January 10, 2023

How to Create Better Bar Charts in Sigma Computing

By Quinn Madsen

Sigma Computing is a business intelligence (BI) tool specializing in data exploration and visualization. Its live connection to the Snowflake Data Cloud makes exploring data a breeze. 

Its interface is built on familiarity, through the use of a spreadsheet-based design, making this tool an easy recommendation for people with Microsoft Excel experience. With functionality that allows for the creation of quick, easy-to-follow visuals and tables, its users can perform data analysis after just a few clicks.

In this blog, we’ll discuss how to create the most effective bar chart in Sigma.

Why Do Visualizations Like Bar Charts Matter When Analyzing Data?

Choosing the right visual for your data can make or break the story you are trying to tell. When determining the best visual, it is important to keep in mind who your audience is and what information you’re trying to communicate. 

Rather than looking at numbers in a table or a flat file, visualizations can help users better understand the scenario which leads to more informed business decisions. 

Bar charts can be easy to follow as they allow for two basic variables to be displayed, like a category and an associated value. Even a simple bar chart can, however, lead to user confusion when the variables become disjointed, jumbled, or unclear.

To make effective bar charts in Sigma Computing, consider these recommendations and best practices.

What Makes a Good Bar Chart?

Bar charts demonstrate a clear picture of your data broken down by one characteristic and value. Because of their simplicity, they make it easy to follow patterns in the data. Bar charts are also great for tracking change – comparing different groups or segments of information – over time. 

Best Practices for Bar Chart Creation

Use of Color – Color on a bar chart or visual should only be used with purpose. Color should help curate the story and give emphasis to important facets of the chart like distinguishing categories in a dataset or highlighting outliers. Color can also be used to match a company’s brand standards. 

Categorical Data – Clear and consistent presentation of categorical data is the key to a bar chart’s success. When dealing with dates, it is best to keep it uniform (January, February, March, or Jan, Feb, Mar) When dealing with numerics, it may be beneficial to sort in descending order.

Don’t Get Too Fancy – Avoid using objects or images to represent bars. Keep it simple with 2D bars to best visualize your data. Too much frill can be distracting and overwhelm the end user with unnecessary things to look at.

Vertical vs Horizontal Bar Charts – Vertical bars will work in most cases. However, when category names are lengthy, it may be best to switch the x and y axis fields and run the bars horizontally.


Good Vs. Bad Example

Below are examples of two bar charts for your review. Which do you think tells a clearer story? Why?


The ‘Good’ chart is clear and concise. It only shows relevant data and uses color purposefully.  It is titled correctly and is an ideal size to represent the number of years being analyzed. Axis labels are not necessary here, as each column represents a specific year, and the title of the chart explains what is being counted each year. 

A legend is also not necessary. It is clear that we are only measuring the total number of orders placed each year from 2018-2022. Totals are added to the end of each column, and a tooltip is available to explain the count of each order.

The ‘Bad’ chart above can be simply described as ‘too much’. The story being told by this bar chart includes too many details. The multi-colored bars with sums in each color indicating purchase method per year with associated value offers too much for a user to ingest in one visual. 

Multiple bar charts or the drill-down feature should be used to share this depth of information. 

How to Apply These Principles in Sigma

Formatting Your Bar Chart:

To format your bar chart in Sigma, open your workbook in edit mode, select your chart element, then click on the Element Format option (paintbrush) on the left-hand side.


Editing Options:

Here you have the ability to edit the data elements. Available options include changing the background color and editing the title, x-axis, y-axis, and legend. You can also add data labels and reference marks plus indicate the size of gaps between each bar, reference mark, and trend line.

Editing Options


Bar charts can be a great way to display data and Sigma makes it easy to utilize data visualization best practice principles. Good bar charts stick to an easy-to-follow style that clearly emphasizes the key data points. Keeping the chart simple and making small formatting adjustments in Sigma Computing can go a long way in painting a clear picture.

If you’re interested in better understanding ways to visualize your data with Sigma, be sure to also check out this great blog on Trellis Bar Charts!

Want to learn more about creating bar charts – or other visuals – in Sigma

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