standards. Choose the option that best speaks your organization’s, and most importantly, the reader’s language.

Our suggestion: anytime you wish to view the trend, combine a line and column chart. Trend lines are designed to aid the reader in visualizing the shape of the data, and as you can imagine this is nearly impossible to do when viewing a vertical line.

Column and Line Chart An example of when you may want to combine bars and lines when you are not measuring time-sensitive data. If you are measuring specific video campaigns in one set time period, you will be able to measure each campaign side by side in a bar graph, while simultaneously displaying the amount of time each video aired as a line graph.

Bar and Line Combo - Video CampaignsAs long as a trend line is not present, designers may choose between the two options, deciding objectively based on the needs and wants of the end receiver.


While dashboard designers are not obligated to use two scales, one for the columns, and another for the line, we highly recommend doing so where this would improve the readability of the graph. Putting aside the strong possibility of ambiguity, by using two quantitative scales you will eliminate wasted space that may appears as gaps between the columns and line.

Single Scale Combo ChartCombo Chart two scales

 Going overboard:

We’ve repeated this time and time again, no visualization is useful if it is overflowing with unreadable information. Keep it clear. If you’ve added too many series, try to find a way to cut them down, or consider using multiple graphs to represent your ideas. It may be ideal to just have one, but do you really want it to look like the graph below?

multi line combo chart


So whether it is a sweet and salty treat, or an effective visualization of your marketing efforts, combinations aren’t going out of style anytime soon! So take advantage of the mix to show your most important metrics together. Combination charts can be added to any report to allow your stakeholders to see just how your complementary metrics are leading you and your organizations to discover the insights capable of driving your company to take action!

How do you use combo charts to optimize your reporting experience?

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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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