How and When to Use a Circle Graph

How and When to Use a Circle Graph
Masooma Memon

Written by:
Masooma Memon

Nov 07, 2019
circle graph - header

Did you know that a circle, yes a circle – the very base of a circle graph, was once a god? Or, at least, it was tagged as one by ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles in fifth century BCE.

Amazing, right?

In Greece, circles are symbols of infinity, but to the technical minded among us, circles are the inspiration for some of the most useful inventions like the wheel.

And again, circles are the foundation of a circle graph too. 

A circle graph, also commonly referred to as a pie chart (sound familiar?) is a simple and visually appealing chart divided into wedges, each of which represents a data value.

It’s one of the most commonly used graphs for displaying statistics, so we certainly can’t take its popularity for granted.

This is why we’ve dedicated this post to circle graphs. We’ll kick things off with a definition of a circle graph, jump to its significance and finally take a deep dive into how and when you want to use it. Let’s roll.


What Is a Circle Graph?

You can think of a circle graph as a pizza. All the pizza slices are representatives of data, like the slices in a pie chart. If you slice the pizza unevenly, you’ll get varied data slices.

Make sense?

So let’s restart with the classic definition of a circle graph. A circle graph is a circular representation of data with different slices representing a percentage of the total. Each wedge in the circle is proportional to the quantity it represents.

As each of its slices is a data representative, the circle graph plays a crucial role in effectively communicating data to uninformed readers.

Plus, the visual, at-a-glance nature of a circle graph doesn’t require readers to examine underlying numbers. And a cherry on top is our love for circles – more on that in a bit.

Here's an example:

Create your own pie charts with Visme!Try It For Free

In just a single look, you can tell that 40% of the visuals used in content are stock images, 37% rely on original graphics, 12% use graphs and so on. 

These are all instant observations. You don’t need to fetch the details from the graph’s axis. This is why pie charts score a lot of points in their favor.


Advantages of Using a Circle Graph

Pie charts are beloveds of mass media and business presentations, and are also common data representatives in marketing and sales. They also sneak their way into social media feeds, where these can be used to share boring data in an eye pleasing manner.

The credit for such wide applications of a circle graph goes to its advantages. It’s so simple and easy to understand. On top of that, circle graphs win at information visualization.

Here’s a walk through the pros of a pie chart.

Circle graphs showcase numerical information in an easy-to-understand manner.

“Wait, let me go grab my reading glasses,” said no pie chart reader ever. 

That’s because of the simplicity in the way information is presented by a circle graph, making it easy to digest. In contrast, most other graph types require interpreting numbers on either side of their axis.

Circles are pros at information visualization.

Information can be broadly presented in two graph types – statistical graphics and information visualization. Statisticians Anthony Unwin and Andrew Gelman pointed out the difference between the two.

According to them:

  • Statistical graphs are one for data nerds as their chief goal is to deliver data accurately.
  • Information visualization is concerned with holding viewers’ attention, which is also the humble cause of pie charts.

In short, circle graphs are the right visual aids for storytelling that marketers rely on. Entrepreneurial folks, however, may have to rely on other graphs if the aim is to present accurate data. You can learn more on this in a later section.

Circle charts are circular.

The thing is, we as humans love circles. This is because we associate the curvy shape with health and life, and sharp shapes with danger, as multiple studies confirm.

Angular shapes are also known to trigger fear which, in turn, instills aversion and dislike. Naturally, this tips the balance in favor of curvature and subsequently pie charts.

Pie charts are easy to construct.

While we’ve talked about how pie charts are visually entertaining for your audience, it’s time we look at how helpful they are for you too.

Since the dawn of graphs, circle graphs have been easy to construct, requiring only data, a compass, and a pencil.

With advancement in tech though, the protractor-pen duo was sidelined by Excel and other spreadsheet programs, which have helped develop pie charts.

But let’s be honest, those graphs aren’t nearly as visually rich as a circle graph made using a design tool like Visme.

When using Visme, you simply have to log data into a pre-baked Visme template and tailor it to your preference. For instance, over at Twitter, Matthew Kobach, Head of Social Media for NYSE conducted an interesting poll.

And we converted the data into a pie chart using this ready-made Visme template. The only work that I needed to put into this was editing the template to add data and changing the color scheme, and my circle graph was ready:

circle graph - how to create in visme


When to Use a Circle Graph

Now this is a tricky one. Should you use it with all types of data available? Or should you assign it as your data representative for select data types? The short answer is that a circle graph is suitable for selected cases only. 

Let’s start with when you can use a circle graph.

Use a circle graph when data is varied.

You need different data values before you can visualize them into a pie chart. Let’s say the values you have are 67% and 33%. These will look great in a pie chart as shown below:

circle graph - time spent on web vs apps
Create your own pie charts with Visme!Try It For Free

However, you wouldn't want to use a circle graph for your data visualization if you have two equal data values, for instance, 50% and 50%. 

Think Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres as a case in point here. They divide our planet into two equal parts and it wouldn’t make sense to have a pie chart represent them.

With equal value data, you’d rather write the numbers then show them in a pie chart. Alternatively, make a visually appealing graphic using Visme.

Use a circle graph when you have a maximum of 7 data snippets.

Secondly, use a circle graph when you have between 2-7 data entries. A pie chart with 7+ wedges ends up looking cluttered as in the example below. In such a case, your brain starts perceiving the wedges as one, killing the graph’s entire purpose.

In other words, the more the data slices in a circle chart, the poorer its readability or ease of understanding. So make it a rule to stick with max seven slices.

circle graph - distribution of scientific topics
Create your own pie charts with Visme!Try It For Free

Use a circle graph when you’re comparing parts of a whole.

Lastly, it’s suitable to use a circle graph when you’re comparing data from a whole. For instance, comparing different divisions in a company is comparing parts of a whole.

However, comparing different companies leads to comparing different wholes. So you’re not in a position to use a pie chart, as different companies don’t make a meaningful whole.

Want to create your own pie chart?

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When Not to Use a Circle Graph

Now that you know when it’s best to use a circle graph, let’s take a look at when it doesn't make sense to create one. 

Don’t use a circle graph when you have similar data values.

A pie chart is not suitable for times when the difference between your data entries is minimal. For instance, the data reads 23%, 25%, and 26%. When you plot them on a circle graph, the slices representing each value would be similar in size.

Such similarity makes it challenging for the reader to understand your circle graph. Take a look at the circle graph below – isn’t it confusing?

Create your own pie charts with Visme!Try It For Free

If you have such data available, use a bar chart that makes minor differences obvious.

Don’t use a circle graph when accuracy is the name of the game.

While circle graphs are visually striking by nature, they aren’t very accurate at displaying exact values.

The reason? Data in a pie chart can be easily manipulated. For instance, with the use of 3D effects. These can mislead readers into thinking that a slice is wider than it actually is.

Researchers say the same as they’ve concluded that we can’t estimate the relative size of an angle as well as we can compare length (for instance, in the case of a bar chart). This makes reading a pie chart inaccurate.

We also tend to underestimate acute angles (angles that are less than 90 degrees) while overestimating obtuse angles (angles between 90 to 180 degrees). 

Don’t use a circle graph when you need to show patterns, causes or effects or changes over time.

One other case when you can’t rely on pie charts is when you need to show patterns or changes over time. The plain round fails to show comparison like a graph with exact numerical values can.

One, it isn’t proficient in showing exact values. And two, it can be easily manipulated.

Therefore, it’s best to opt for line graphs when plotting data that tracks changes and bar graphs for data that tracks changes as well as compares between different groups.

Not so surprisingly, Visme can help you with both. Here are line graph templates and bar graph templates for getting you started.


How to Create a Circle Graph

Getting started with circle graphs isn’t all that challenging, even if you didn’t pay attention to your math teacher. Thanks to a pie chart maker such as Visme, you can design a circle graph within a matter of minutes.

But how? Let’s answer that in 6 easy steps.

circle graph - how to create a circle graph infographic

1. Gather your data.

To quickly recap, you need at least two data variables that aren’t similar. Additionally, make sure your pie chart contains 7 wedges max.

2. Select your circle graph maker to design the chart.

Gone are the days of using a spreadsheet for creating a pie chart. What you can do now is try an efficient and easy-to-use tool like Visme.

Here’s a video walkthrough of the process: 

3. Select your color scheme.

A pie chart uses different colors and contrasts for each wedge with the sole aim of enhancing readability. This is because our visual brain is quick to notice differences and contrasts. Therefore, adding colors can help things stand out.

To this end, finalize colors that don’t mask data. You also need to be careful about choosing the right color contrasts. Selecting colors that don’t go with each other can make the graph aversive to look at.

A pro tip is to pick colors that change from dark to light tones and adjust them from the starting slice to the last point of the graph. Or, dive deeper and select shades as per color psychology to hold your audience’s attention.

4. Arrange data clockwise.

Now that you’ve picked the colors, start arranging the data. You could simply put all the data together in a chart and you’d be good to go. Right?

Except it doesn’t quite work like that. When you put all your data together randomly, it appears unappealing. Why? Because each slice is uneven in size.

To beat some style in your chart, you need to arrange different data sectors clockwise in order of their magnitude. So what you get is a graph with slices containing data values that decrease when you start clockwise and complete the circle.

As for data that doesn’t come in a specific category, you can round them up in one and title the slice as “other answers” in the case of a survey or “other types” in the case of data you’ve gathered.

5. Label your circle graph with a head title, legend and short descriptive sentence.

A pie chart would be incomplete without labels. So you’ll need to add three descriptions: 


Customize this animated chart template and make it your own!Edit and Download
  • A head title: A title that suggests what your graph is about.
  • A legend: A key which explains what each of the colors in the circle graph stands for. It goes on either of the chart’s sides (Exhibit A). Alternatively, label the data slices (Exhibit B) in accordance with Tufte’s data ink ratio that suggests you replace legends with data labels to simplify the graph.
  • A short sentence at the bottom: This helps in either describing your circle graph or explaining where you sourced the data from.
circle graph - label your circle graph

6. Lastly, do the squint test.

A squint test requires you to partially close your eyes to blur the image in front of you. The aim is to create a design that stands out. A squint test is suitable for all design work including circle graphs. In fact, it is a crucial practice for making charts.

A squint test helps in the following ways:

  • Allows you to remove extra lines
  • Helps make an objective design
  • Ensures data is properly highlighted and stands out to the reader

On a side note, if you’re new to designing, here’s a resource for avoiding common design mistakes.  


Tips For Using a Circle Graph

We’ve come a long way, but before we wrap this up, let’s quickly talk about three circle graph best practices that you need to bear in mind.

Here goes.

Use multiple pie charts if you need to represent two sets of relevant data.

This is best for comparing two or more data sets of the same category but different variables. A case in point is the difference in the age and marital status variables with the rest of the data remaining the same.

circle graph - use multiple circle graphs
Create your own pie charts with Visme!Try It For Free

There’s one thing of note here though – the coloring and ordering of the charts in kept the same. The reason behind this is simple. It helps facilitate comparison. 

3D and exploding effects are cool but not all the time.

3D effects are self-explanatory. You add three dimensional effects to your graph. Similarly, exploding effects are related with bursting slices of the graph so they’re separate. 

Both these effects may sound interesting, but they don't work in all cases. 

This is because 3D and exploding effects can make it challenging to compare different data categories in a circle graph. Plus, they also exaggerate the real value of data. All thanks to optimal effects, which birth visual illustrations that, in turn, deceive your vision.

In the example below, it’s hard to tell that Chessington World of Adventures or Legoland, Windsor are same-sized slices when it looks like the latter is a wider slice than the former.  

circle graph - tips for using circle graphs

Fortunately, if you’re a fan of such design effects then we’ve some good news. The exploding effect can be used in certain cases, such as when you want to emphasize information in one slice as shown below:  

circle graph - exploding circle graph

You can animate your circle graph.

Animation also works wonders in engaging viewers while making it easy to explain data. In a comparison between animated visualization and static graphs, animation scored first.

The credit for the victory goes to the role that animations play in catching attention, helping viewers interpret data and making comparisons between values.

But you don’t need to be a Photoshop specialist to make animations. Use Visme to create animated charts instead.


Start Designing Circle Graphs Today

Pie charts have always been reader favorites, presenting data in a snackable format.

If you haven’t already sketched a circle graph, start today by signing up for Visme. You can create a visually stunning chart without having to worry about designing it from scratch.

And, if you’re already a pie chart lover, use the pie chart templates on Visme to up your design game. So did you find the perfect template for your circle graph?

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    About the Author

    Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer by day and a novel nerd by night. She crafts research-backed, actionable blog posts for SaaS and marketing brands who aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience.

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