What is a Pictorial Chart?

A pictorial chart is a visual representation of data by using pictograms. It uses icons or pictures in relative sizes to highlight some data pattern and trends. They are commonly viewed in business communications or news articles to visually compare data.

Early written symbols were based on pictographs (pictures which resemble what they signify) and ideograms (symbols which represent ideas). Ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and Chinese civilizations began to adapt such symbols to represent concepts, developing them into logographic writing systems.  

The idea of the universal language of pictorials was best developed by an Austrian social scientist Otto Neurath and a German designer Gerd Arntz in the late 1920’s. Together, they were the perfect fit to develop an ISOTYPE (International System Of TYpographic Picture Education) – a set of 4000 pictograms that could express almost anything.

pictorial chart examples

View more examples of pictorial charts.

Infogram is a free online chart maker that offers four different pictorial chart types (amount comparison, size comparison, pictorial bar and facts and figures) that represent quantitative and qualitative data with pictorials. Here is a short guide on how to use each of them.

  • Amount comparison – The amount comparison chart is similar to a stacked bar chart with only one bar. It is a good choice if you have not more than five categories to compare. The power of pictorials is in their familiar shapes, so try to find an icon that represents your categories. Take it to the next level by assigning different colors to each category.

  • Size comparison – The key to success when using size-comparison pictorial charts is choosing not more than three categories to compare with very different values. Remember, the human eye can only tell which category is greater, not how much greater. Small changes in values you compare will make the visualization useless.

  • Pictorial bar - This is probably the most effective use of pictorial charts. You can use it every time you want to show how much something is in relation to the whole. Just define how many icons get colored and add a text to display to the right side of the bar.
    Tip: The more icons you set to represent the “whole” the smaller they will get. Use no more than 10 icons. One colored icon will represent 10% from the whole.

  • Facts and figures - Choose this type to highlight quality data you may have. This is a good choice if you need more than 7 words to express your message. The trick here is to choose powerful facts and find the right icon to represent it.

When to Use a Pictorial Chart

Pictorial charts use icons or pictures in relative sizes to highlight some data pattern and trends, usually to compare the number of units, size or progress. They are good when comparing few categories with clear differences, and can be commonly viewed in business communications or news articles.

How to Create a Pictorial Chart

You can make a pictorial chart in 5 easy steps:

  1. Join Infogram to make your own pictorial chart.
  2. Select a pictorial chart type (amount comparison, size comparison or pictorial bar).
  3. Upload or copy and paste your data.
  4. Customize labels, colors, and fonts.
  5. Download your pictorial chart or embed on your website.

Best Practices

  • Avoid using very detailed icons, so the reader can understand it at a glance. Try to think of the simplest picture that represents the data.
  • Avoid using pictorial charts for large data sets, since it usually makes it hard to count the values;

 

Have more questions about the appropriate type of chart to use? Check out this article.