October 7, 2009

In the words of their inventor, Edward Tufte, sparklines are “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics”. They are intended to be used in line with text, like this one which shows you the Nasdaq index for the month of September  189.6175.9, or this one that shows a comparison of two series.  Rather than giving you a single data-point, sparklines give you a context and an enormous amount of information can be presented in a very small area.  My favorite coupon website uses a bar-chart sparkline to indicate reports of success or failure from users trying the coupon , you could also use the mini bar-chart to indicate a team’s wins/losses.   Sparklines aren’t limited to line graphs or bar-charts – they are any graph or graphic showing a story of your data in the space of a word.

Sparklines definitely get the thumbs up from me.  I can already think of a multitude of uses for them on my current project.  Sparked your interest too?  I generated the sparklines in this post using the Sparklines for Excel free plugin.  I also found a sparkline listing showing uses in many other technologies, such as jQuery, java, perl, Ruby, PHP…