Should we use a combo chart?

Transforming combo charts into impactful visuals.

Combo charts are frequently utilized, but their potential is often untapped. In many cases, a simpler chart with separated data can deliver a clearer message. Let’s examine a recent example and discuss improvements:

This chart contains valuable data, but it requires some refinement to create a compelling visual story. We’ll walk through several steps to transform the chart.

Define the Key Takeaway

From this chart, we observe that financial losses in 2023 resemble those of the 2008 global financial crisis. However, only two banks have failed so far in 2023, compared to 25 in 2008. Our key takeaway should emphasize the difference in the number of failed banks and the financial losses.

Refine the Chart’s Design

With the key takeaway in mind, let’s improve the chart’s appearance. First, convert the dual-axis combo chart into a standard bar chart. We’ll reintroduce the bank failure data later.

Improve the Bar Chart

Now that we have a bar chart, we can enhance its presentation by:

  • Removing cartoonish data callouts
  • Adjusting the x-axis label to fit on one line
  • Changing y-axis from millions to billions for a more concise display
  • Removing gridlines, as they add visual clutter
  • Increasing bar thickness for better visibility and aesthetics

Push to Gray

To emphasize the key message, use strategic highlighting. First, make all chart elements grey. This is a great way to ensure we only highlight the key areas we need to later

Highlight Important Data Points

With all the charts elements pushed to grey we can start to highlight our important areas. We want to draw attention to the 2008 global financial crisis and the current situation in 2023 by highlighting their respective bars.

By using distinct colors for 2008 and 2023, we emphasize that they are separate events. Our final step will be to add annotations to the chart. Finally we will annotate our chart.

Annotate the Chart

In our final step, we’ll reintroduce the bank failure data that was removed earlier. By annotating the chart, we eliminate the need for a dual-axis combo chart and make the key takeaway clear for our audience.

The final chart clearly displays the number of failed banks during the 2008 financial crisis and the associated financial loss. It also allows for a direct comparison with the 2023 crisis.


Presenting two data sets doesn’t always require a dual-axis combo chart. We can make a single axis chart and by using strategic highlighting and annotations, we guide the audience towards the key takeaway while maintaining a clear and visually appealing chart.

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Should we use a combo chart?

Transforming combo charts into impactful visuals.

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