Adding Text Labeling to Data Visualizations

By Mico Yuk, Stephanie Diamond

One of the quickest ways to apply text to any data visualization is to add labels. Labels describe what the user is seeing. They’re easy to use, easy to read, and easy to apply.

The following table lists three types of text labels that you can add to any data visualization.

Text Label Type Description
Title Usually placed at the top of, inside, or alongside a specific
visual. The title describes what the visual is displaying —
Economic Growth in 2012, for example. Some higher-level titles may
describe a section that includes multiple visuals.
Description Normally located alongside or below a specific visual. These
labels use a single word, text fragment, or sentence to describe
the behavior of the visual. A good description sums up the message
of any data scenario in a single sentence.
Value May include a single number, letter, or combination of both in
or on a given visual. The label usually stands alone or refers to a
specific part of the visualization. A single visualization may have
multiple values.

Most good data visualizations include all three types of labels.

Labels should be strategically positioned, sized, and worded so that the text complements the visuals without overshadowing them. Going overboard with text can lead to something your users will see as just another report with some visuals.