Do you know when to use each visualization in Power BI?

Last updated by Chloe Lin [SSW] 4 months ago.See history

Power BI offers a variety of visualizations, each suited for different types of data and insights. Choosing the correct visualization is crucial for effectively communicating data stories.

Figure: The out of the box visuals from Power BI

Here's a guide to understanding when to use each type of visualization provided in Power BI, according to the visual selector interface.

Column Chart

column chart
Figure: Use when: Comparing categories or tracking changes over time.

Stacked Column Chart

stacked column chart
Figure: Use when: Comparing parts of a whole across categories.

Clustered Column Chart

clustered columns
Figure: Use when: Comparing multiple categories and their sub-categories.

100% Stacked Column Chart

100 stacked columns
Figure: Use when: Showing the percentage distribution across categories.

Bar Chart

bar chart
Figure: Use when: Comparing categories horizontally.

Stacked Bar Chart

stacked bar chart
Figure: Use when: Comparing parts of a whole across categories horizontally.

Clustered Bar Chart

clustered bar chart
Figure: Use when: Comparing multiple categories and their sub-categories horizontally.

100% Stacked Bar Chart

100 stacked bars
Figure: Use when: Showing the percentage distribution across categories horizontally.

Line Chart

line chart
Figure: Use when: Displaying trends over time.

Line and Stacked Column Chart

line and stacked column chart
Figure: Use when: Combining trends and part-to-whole relationships.

Ribbon Chart

ribbon chart
Figure: Use when: Visualizing ranking changes in a category over time.

Area Chart

area chart
Figure: Use when: Demonstrating the magnitude of change over time.

An Area Chart would be chosen over a Line Chart when you want to highlight the cumulative magnitude of values over time, showing not just the trend but also the volume beneath the trend line, emphasizing the total value across the timeline.

e.g. If you are looking at the total revenue generated by a product over the same period, an area chart is better than a line chart because it not only shows the trend of revenue over time but also gives a sense of the total revenue accumulation, providing a visual impression of growth beyond just the trend line.

Stacked Area Chart

stacked area chart
Figure: Use when: Breaking down the contribution of different components to a whole over time.

Area charts are excellent for stacked charts because it’s a simple and clear way to clearly portray the cumulative nature of the data. For example, if the above example was visualized with a line chart, it wouldn’t be immediately apparent to the user that the values are added together, not compared against each other.

Pie Chart

pie chart
Figure: Use when: Illustrating proportions within a whole.

Choose a pie chart when you need a simple, classic representation of each category's contribution to the whole, where the focus is on relative sizes of the parts to the whole.

Donut Chart

Figure: Use when: Similar to a pie chart but with a hole in the center, to emphasize the parts-to-whole relationship.

Opt for a donut chart over a pie chart when you want to include additional information in the center, such as the total value, or to improve readability when comparing multiple pie-like charts.


Figure: Use when: Displaying hierarchical data as part of a whole with nested rectangles.

A treemap is preferable to a pie or donut chart when you have hierarchical data and need to show part-to-whole relationships across multiple levels in a compact and space-efficient manner.


Figure: Use when: Showing geographical data.

Filled Map

filled map
Figure: Use when: Displaying how a value varies across geographic regions, with areas filled in color.

Azure Map

azure map
Figure: Use when: Integrating geographical data with the advanced spatial analytics capabilities of Azure.

This visualization is suitable when you need not only to plot data points on a map but also to leverage Azure's cloud-based location services for more in-depth geographic analysis, such as calculating routes, visualizing traffic conditions, or creating heatmaps based on the intensity of activity in different areas. It's a powerful tool for scenarios requiring a combination of mapping and intricate spatial operations.

ArcGIS Maps

arcgis map
Figure: Use when: Leveraging advanced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) capabilities for sophisticated and detailed geographic data analysis.

ArcGIS Maps in Power BI is suitable for scenarios that require more than basic mapping, such as thematic maps, heat maps, and demographic layers. This visual is particularly useful when geographical context and spatial analysis are key to understanding and presenting your data, such as in urban planning, environmental monitoring, or market analysis.

Scatter Chart or Bubble Chart

scatter chart
Figure: Use when: Investigating the relationship between different variables.

For example, if you're trying to identify if there's a relationship between sales volume and advertising spend, a scatter chart can plot each point of data in the two-dimensional space where one axis represents sales volume and the other represents advertising spend.

This visualization is beneficial when you want to explore potential connections or correlations between variables, identify outliers that don't fit the general pattern, or even to see the distribution and concentration of data points.

If a 3rd dimension is added (as above) it's represented by the size of the bubbles. this sometimes known as a Bubble Chart.

Waterfall Chart

waterfall chart
Figure: Use when: Showing a sequential breakdown of intermediate values leading to a final result.

The clear visualization of incremental changes helps identify how individual components contribute to the total outcome, making the waterfall chart a powerful tool for detailed, step-by-step analysis.

Funnel Chart

funnel chart
Figure: Use when: Displaying the flow through a process or funnel.

Gauge Chart

gauge chart
Figure: Use when: Illustrating progress toward a goal or a current value within a range.

In this example, a car retailer is tracking the sales team's average sales per month. The gauge needle represents the sales goal of 140 cars sold. The minimum sales average is zero and the maximum is 200. The blue shading shows that the team is averaging about 120 sales this month. They have one more week to reach the goal.

KPI (Key Performance Indicator)

Figure: Use when: Showcasing a single key performance indicator.

This space efficient visualisation shows the target number, the current number, the variance %, and the trend of the number over time.


Figure: Use when: Highlighting a single value prominently.

Multi-Row Card

multi row card
Figure: Use when: Displaying a list of multiple key metrics or attributes.


Figure: Use when: Presenting detailed data and metrics in a grid format.


Figure: Use when: Showing data structured in rows and columns, often with aggregates.

You might choose to use a matrix over a table in Power BI when you need to display data with two or more dimensions, allowing for a more complex hierarchical structure with expandable row and column headers, and when summarizing data with built-in aggregations, like sums or averages, is necessary for a condensed view.


Figure: Use when: Allowing users to filter and segment the data interactively.

Key Influencers

key influencers
Use when: You want to identify and display which factors most significantly affect a chosen metric or outcome.

The Key Influencers visualization helps in discovering patterns in the data, such as which variables most contribute to an increase or decrease in your target metric. It is particularly useful in scenarios where you want to perform a lightweight and interpretable form of analysis to drive business decisions, such as understanding customer satisfaction drivers or pinpointing reasons for sales trends.

Decomposition Tree

decomposition tree
Figure: Use when: You need to explore data hierarchically and break down a metric into its contributing factors to understand the root causes or influences.

The decomposition tree is effective for drilling into dimensions of data to see how they contribute to the overall metric, allowing for dynamic exploration by users who can choose the factors to analyze at each level of the tree. It is particularly useful for ad-hoc exploratory analysis and root cause determination.


q a
Figure: Use when: You want to interact with your data using natural language queries to get immediate visual responses.

The Q&A visual is particularly useful when users may not be familiar with the underlying data model or when they wish to explore the data without pre-defined reports or dashboards. It's a powerful feature for creating a conversational data exploration experience within Power BI.

Smart Narrative

smart narrative
Figure: Use when: Generating summaries and insights from your visuals and data points.

Smart Narrative is ideal for creating data-driven narratives that provide context, explanations, and annotations, enhancing the report's storytelling aspect. This feature is particularly useful when you want to provide written explanations alongside your data or to offer automated interpretations of complex visualizations for report viewers.


Figure: Use when:** Tracking and displaying key metrics at a glance, often in a scorecard format that highlights data trends and goal progress.

The Metrics visual can combine numbers, charts, and conditional formatting to provide a comprehensive snapshot of performance, making it ideal for dashboards that executives and team leaders use for quick status checks and decision-making.

Paginated Reports

paginated reports
Figure: Use when: You require printable, pixel-perfect reports that can be distributed across your organization in a consistent format.

Paginated Reports are ideal for creating highly formatted, multi-page documents that can be exported to formats like PDF and Word, often used for regulatory filings, invoice generation, detailed financial statements, or any scenario where the layout and format are as important as the data itself.

Power App

power app
Figure: Use when: Integrating interactive applications within your Power BI reports.

The Power Apps visual allows you to bring the capabilities of custom apps into your dashboard, enabling users to perform tasks or input data directly from the report. This is particularly useful for creating a seamless workflow where users can act on data insights without leaving the Power BI environment, such as updating records or triggering business processes.

Power Automate

power automate
Figure: Use when: Adding a button to kick off an automation based on insights gained from your Power BI data.

The Power Automate visual allows you to set up automated workflows that can be triggered directly from your reports. This is ideal for scenarios where immediate action is required based on data changes or thresholds, like sending alerts, integrating with other services, or initiating business processes in response to data-driven events.

Ellipsis (Other)

  • Use when: Accessing additional visuals not shown directly on the visualization pane or custom visuals.

Remember, the choice of visualization should not only depend on what looks good but also on what communicates the data most effectively to your audience.

Tip: Always preview your data with different visualizations to determine which one best tells the story of your data.

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