A few posts ago, I showed you this collage of area charts, which could be printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper and used as a discussion starter at a meeting:

Grid lines are muted, 1

This is made-up data, but I share handouts like these at meetings all the time. The typical reaction: “It’s just so simple!”

What’s the key to this handout’s simplicity?

Secret #1 is that I intentionally made nine separate charts, one chart per series of data (rather than three line charts with three series of data each, like one line chart for indicator #1’s data for Virginia and Texas and California together).

Secret #2 is that I intentionally removed the grid lines. Lots of little charts –> need uncluttered design so that readers’ brains don’t feel cluttered.

Bad Version #1

Here’s what that same handout would’ve looked like with horizontal grid lines:


Score on the “grid lines, if present, are muted” item in our Data Visualization Checklist: 0 of 2 points.

Really Bad Version #2

And that same handout again with vertical grid lines…

It’s like peering at your data through a tennis racket.


Score on the Data Visualization Checklist: 0 of 2 points.

Really Really Bad Version #3

But boy oh boy does it get better.

Here’s the same handout again, but this time the data’s displayed in line charts instead of area charts.

How are stakeholders supposed to make decisions based on data if they can’t even see it?


Score on the Data Visualization Checklist: 0 of 2 points.

Original Version, Plus An Alternative

Phew, what a relief. Here’s that original version again.

Can you see why I removed the grid lines altogether?


Score on the Data Visualization Checklist: 2 of 2 points.


And if your boss/colleague/client isn’t used to grid line-free charts, try something like this.

In this version, I muted the grid lines. Muting means I altered the color—the grid lines are light gray instead of black.


Score on the Data Visualization Checklist: 1 of 2 points.

Small tweaks to formatting, major gains in giving your readers distraction-free data.



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Feel like you’ve exhausted Microsoft Excel’s limited menu of graphing options? Check out my Essential Charts webinar on December 2.