Designing Charts: Supercategory Labels

In chart design, data is often organized into different categories or groups to provide meaningful insights and comparisons. For instance, in a bar chart comparing sales performance across different regions, the regions could be considered categories. A supercategory label could then be used to further group these regions based on a higher-level classification, such as continents or country groupings.

The primary purpose of using supercategory labels is to clarify your chart and make it easier for your audience to understand the story behind the data.

While it can be tempting to include as much detail as possible in a chart, always consider whether adding supercategory labels will enhance or distract from the key message you’re trying to convey. Here are some key situations when you should consider using super category labels in chart design: 

  1. When demonstrating hierarchical relationships within data: Supercategory labels can help illustrate the relationship between main categories and their related subcategories. For example, in a sales report, you might have a main category of “Product Type” and subcategories of “Electronics,” “Apparel,” “Home Goods,” etc. Creating supercategory labels for these subcategories can make understanding the groupings of different segments in your chart easier.
  1. When comparing similar data groups across multiple categories: Sometimes, you might need to compare multiple categories that share a common theme but are presented in separate sections in your chart. Supercategory labels can help give an overarching context that unifies these sections. For instance, if you’re comparing the growth of different sport types over time, you could use a supercategory label of “Professional,” “Amateur,” and “Youth” to represent each different level of athletic competition.
  1. When decluttering complex visuals: In complex data visualizations with many categories, adding supercategory labels can simplify and declutter the overall presentation of data. This can make it easier for the audience to quickly grasp the information being communicated. Let’s say you have a chart that showcases various companies’ market share across different industries; adding supercategory labels such as “Tech,” “Automotive,” and “Healthcare” can help the audience quickly identify and group these industries.
  1. To emphasize certain aspects of your data: Supercategory labels can draw attention to specific themes, groupings, or trends within your data. For example, when designing a chart related to climate, you might want to emphasize the differences between high-emitting countries and low-emitting countries by dividing the data set using supercategory labels.