My daughter broke her arm over the weekend. She went ice skating with some friends, someone slid into her and she fell, breaking the bone in her arm just above the wrist.

Several long hours later (more agonizing for her than me), we found ourselves in the x-ray room at the urgent care center. The technician told me to stand behind the wall and I watched each of the four scans load on the computer in front of me time. I leaned in close to the monitor each time trying to see if I could see a break. In my head, I was looking for what looks like a broken celery stick, like in that old Simpsons episode.

Dr. Hibbert from the Simpsons looks at an x-ray

That’s not really the point of this post.

As we walked back to the examination room, I told my daughter I didn’t see an obvious break, but we’ll have to see what the doctor says. The doctor came examined her for a few minutes and then turned to the computer. Within a split second of opening the x-ray image, he said, “yep, that’s broken.”

It was almost preattentive—before I could even look up at the screen, he had diagnosed the break. (It’s a compression break, which you can see in the red arrow below.) He then spent the next few minutes showing us the four x-rays so we could see where the break is and the different views from the different angles.

X-ray of broken arm

I write all of this because it reminds me of what happens so often when we are communicating our data. For many (most?) of our readers, certain charts are going to be instantaneously recognizable and easy to read—bar charts, line charts, and pie charts, for example. Other charts are going to be less familiar or more difficult to read.

But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use those graphs. In fact, I think it means the opposite—we need to use a wider variety of graphs more often! We can help more people become more fluent with data and data visualization by giving them more graphs to see, explore, and learn from. The urgent care doctor isn’t going to stop showing patients and parents x-rays because they are hard to read, right?

So keep making your different, unique, and non-standard graphs. Fight the good fight and help more people understand your data in better and more engaging ways.