A Periodic Table To Help You Choose The Best Type Of Visualization

People love visuals. Visuals have been shown to help us learn more quickly and to retain more information than text alone. We’re more easily able to understand the world around us when we have visual components to aid us. The same goes for the classroom. If you present your students with a block of text vs text plus visual representations, more students will ‘get’ it more quickly, and they’ll tend to be able to recall that information more easily. As teachers, this is a large part of what we’re looking for.

So when it comes to choosing what type of visual representation you want to employ in your classroom, what are your options? If you’re sticking with the basics, you can use a photo or drawing, or some type of chart.

But if you want to find the best type of visualization to represent the material you’re working with, this fancy schmancy chart will be right up your alley. It offers a periodic-table-full of visualization options to choose from. If you click on the link and head over to the site, it is interactive, so you can mouse over each element’s box to see an explanation and an example of each. (You’ll also see a much larger, easy-to-read version of the table).

The table breaks down the visualization methods into six groups: Data visualization, information visualization, concept visualization, strategy visualization, metaphor visualization, and compound visualization.

So if you’re looking for the right kind of visualization for what you’re working with, start by selecting the right category from that list, and then head to the corresponding color on the table. We’ve selected a few of our favorites from each category below.

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Categories of Visualization Methods

  • Data
  • Information
  • Concept
  • Strategy
  • Metaphor
  • Compound


  • Cartesian coordinates
  • Pie Chart
  • Spectrogram


  • Tree map
  • Cycle diagram
  • Data flow diagram


  • Decision tree
    Cause and effect circles
  • Concentric circles


  • Supply and demand curve
  • Technology roadmap
  • S-cycle


  • Heaven and hell chart
  • Iceberg
  • Funnel


  • Graphic facilitation
  • Cartoon
  • Learning map


Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.06.49 PM


  1. A Graff

    August 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    The Periodic Table approach really is a useful adaptation of the old periodic table of Elements. However, the table as dispayed on-screen suffers from a physical flaw – color selections. For viewers afflicted with even partial red-green color vision deficiency, the difference between the colors used for Data Visualization and Information Visualization is not visible in the body of the table. A white cross-hatching applied to one would help to distinguish it from the other without degrading the text in black. An alternative approach entails blackening one corner of each cell belonging to one of the two groups which may be less distracting to color-enabled viwers – perhaps even helping them distinguish group members more quickly. Remember, on average, in a group of 30 people 2-3 of them will have trouble distinguishing shades of green and/or red. At best they’ll be distracted, trying to figure out which is which; at worst they’ll totally miss the color-tied information, become confused, and simply tune out. Give them a hand – add non-color ‘handles’ to the table!

  2. Andrew Rose

    August 19, 2014 at 3:53 am

    Interesting. Definitely reminds me of the fact that training and education can be “scientific” – as opposed to copying and pasting from legacy material and then hoping for the best. Applying the potential ideas behind each “element” could also mean material and learning experiences that are just on a completely different level.