March 31, 2021, by Erik Larson

Data Viz: Spotlight on Sparklines!

But did you know they're nearly 300 years old!

Ok, first off: what is a sparkline? Enough with the data geek jargon :) To quote Wikipedia:

A sparkline is a very small line chart, typically drawn without axes or coordinates. It presents the general shape of the variation (typically over time) in some measurement, such as temperature or stock market price, in a simple and highly condensed way.

Yes, the stock market. This is where most people might be most accustomed to encountering the sparklines, right there in newspaper when you check your portfolio every morning. The beauty of this style of chart being its compact nature, you can embed right into text!

While the sparkline may have first appeared in 1762 in The Life and Opinions of Tristan Shandy, Gentleman (see Wikipedia if you like to read history), it only made its way to the mainstage of present day through the pioneering work of Edward Tufte in 1983, and then again in 2006, when he named it as such.

You might also know sparklines if you're an avid excel user. They even put a patent application in for it (!), but it was later open sourced (woohoo!).

Why do we like sparklines here at eIMPACT? Simply, because sparklines allow a large amount of information to be conveyed in a tiny footprint

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Sparkline

Man, check out Ivy Tech Community College! From startup to the leading purveyor of completions in the country in just 15 years!

This single table is able to communicate an immense amount of information in one spot, saving the viewer from scrolling, and answering two questions we all tend to want to know: where do I stand? (current annual graduates) and, how is this changing? (15-year trend). All made possible by the sparkline.

Well, I could go on from here but something tells me I should wrap this. The sparkline is one arrow in the quiver for telling a tight, easy-to-consume data story. Together with other visuals it is an effective way to save real estate on the page (which is precious, scrolling too much sucks) without comprising on content.

If you'd like to chat about sparklines or data viz in general, give us a call! We'd love to hear from you.