Data Visualization Using Sankey Diagram

Data Visualization Using Sankey Diagram

Data visualization offers the best approach for business owners or professionals to communicate data to audiences of non-technical backgrounds.

It is one of the greatest ways to simplify the complexity of understanding relationships among data. Sankey Diagram is one such powerful technique to visualize the association of data elements.

They are named after the Irishman Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey, who first used them in a publication on the energy efficiency of a steam engine in 1898.

They can be difficult, time-consuming, and very tedious to draw by hand, but nowadays you have various tools to generate these diagrams automatically such as Business Intelligence technologies like Tableau, Google Visualization, D3.JS, etc.

Contact us to learn more about how to visualize the flow of data using the Sankey Diagram

So what are Sankey Diagrams in Data Visualization and how can they be useful?

Sankey diagrams are basically flowing diagrams, in which the width of lines associated with two different nodes is proportional to the value of a metric or key performance indicator.

You can also present this kind of information using neural networks and association analysis diagrams. They provide

  • flexibility,
  • interactivity for the business user to get insight into data at a fast pace

They are a better way to illustrate what are the departments which are holding strong association, thereby you can improve our promotion mix by launching various loyalty schemes with sales kit, which contains products from these two departments at competitive price or you can also take steps to improve the association between departments where you don’t have much penetration.

The below Sankey diagram examples depict a strong association among different departments in the retail organization and you have drawn this diagram using the Google visualization library, you can also create this diagram using S.Draw, Visguy, Fineo, Parallel Sets, Sankey Helper, D3 Sankey Plug-in, etc.

This is being widely used in the energy sector to analyze the flow of transmission, and also being used to illustrate anomalies in money and material flow in business organizations.

Sankey Diagram in Data Visualization

How Do You Create A Sankey Diagram?

When looking to make a Sankey diagram, you will be able to generate unique graphs by setting the data source.

When creating the diagram, one of the main components that you need to select is the nodes. Various entities (nodes) are defined by text and are referred to as objects. These nodes can either be static or dynamic.

You may even want to add titles, graphics, references, and axis scales. You should know this information while making a Sankey diagram. 

A Sankey map is used to represent the process of how a certain topic flows through a range of different topics.

When this diagram is drawn, the nodes can be connected by a line where the links will signify to you the flow of the topic.

For example, a Sankey diagram might show the flow of electricity through an electrical system. It can be used to display the flow of fluid in a pipeline network.

What Types of Data Can be Visualized with Sankey Diagrams?

These diagrams are an excellent visualization technique for communicating complicated systems. They can help reveal patterns and aid in troubleshooting, finding bottlenecks, or showing users how processes flow.

But they aren’t limited to looking at data like that; here is a breakdown of what else can be analyzed with this useful graphic design. 

Sankey charts are very useful in representing streams of data because they help with creating a visual representation of the data.

The flow of data through a system, a process, or even a decision process can be analyzed and visualized with a user journey diagram

When analyzing a situation, it’s often difficult to get to the root of a problem when trying to collect data from different perspectives.

This diagram can show where the problem exists and how it may affect the overall system.

Contact us to learn more about how to visualize the flow of data using the Sankey Diagram

When Not To Use Sankey Diagram?

The main issue with using a Sankey diagram is that it’s not always going to be accurate.

Since the purpose of the diagram is to illustrate the flow of data in a system, it’s important to not put in additional data that will skew the picture, which leads to the next point. 

The purpose of this diagram is to illustrate the flow of data in a system and not depict the user experience. Therefore, it’s important to not include anything other than the information being input into the system. 

For example, if you were trying to determine how many people had been placed on a waitlist for an upcoming flight and you added the number of passengers and their seating preferences, you would be adding extraneous data that will skew the diagram and make it less accurate.

It’s important to keep in mind that a Sankey diagram is only as good as the data you are putting into it.

The main problem with this diagram is that it takes the data being input into a system and uses it to determine the visual representation of that data.

There are situations where this is fine, and there are times when it’s not. The issue with a user analysis diagram is that there will always be outliers in the data (in other words, data that doesn’t fit well into the category being illustrated), and it’s very difficult to determine which will be outlying.

For example, if you were adding people to a list for a 30-day wait, and then one person was added to the back of the list, it’s very difficult to tell if that person is in the category for a waitlist or if he/she is just being super slow.

This data is likely to appear on the Sankey diagram as outliers, which is why this type of visual can be ineffective for some information. 

Also, in Sankey diagrams, it may be difficult to compare flows with similar values. If you want to do so, try using stacked bar graphs instead.


Putting this tool into the hands of the people who know rather than having a graphic artist in the process allows users the opportunity to visualize a wide range of processes such as

  • production cost optimization by understanding process flow at ease.
  • energy losses of a particular machine.
  • material flows within specific economic sectors.
  • improve operational efficiency and support a more sustainable business operation.
  • effective cash flow analysis in business organizations.

Adding your own visual graphics to the Sankey Diagram in Data Visualization gives rich interactive visualization, resulting in attractive graphics for information materials and effective visual data exploration practices!

An Engine That Drives Customer Intelligence

Oyster is not just a customer data platform (CDP). It is the world’s first customer insights platform (CIP). Why? At its core is your customer. Oyster is a “data unifying software.”

Liked This Article?

Gain more insights, case studies, information on our product, customer data platform

Leave a comment