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Donut Chart: When To Use Them With Good Examples

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    November 9, 2023
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  • Last updated:
    December 9, 2023
Donut charts when to use them with good examples banner

In this blog we’ll explain donut chart attributes, uncovering when and how to use them effectively. We’ll provide you with insights into the best practices and case studies for donut charts.

Donut chart example from Ajelix BI data visualization platform
Donut chart example showcasing customers per country. Chart by Ajelix BI

What is a Donut Chart?

Donut charts consist of a circular figure with a hole in the center, making them visually distinct from their pie chart counterparts. While pie charts represent data in slices, donut charts present it in rings, allowing for a different perspective on the same data.

When to Use Donut Charts?

Donut charts are particularly effective when you need to highlight parts of a whole. They shine in scenarios where you want to emphasize the contribution of individual segments within a larger context. However, it’s crucial to recognize when other chart types may better serve your purpose.

Pros of Using Donut Charts

Donut charts, a variant of pie charts, can be useful in specific data visualization scenarios when their features align with the data and the communication goals. Here are some situations when it’s appropriate to use a donut chart:

1. Displaying Parts of a Whole

Donut charts are excellent for showing the contribution of individual categories to a whole, making them ideal for illustrating the distribution of a single variable’s segments.

2. Comparing Few Categories

When you have a small number of categories to compare and want to emphasize their relative proportions, donut charts can be effective. They’re simpler than pie charts and can provide a more straightforward comparison.

3. Conserving Space

Donut charts are a space-efficient alternative to pie charts. You can add titles or additional text in the middle of the hole while maintaining the ability to visualize proportions.

Doughnut chart with the title in the middle showcasing statistics for customers per country
Doughnut chart example with the title in the middle showing customers per country

4. Highlighting a Single Variable

Donut charts are particularly useful when you want to emphasize a single variable and its composition, making it the center of attention in your visualization.

5. Simplifying Data

If your data is straightforward and does not require a complex chart, a donut chart provides a clean and concise way to present the information.

Author’s Note: For complex data or when precise comparisons are necessary, alternative chart types like bar charts or stacked area charts may be more suitable. Always ensure that the choice of visualization aligns with the data and the story you want to convey.

Cons of Using Doughnut Charts

While donut charts can be a useful data visualization tool in certain situations, they also come with several limitations and cons that should be considered:

1. Difficulty in Comparisons

Donut charts can make it challenging to accurately compare the sizes of categories, especially when there are many segments. Users may struggle to differentiate between small differences in arc lengths.

Donut chart vs bar chart example visualizing many values
Donut chart vs bar chart visualizing many values

This example shows that bar chart can better visualize many values while donut chart can lead to misunderstandings when it comes to many data fields.

2. Limited Data Categories

Donut charts are best suited for visualizing a small number of categories (typically less than five). When you have many data points, a donut chart can become cluttered and less effective. You can see that in the previous picture.

Author’s Note: To help users create professional reports professional we have created a data visualization tool that will help you speed up the reporting process and avoid mistakes that we’re discussing in this article. You can start using this tool in a freemium plan.

3. Less Effective for Time-Series Data

Donut charts are not well-suited for displaying time-series data or trends over time. Other chart types, like line charts or stacked area charts, are better for this purpose.

Donut chart vs line chart visualizing time series data example
Donut chart vs line chart effectiveness visualizing time series data

As you can see in the picture it’s hard to understand the profit growth over time, however, line chart very clearly visualizes time period.

4. Limited Interactivity

Donut charts lack interactivity, making it difficult to drill down into the data or highlight specific categories. This can be a drawback for users who need more detailed information.

5. Risk of Misinterpretation

Users may misinterpret the area inside the donut as a second data category, potentially leading to confusion.

Author’s Note: It’s essential to carefully assess whether a donut chart is the most appropriate choice for your data and communication goals, and to consider alternatives when these limitations could impact the effectiveness of your visualization.

Good Practices for Creating Effective Donut Charts

Creating effective donut charts requires following certain best practices to ensure clarity and accurate communication of data. Here are some good practices that we have summarized for creating donut charts:

  • Choosing Appropriate Data and Categories
  • Thoughtful Labeling and Color Choices
  • Exploding Segments for Emphasis
  • Ensuring Clarity and Readability

Example 1: A Well-Designed Donut Chart

Once you’ve covered the principles of good donut chart, let take a look how the good example. Using Ajelix BI we’ve created a well designed donut chart, that:

  • emphasizes the data
  • has a good color palette that doesn’t confuse
  • data labels are clear and if needed can be easily filtered
  • chart doesn’t lead to misunderstandings
Good donut chart example with visualized project profits
Good donut chart example that visualized profit for each project

This chart is a great example how donut charts should be used, the message is clear and visualization doesn’t confuse. To get great visualizations without mistakes it is advisable to use visualization tools. These tools can help with your reporting process, it’s also easy to start, simply register and start using the freemium plan.

Example 2: A Poorly-Designed Donut Chart

Now, we’ll examine a donut chart that falls short due to design flaws. Identifying these mistakes, we’ll shed light on how such a chart can mislead or confuse its audience and offer recommendations for improvement.

Bad donut chart example  visualizing profit for a time period
Donut chart created on Excel visualizing profit for a time period

This chart example highlights all the opposite things that you shouldn’t do when creating a donut chart. Here’s a summary of bad things:

  • The color palette is confusing and doesn’t match making it visually non-appealing.
  • Chart doesn’t have values so it’s almost impossible to understand the exact data.
  • Time series data is hard to grasp does the profit grows throughout the period time or it’s shrinking.
  • Too many data labels doesn’t give us a grasp of data.


As we conclude this exploration of donut charts, we’ll summarize the key takeaways. We encourage you to apply best practices in donut chart design, and to select the right data visualization method that best suits your specific data and target audience. By doing so, you can unlock the potential of donut charts as a compelling and informative data storytelling tool.

Ready to create donut charts with Ajelix BI?

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