A Beginner’s Guide to Unit Charts

Over the past few decades, unit charts have proven to be a critical tool that businesses can use to leverage data for better decision-making. For businesses of all sizes, unit charts are valuable resources that use basic analytics to guide even the most complicated decisions. However, many people don’t understand how they can start using this tool to their advantage and can get overwhelmed learning how to use them.

We’ve laid out a few tips on how to get started using unit charts to simplify the concept and help your business implement them successfully.

The Basics of Unit Charts

Unit charts—otherwise known as pictorial charts, pictogram charts, or picture graphs—are charts that use icons to represent a specific quantity. In the average chart, a single symbol is used to represent a specific quantity of a certain item. A symbol can be denoted as one unit, ten units, fifty units, or any reasonable amount, and it can be used as a point of reference or documentation.

When assigning particular symbols, any geometric shapes, icons, or images can be used as long as they are distinguishable from one another. This freedom to choose can be seen in the most common examples today, such as ISOTYPE charts, waffle charts, and other charts with small symbols.

The Importance of Unit Charts

The logic behind using a unit chart is rather simple. Pictogram charts use icons to provide a more engaging view of small sets of discrete data in totality, making it easier to assess a situation with a bird’s eye view. Through the use of icons, even uninitiated viewers can easily understand it and the data it’s presenting, regardless of how niche the topic is.

Compared to other types of charts, unit charts are great for businesses because simple icons can help immensely with overcoming differences in language, culture, and education. And on top of the widely understood nature of these tools, icons also provide a more representative view of the data so that they have a more engaging impact.

Dos and Don’ts of Unit Charts

If you’re looking to start using unit charts in your business, there are a few dos and don’ts that you’ll want to be aware of. To best understand the parameters when using a unit chart, here’s a rundown of critical factors to account for:

DO: Use Symbols Your Readers Will Understand

Using a unit chart successfully means being aware that simple, common symbols are king. They make it easier to understand an otherwise overwhelming amount of data. By using shapes or figures that are simplified, less detailed, and distinguishable, it will be easier to convey vital data to your readers and ensure they understand it.

DON’T: Use Them for Large Data Sets

When you have extensive data sets that are too complicated to distill into simple charts, it’s best to use another type of chart instead. Don’t try to cram a large amount of information into simple symbols—this will make everything even harder to process. Acknowledge the limits of unit charts and opt for other tools instead.

DO: Include a Legend

If you want to make your unit chart easier to understand on the first read, then you’ll want to include a legend. It should define what your symbols mean so that your readers have a clear understanding of what the data points represent.


If you’re looking to present data in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, keep unit charts in mind. With this guide, you’ll be able to start leveraging this critical tool to improve your data storytelling and help you make smarter decisions.

If you’re looking to leverage the power of data and storytelling for your business, contact Gemini today. We transform data and analytics by enabling you to easily and intuitively interact with data using storytelling visualization.