what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (2022)

August 31, 2021 by Mike Cisneros

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (1)

This article is part of our back-to-basics blog series called what is…?, where we’ll break down some common topics and questions posed to us. We’ve covered much of the content in previous posts, so this series allows us to bring together many disparate resources, creating a single source for your learning. We believe it’s important to take an occasional pulse on foundational knowledge, regardless of where you are in your learning journey. The success of many visualizations is dependent on a solid understanding of basic concepts. So whether you’re learning this for the first time, reading to reinforce core principles, or looking for resources to share with others—like our new comprehensive chart guide—please join us as we revisit and embrace the basics.

A spider chart, also sometimes called a radar chart, is often used when you want to display data across several unique dimensions. Although there are exceptions, these dimensions are usually quantitative, and typically range from zero to a maximum value. Each dimension’s range is normalized to one another, so that when we draw our spider chart, the length of a line from zero to a dimension’s maximum value will be the same for every dimension.

Spider charts can be found in lots of industries, but rarely in large numbers. In our experience, they’re most likely to pop up in food science (comparing products across multiple different facets of taste, texture, etc.) and in sports analytics (comparing athletes across several dimensions of performance). In one of our previous #SWDchallenges, several participants found other use cases for spider charts, such as comparing series on a time-cycle, comparing the volume of searches for different terms, or even visualizing the motifs in a piece of music.

How do you read a spider chart?

Just like line graphs, scatterplots, and many charts used in business communications, spider charts show data plotted on two different axes. However, the coordinate system that we use to plot data on a spider chart is a little less common: most business charts are drawn using Cartesian coordinates, but spider charts use polar coordinates.

(Video) IBPS PO 2019 Mains - Important DI set | Radar Chart | Spider Chart

Cartesian coordinates

Most common two-dimensional graphs, like scatterplots, use Cartesian coordinates—we use X and Y values to determine points’ locations on two perpendicular axes: the horizontal and the vertical, respectively.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (2)

Each point gets a pair of values (the X and the Y), and we can look at the X/Y location of lots of points at the same time. In this way, we can get a good sense of the relationship between the X variable and the Y variable across every item in our data set.

Said more simply: this kind of graph and coordinate system is intended to aid the viewer in comparing two related measurements across several different items.

Polar coordinates

In a polar coordinate system, while we use two values to determine points’ locations, those values are “distance from the center of the circle” (or, “distance from the pole”), and “angle relative to a reference line.”

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (3)

For spider charts, our second axis (the orange one in the drawing above) isn’t continuous. Instead, we use a discrete number of fixed axes, each one representing a single dimension, spaced equally around the circle.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (4)

See how they kind of look like spokes coming out of the hub of a wheel? In a spider chart, each dimension gets its own spoke, and the spokes are evenly distributed around the wheel. The farther towards the end of the spike, the larger the value. Closest to the center means closer to zero.

With the freedom to use many linear axes, we could show lots of different dimensions for a single item simultaneously...but if we wanted to compare multiple items at the same time, we’d use several individual spider charts (in a small multiple format, perhaps). If it didn’t look too cluttered, we could also do a single overlay with multiple items stacked on top of each other.

(Video) Turning Bad Charts into Compelling Data Stories | Dominic Bohan | TEDxYouth@Singapore

This kind of graph, then, is best suited for comparing several different dimensions in a compact space, but for only one or a few items.

What’s the difference between a radar chart and a spider chart?

The terms “radar chart” and “spider chart” are used more or less interchangeably. It’s only logical to think that maybe we’d only call it a spider chart if we were going to connect the dots that we plot, to make the graph itself reminiscent of a spider’s web...but this is not the case. Whether they’re called radar or spider charts, the dots are almost always connected.

If several series are shown on the same plot, then the graph will start to look more and more like a spider web—especially if the designer chooses not to use color to fill in any areas of the graph. More often than not, the area between the chart’s origin and the lines connecting the dots is filled with a semi-transparent color.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (5)

On occasion you will also see alternating bands of concentric circles as fills. They’re meant to replace or augment gridlines, and help emphasize the size and shape of the filled area.

Also, depending on your tool of choice, your gridlines might be drawn as smooth circles, or they might be drawn as line segments connecting each successive dimension. The effect, then, is that instead of your gridlines being a series of concentric circles, they are a series of concentric polygons…as you’ll soon see in an example below.

When (and how) do I use spider charts effectively?

Spider charts are at their best when used to quickly compare multiple dimensions in a compact space. They can be attention-grabbing, due both to their circular structure and their relative novelty compared to other business graphs, so they can be effective when you need to visually engage your audience. A general audience might find them confusing or intimidating to read without additional guidance (which you can provide—we’ll talk more about that in a later section), but technical audiences might find them intriguing.

Let’s imagine that we have a classroom of students who all just took their final exam. For each student, we know a few different pieces of information:

  • Final exam grade

  • Midterm exam grade

  • Assignments completed during the term

  • Hours spent studying for the exam

  • Days absent (or, to make it more positive: number of classes attended)

Imagine then that we plot these values for one student, Arthur.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (6)

(Video) Creating a Radar Graph in Excel

Here you can see how my tool of choice, Excel, is drawing those gridlines in as polygons, rather than as circles. The data set for Arthur is plotted as a single line, connecting a series of points. Sometimes, you will see spider charts where the area contained by this closed line is filled in with a semi-transparent color.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (7)

Because of the limitations of our tool, we’re using the same range (0-100) for each of these five dimensions. However, the domain is different for some of these measurements. For instance, there were only 25 class days and 12 total assignments, so it doesn’t make sense for those axes to go all the way up to 100.

One way around this limitation is to normalize the data. For each dimension, we know what value is the minimum possible value (zero), and which is the maximum possible value...or, if there is no limit to the maximum possible value (like, how many hours did you study for this test?), then we can use the maximum observed value within the class as the boundary of our domain.

When we normalize Arthur’s data—still using the actual values for our data labels—the spider chart now looks like this:

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (8)

It is possible that this is the view we want to use. We also might want to go a step further, and think about how Arthur performed compared to his classmates; that is, along each of these dimensions, into what percentile of actual results did he fall? By calculating the percentiles, we can then draw a spider chart where every axis’s range of values goes from 0 to 1, or from the lowest percentile to the highest. This will give us a better comparative view of the data.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (9)

(Video) How to create a Radar Chart in Excel

When we applied this transformation to our data, Arthur’s chart got a lot smaller. It wasn’t clear before, because we didn’t have the context of the rest of his classmates’ performances, but Arthur seems to be one of the lowest-performing students. Let’s layer on two of his friends, Barb and Corey, for comparison.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (10)

With this context, we can make some visual assessments. Arthur didn't go to class as often as his classmates, did the fewest assignments, barely studied, and was near the bottom of the barrel on his midterm and his final. Barb was a superstar: she did all the assignments, studied hard, and aced both tests. The only knock against her as a student is that she missed class a lot, although it didn’t seem to hurt her performance. Corey, like Barb, succeeded on tests, but learned more from attending class than from doing assignments.

Things to keep in mind when you’re using a spider chart

Mitigate the challenge of comparing things by area

At the heart of it all, when we represent our data in a spider chart, we’re asking an audience to judge and assess that data by comparing areas. People are good at comparing data in one dimension at a time—bar charts are super easy to read—but are notoriously bad at comparing multiple dimensions simultaneously… even if it’s simple shapes like squares or circles. With spider charts, we’re asking an audience to compare the relative areas, angles, and peaks of irregular polygons (possibly while they are overlaid atop one another).

That already seems challenging, but there’s yet another layer of built-in complexity: our metrics for each chosen dimension will increase linearly along our radius. If we shade in the areas between the radius and the center of our plot, the area of that shading will increase geometrically, not linearly. That means that we will wind up visually overrepresenting larger values versus smaller values.

In a live setting, introduce your audience to this chart gradually

It will be helpful, in a live setting, if you can narrate and animate the building of your spider chart piece by piece. That way, this dense and potentially intimidating graph type could be introduced slowly and deliberately. By taking the time to escort your audience through the graph’s structure and meaning, you’ll be able to bring them to a complex and nuanced understanding of your analysis. If not in a live setting, you’ll likely have to annotate your charts liberally (or iterate to a simpler chart type to make sure the takeaways aren’t lost).

Order the axes thoughtfully and consistently

Since you could theoretically place the items in any order, the area that gets shaded in could have wildly different shapes and sizes depending on your choices. One way to mitigate this is to group meaningful metrics as close together as possible, and use the same order consistently every time you use a spider chart for all similarly-structured data sets. If your data lends itself to grouping or to supercategories, you could use color to help your audience visually distinguish among them.

Consider similar alternatives

A parallel coordinates chart is somewhat like an unspooled spider chart. Instead of each axis starting from the same point of origin and radiating out from one another, we place those axes in parallel, vertically. Then we end up comparing things on the Y axis, as each one of our metrics is one spike along the X axis.

what is a spider chart and when should I use a spider chart? — storytelling with data (11)

It’s not as elegant as a spider chart visually, but it can make the comparisons easier to see, as it resembles the far more common line graph and as such will feel more familiar to a broader audience. One downside, however, is that it isn’t, in fact, a common line graph (each vertical axis is a different scale), and its resemblance to one may lead to a casual viewer misinterpreting the visual entirely.

Final thoughts

Spider charts can be appealingly efficient, because they can visually encode a lot of different information in a small area. Keep in mind, though, that an unfamiliar audience may need to expend a lot of effort in order to read them, or to understand a key takeaway. When a spider chart is essential to communicate something specific, make sure you’re supporting your audience’s understanding through narration or step-by-step animation. If that isn’t an option, then consider using a different, simpler chart to make your insights clear.

Now that we’ve taken a tour through the ins and outs of bubble charts, be sure to continue your journey through the rest of our “what is...?” chart series, by browsing other common visuals like bars and lines, or explore our comprehensive chart guide page for additional chart types.

(Video) How to create Radar chart in Python using Matplotlib

FAQs

What is a spider chart used for? ›

Spider diagrams help you to make connections between ideas, explore possible solutions, and visualize concepts that may otherwise be difficult to understand. They allow you to see the bigger picture of a topic or problem and the more specific details.

When should you use a radar chart? ›

Radar Charts are used to compare two or more items or groups on various features or characteristics. Example: Compare two anti-depressant drugs on features such as: efficacy for severe depression, prevalence of specific side effects, interaction with alcohol, continuation of relief over time, cost to the consumer etc.

When should you not use a radar chart? ›

Cons of using a Spider and Radar Chart

Radar charts are harder to plot compared to other charts. These charts are limited to certain types of data. It is best not to attempt to plot more than 3 sets of a group in a radar chart. Too many polygons can make the chart messy and confusing to read.

Which is called as spider chart? ›

The radar chart is also known as web chart, spider chart, spider graph, spider web chart, star chart, star plot, cobweb chart, irregular polygon, polar chart, or Kiviat diagram. It is equivalent to a parallel coordinates plot, with the axes arranged radially.

What is the difference between a mind map and spider diagram? ›

Like spider diagrams, mind maps also have a central idea with other concepts branching from it to visually organize information. Both mind maps and spider diagrams have hierarchical structures. However, a mind map can have numerous levels of nodes, with main branches and sub-branches.

How do you make a spider chart? ›

Go to the “Insert” tab in Excel. Then, in “Other Charts,” select the “Radar with Markers” chart. It will insert a blank radar chart in Excel. Right-click on the chart and select “Select Data” below.

What are the different types of chart? ›

Types of Charts and Graphs
  • Bar Chart. Bar charts are one of the most common data visualizations. ...
  • Line Chart. The line chart, or line graph, connects several distinct data points, presenting them as one continuous evolution. ...
  • Pie Chart. ...
  • Maps. ...
  • Density Maps. ...
  • Scatter Plot. ...
  • Gantt Chart. ...
  • Bubble Chart.

Which chart provides the best visual display? ›

Scatterplot. Scatter plots are useful for showing precise, data dense visualizations, correlations, and clusters between two numeric variables.

How do you explain a radar chart? ›

How to Read A Radar Chart - YouTube

What is the best situation to use pie graph? ›

Pie charts are best to use when you are trying to compare parts of a whole. They do not show changes over time.

What is the difference between radar chart and stock chart? ›

Explanation: Stock charts are designed to display stock market data. There are four different sub-types that accommodate various combinations of Open, High, Low, Close, and Volume data. Radar charts are ideal for showing values relative to a center point and are ideally suited for showing exceptions to a trend.

What is spider web analysis? ›

Spider Web Chart, also called radar chart, a graphical method to represent multivariate data in the form of a two-dimensional chart of three or more quantitative variables.

What is spider diagram in design thinking? ›

What is a spider diagram? A spider diagram is a visual brainstorming technique. Like the name suggests, you lay out your ideas to look a little like a spider, with a main idea in the middle and lines that branch out to add more insights or connected ideas.

How do you make a spider chart in tableau? ›

How to in Tableau in 5 mins: Build a Radar Chart - YouTube

What is spider concept map? ›

A spider map is a type of concept map that starts with a key concept and branches out into related ideas. Also called mind maps or idea webs, spider maps are useful for guiding brainstorming sessions or organizing thoughts, as they allow you to see the relationships between ideas at a glance.

What is mind mapping and how does it work? ›

A mind map involves writing down a central theme and thinking of new and related ideas which radiate out from the centre. By focusing on key ideas written down in your own words and looking for connections between them, you can map knowledge in a way that will help you to better understand and retain information.

What is spider map in English? ›

Spider mapping which is sometimes called Semantic map is a graphic organizer that can be used for brainstorming ideas, aspects, and thoughts of normally a single theme or topic. It gets its name because of the way it looks when drawn out.

How do you make a spider graph on Microsoft Word? ›

Up to Insert on Menu Bar, down to objects and then scroll down till you find Diagram. When the diagram gallery opens, double click on the third one, top row which is the spider one.

How do you explain a bubble chart? ›

A bubble chart is a variation of a scatter chart in which the data points are replaced with bubbles, and an additional dimension of the data is represented in the size of the bubbles. Just like a scatter chart, a bubble chart does not use a category axis — both horizontal and vertical axes are value axes.

Which type of chart will be most effective? ›

Line charts are the most effective chart for displaying time-series data. They can handle a ton of data points and multiple data series, and everyone knows how to read them.

Which chart to use for which data? ›

If you want to compare values, use a pie chart — for relative comparison — or bar charts — for precise comparison. If you want to compare volumes, use an area chart or a bubble chart. If you want to show trends and patterns in your data, use a line chart, bar chart, or scatter plot.

What is the best way to display data? ›

10 useful ways to visualize your data (with examples)
  1. Indicator.
  2. Line chart.
  3. Column chart.
  4. Bar chart.
  5. Pie chart.
  6. Area chart.
  7. Pivot table.
  8. Scatter chart.
24 Jun 2016

What are the advantages of radar chart? ›

You can make comparisons quickly. Radar charts represent data in shapes that you can lay over one another and quickly compare how the groups compare. Simple visual comparisons of the size and shape of each polygon allow you to save time.

What can I use instead of a radar chart? ›

If you want to compare data across multiple criteria and regions then radar charts are not ideal. Better choices are Conditional Formatting Data Bars, bar charts, small multiples and Sparklines.

What does a radar chart look like? ›

Typically a radar chart looks like an irregular polygon, or like several irregular polygons stacked on top of each other, all with the same center. Radar charts are also called spider charts, web charts, cobweb charts, star plots, polar charts, or Kiviat charts.

Which graph is commonly used to display data over time? ›

Line Graph

A line graph reveals trends or progress over time and you can use it to show many different categories of data.

When would the pie chart be an effective visualization? ›

In short, a pie chart can only be used if the sum of the individual parts add up to a meaningful whole, and is built for visualizing how each part contributes to that whole. Meanwhile, a bar chart can be used for a broader range of data types, not just for breaking down a whole into components.

How do you analyze data from a pie chart? ›

Interpreting Pie Charts

When assessing more than one pie chart, compare the sizes of the categories between charts. Understanding how the slices for the same groups change between pie charts can help you recognize the relationships in your data. The graph below displays total sales by category for two locations.

What chart type can display two different chart types at the same time? ›

Combination charts enable you to compare different series of data through different types of chart on the same axes simultaneously. This is useful for visualizing large quantities of data in varied formats.

Which chart type displays the data horizontally in Excel? ›

X Y (scatter) chart

Excel plots one variable on the horizontal X-axis and the other variable on the vertical Y-axis. Scatter charts are often used to represent data in educational, scientific, and medical experiments.

How do I create a spider diagram in Excel? ›

To create a radar or spider chart in Excel, select your data, then click on the Insert tab, Other Charts, then Radar.

What type of structure is a spider web? ›

A spider web, often called cobweb, is a structure of thread-like silk created by spiders typically for catching their prey.

How do you identify a spider? ›

Look at the size of the legs in proportion to the body. Some spiders have long, thin legs (like the yellow sac), while others have stocky, thick legs (like the wolf spider). Some spiders (such as the lynx spider) have tiny hairs on their legs, while others have spikes (such as the funnel spider) or fur.

What is a Web chart in English? ›

Overview: What is a web chart(tm)?

It is a graphical representation of multivariate data. With this sort of chart, various groups of values with multiple common variables on a single chart that is shaped like a web.

What is spider diagram geology? ›

A spider diagram (spidergram) in geochemistry is a category plot of element concentrations. Typically whole-rock compositions are normalized by dividing by corresponding element concentrations in some parental composition; basaltic oceanic crust might be normalized to CI chondrite meteorites, for instance.

What is spider web analysis? ›

Spider Web Chart, also called radar chart, a graphical method to represent multivariate data in the form of a two-dimensional chart of three or more quantitative variables.

What is spidergram in communication process? ›

Meaning of spidergram in English

a diagram (= simple plan) with lines and circles for organizing information so that it is easier to use or remember: Use spidergrams to organize your English vocabulary into different subjects. Compare. Mind Map.

How do you explain a radar chart? ›

How to Read A Radar Chart - YouTube

How do you normalize REE data? ›

So simply divide your each element value by the chondrite value of the same element as mentioned above. Now your data is ready to plot. Eu/Eu* = 2*Eu(CN)/(Sm+Gd)CN (multiply your chondrite normalize Eu value by 2 and divide it by summation of chondrite normalized values of Sm and Gd)....and your are done!!!!

Why is chondrite normalized? ›

Because they often lack other sources of data and have very limited access to specimens (!), planetary scientists must rely especially heavily on chemical data.

What are the different types of chart? ›

Types of Charts and Graphs
  • Bar Chart. Bar charts are one of the most common data visualizations. ...
  • Line Chart. The line chart, or line graph, connects several distinct data points, presenting them as one continuous evolution. ...
  • Pie Chart. ...
  • Maps. ...
  • Density Maps. ...
  • Scatter Plot. ...
  • Gantt Chart. ...
  • Bubble Chart.

What type of structure is a spider web? ›

A spider web, often called cobweb, is a structure of thread-like silk created by spiders typically for catching their prey.

How do you identify a spider? ›

Look at the size of the legs in proportion to the body. Some spiders have long, thin legs (like the yellow sac), while others have stocky, thick legs (like the wolf spider). Some spiders (such as the lynx spider) have tiny hairs on their legs, while others have spikes (such as the funnel spider) or fur.

How do you do a spider diagram on word? ›

Up to Insert on Menu Bar, down to objects and then scroll down till you find Diagram. When the diagram gallery opens, double click on the third one, top row which is the spider one.

What is a spider diagram in history? ›

oxford. views 1,428,169 updated. spider diagram A useful plot, used in igneous petrology to show variations between two rocks or rock types for a wide range of elements. Usually, one rock is a standard type, e.g. a mid-oceanic-ridge basalt or a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite.

What is spider map in English? ›

Spider mapping which is sometimes called Semantic map is a graphic organizer that can be used for brainstorming ideas, aspects, and thoughts of normally a single theme or topic. It gets its name because of the way it looks when drawn out.

What are the advantages of radar chart? ›

You can make comparisons quickly. Radar charts represent data in shapes that you can lay over one another and quickly compare how the groups compare. Simple visual comparisons of the size and shape of each polygon allow you to save time.

Which chart provides the best visual display? ›

Scatterplot. Scatter plots are useful for showing precise, data dense visualizations, correlations, and clusters between two numeric variables.

What can I use instead of a radar chart? ›

If you want to compare data across multiple criteria and regions then radar charts are not ideal. Better choices are Conditional Formatting Data Bars, bar charts, small multiples and Sparklines.

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