Footprinter works hard on tools that bring data to life. It is not just a table of numbers - it's insight and conclusions.

We are all visual learners - since we were babies. And a well-designed set of visualizations can make a huge difference in how well you communicate. Did people really get and understand your messages?

What we find is that while there are incredibly rich and powerful visualizations out there, a small group of simple ones usually works really well. It's like telling a story with simple words. If you need anything complex, perhaps you don't have a tight enough or compelling enough story. If your audience has to work to get the message - then you haven't done your job.

The first three visualizations are about spotting the big elephant in the room. The last two deal with performance.

1. Donut/Pie

This simple chart is the best way to isolate the big thing in a short list. Everybody knows how to read a pie chart. Pie charts also work really nicely for breakdowns. It's pretty clear in the donut below that 4 of 5 LCA stages make up the total and are all about the same impact.

2. Hotspot

A hotspot chart is really just a bar chart - or a tuned up bar chart. A hotspot chart is good when you have a moderate number of things to compare. We try always to have a hotspot view of lists of things like the components of a footprint. Clearly the top two agricultural chemicals have a large relative carbon footprint in the library below.

3. Heatmap

A heatmap is a two dimensional hotspot chart. A heatmap is helpful when you have more data than a hotspot chart does well with and it's maybe not so important to find "the biggest" item in a list. A heatmap is also nicely space efficient because it is 2D and so it reduces the need to scroll. Data filtering also works wonders on a heatmap.

4. Gauges

Speedometer-type gauges (as well as other varieties) are excellent for showing performance. Traffic light colors can be used to show target ranges. And more than one value can be plotted. With the gauges below it is easy to quickly understand what type of improvement is required to meet target.

5. Columns

The column chart jazzed up with some coloring and sorted data is an excellent way to show benchmark data - best and worst performers in a group. If you want to get tricky, you can overlay a line chart in the case of displaying aggregate and normalized (per unit) data. Can you spot the poor performing products below?


Two other chart design elements are really important: color and thumnbails. Color helps to direct the audience to the message - the key data. And thumbnails add another dimension of the story you can tell dynamically - encouraging the audience to drill in.

Greg Bier - CEO