Bar and Column Charts in Power BI

Bar and Column charts are two of the most frequently used chart types in Power BI. They are a very simple and uncomplicated way to show comparison or ranking in a range of values. The bars in a bar chart are displayed horizontally across the axis and in a column chart they are displayed vertically.

The example below groups the data by Product and shows the Total Sales Value for each group. We can see clearly that Paseo had the highest results and Carretera had the lowest:

Bar and Column Charts

Key Learning Points

  • Bar and column charts are ideal for showing rank and comparison.
  • Use a bar chart when you have a lot of data points or very long wordy labels as it is easier for your audience to read.
  • Add a legend field to show a further breakdown of the data for each data point.
  • A clustered chart will show a side-by-side comparison of each of the legend values whereas a stacked chart will stack each of the legend values on top of each other. This is a better option if you want to see the overall total for each data point.

Does it matter which one I use?

Quite often it doesn’t matter whether you use a bar or column. Variety is always good and so you might decide to add a bar chart simply because you already have several column charts on the page. However, there are a few occasions when it does matter:

  1. If the grouping labels are long and wordy, then they will often sit at an angle in a column chart or appear truncated, making it more difficult to read. Changing to a bar chart means the labels will sit horizontally on the Y-Axis, making it easier for your audience to read:

Bar and Charts 2

2. Even with short labels, if you have a lot of data points (groups), then a column chart will take up more space than a bar chart. If you are short of space on the page, you might want to use a bar chart instead as you can scroll through:

Bar and charts 3

Adding a Legend to a Bar or Column Chart

A standard bar or column chart uses one field from the dataset to group with. So for example, product name, sales rep, or country. It is possible to add a second field to provide a further split in the data – this is known as a legend field.

In the example below, the Year has been added in as a legend so as well as seeing the Total Sales by Product, we can also see how that value has been broken down by year:

Adding a Legend to a Bar or Column Chart

Should I use a Stacked or Clustered Chart?

When you include a legend field, you will also have to think about whether you want a clustered or stacked chart.

A Clustered chart will always show a side-by-side comparison, whereas a Stacked chart will stack the values one on top of the other.

A Stacked option should be used if the overall total is of interest as it is easier to see than in a side-by-side comparison. So in the example below, if you need to see each product total for the 2 years combined, then use a stacked option:

Should I use a Stacked or Clustered Chart

How to Build Bar and Column Charts in Power BI

It is really easy to build a bar and column chart in Power BI Desktop. Once you have connected to your data source and have loaded the dataset into the report, all you need to do is work out how you want to group your data and which field you want to calculate with.

  1. Select the fields you need and if necessary add a legend field.
  2. Then choose the type of chart you think would best display what you are trying to show in the data:

Bar-and-Chart

Conclusion

Bar and column charts are a great way to compare and rank your data – smallest to largest or highest to lowest. There are lots to decide when creating these charts and it is important that you work out which chart type will work best for you. Look at the labels and the number of data points to help determine if a bar chart should be used. Think about what you are trying to show the audience – if you need additional grouping, then include a legend. Do they need to see the overall total – then perhaps a stacked option would be best.

Enroll on our online data visualization course, and learn how to use other Power BI features to visualize your data, including tables and matrixes, gauge charts, maps, and AI visuals.