Pie Chart Definition

A pie chart is a circular representation of 100% in which sectors are created within the circle to show relative subdivisions. These subdivisions are proportional to the relative size they represent. We use this to visualize the composition of a singular data set and the relation between its categories.

In case this wasn’t obvious, the name “pie chart” derives from the visual similarity between the graph and a sliced pie (the “Personal Finances” pie chart below has never looked more delicious):

A pie chart to help budget your personal finances
Source: ‘How to budget: A Simple, Flexible Method For Everyone’ by Laura Shin, Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2016/02/29/how-to-budget-a-simple-flexible-method-for-everyone/#4875e3fe5881

Pie charts make the composition of data sets and relative importance of its categories incredibly quick and easy to grasp—in the budget pie chart example above, even without the percentage labels you would know exactly how much to budget for “necessary expenses.”

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Pie Chart Examples: What are the Different Kinds of Pies?

Simple 2-D Pie Chart

Because Excel and other tools offer the possibility to create 3-D pie charts, the simple flat pies are sometimes also referred to as 2-D pies. Depicting pie charts in 3-D has fallen out of good data viz practice, as the extra dimension can visually distort the information and does not add anything to analysis. However, the simple 2-D pie chart can explain complex information in a very easy-to-grasp way. Difficult subjects like the percentages of GDP that go towards different areas of government spending become easy to visualize with a pie chart. If you’ve ever asked yourself “where do my taxes go?!”, a pie chart will help you to understand this much faster than reading the raw data.

The “US Federal Budget 2018” pie chart below can also be described as an exploded pie chart, as two sections are separated to give them extra emphasis. It shows the relatively small percentage of spending that goes into one of the top concerns of Americans (Education) in comparison to other areas. Exploded pie charts are very common when depicting multiple variables that are available in minor percentages.

US federal budget 2018 pie chart
Source: “US Federal Budget Actual Spending Breakdown 2013-2018” - https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_2018bs22013n

Tip! You can create a pie chart in seconds with Vizzlo—it has its very own Vizzard!

Donut Chart

A donut chart is basically a pie chart with a hollow opening in the center. This opening can either contain information or be left blank. A donut chart does the same thing that any pie chart does, it depicts composition and proportional data, but it does so better than a pie chart especially when a large number of variables or proportions are to be depicted. The name comes from the shape of the chart with the hollow in the center.

US federal budget 2017 donut pie chart
Source: “US Federal Budget Actual Spending Breakdown 2013-2018” - https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_2018bs22013n

We can see that in 2017 there was extra budget for Education, again an exploded section, as government debt Interest was lower than in 2018. One percent of the US budget pie chart may not seem like a huge difference by year, but when you consider that the total federal budget in 2017 was $3,981.6bn, that’s an extra $39.8bn for education. We could even create an additional chart to show the absolute values of budgetary changes rather than the percentages—in this case, a bar chart would be a better data viz choice.

Create your donut chart with the dedicated Vizzard.

Half Pie Chart

A half pie chart still represents 100% or the total volume of the data set. The difference is merely a design decision — the chart takes up much less space on the page, and can be positioned in-line with other kinds of charts that have straight axes. As you can see from the federal spending half-pie chart example below, the smaller surface area can make complex data sets with small percentages difficult to visualize, so it’s recommended to use half pie charts with around three categories for maximum impact.

US federal budget 2013 half pie chart
Source: “US Federal Budget Actual Spending Breakdown 2013-2018” - https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_2018bs22013n

The US budget half-pie chart depicts some interesting government spending choices. Health Care, Pensions and Defense each represent almost an exact quarter of the budget each—much more evenly weighted than in the latter years we have depicted. For instance, if you compare the percentage of the budget being spent on Health Care from 2013 to 2018, you’ll see that this cost rose by 3% (equal to $284bn) in five years, which is as much as the entire budget for Education!

There’s always room for a little Half Pie Chart—why not create your own slice over on our Vizzard page?

Multiple Pies Chart

Rather than focusing on the proportions of within a data set, multiple pies charts are used to compare and contrast percentages across different data sets, as with the example below:

US presidential approval ratings multiple pie charts

Ready to create your own multiple pies chart? Here’s a little shortcut to the Vizzard page just for you

Development and History of the Pie Chart

The history of pie charts dates back to the early 19th century in the works of Scottish engineer and political economist named William Playfair, who created it to represent part-whole relations of geopolitical statistical data. Later on, this graphical representation was used by another engineer named Charles Joseph Minard who used pie charts over maps to depict economic data.

Since their creation in the early 19th century, pie charts became widespread and accessible for everybody especially through digital tools such as Excel, Google slides or PowerPoint. They have also been developed into various other types while keeping the same logic and purpose in mind.

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To summarise, a pie chart is:

  • Most often used to depict percentages of 100%
  • A depiction the proportional relationships of just one data set (for all but the Multiple Pies chart)
  • Used to understand equal and unequal distribution very quickly
  • Incredibly fast to produce using Vizzlo’s Pie Chart Vizzard
Discover More

Vizzlo's pie charts: examples and key features

  • Custom colors and number formats
  • Custom connectors and labels
  • Exploded segments
Learn more about Vizzlo's pie charts

Want to create a pie chart of your own?

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