Compare Feature Sets with Complex Radar Charts

Previously I wrote about a basic version of a radar chart exercise, where we want to represent a simple comparison and the spokes correspond to a set of possible “intended audiences”, “business goals”, or similar.

Another way to use radar charts is for each spoke to represent a distinct feature or attribute unrelated to all the other spokes. As the chart is filled out, it allows us to do simple visual comparisons of relatively complex information.

I like to run this exercise after a brainstorming session, when we’re trying to narrow down a large passel of ideas. A common use case for these radar charts is to to map out competitors’ offerings and figure out which of a few potential project directions has the strongest differentiation in the market.

1. Choose your metrics

Begin by choosing the metrics or elements you want to look at: each metric should represent a goal or decision that’s relevant to the project. The rating scale for each spoke will be unique, but if possible stick with the idea of the outside edge representing the ideal or most robust path.

In case you can’t read the handwriting, the spokes on this chart read:

  • Mobile Experience: none / m-dot / responsive
  • Product Trial: none / 30-day / freemium
  • Product Tour: text / screenshots / video
  • Design Aesthetic: cluttered / simple / clever
  • Template Library: none / a few / many / + user-created & shared
  • Support: knowledgebase / + email / + phone / + live chat

2. Fill out your charts

In this case we were looking at competitors, and we also included our own current offerings as a baseline. For each of the items we wanted to compare, we took a blank chart and rated each competitor along each spoke.

3. Analyze

Bring all the charts together and look for gaps in the lineup. With these example charts: no one has a video tour, and most companies are light on templates. Looking at the charts all together can help you spot combinations of features or content pieces that may help you stand out in the market.

Watch out for self-aggrandizing

The biggest danger with this type of chart is only choosing spoke values that show your good side, and you end up with your own chart a perfect circle where all the rest are various shapes of deficiency. Assign someone on your team the task of keeping you honest: what do your current customers complain about? What are your competitors doing that’s really cool and that you can’t match? Make sure those metrics are represented in the spokes as well.

Remember that the data doesn’t need to be perfect. Radar charts aren’t scientific or precise; they serve as a wayfinding tool to spark discussions and provide a visual representation of complex, multi-faceted issues.