Why many Datawrapper charts don't include axis labels

When you want to create any Datawrapper chart except a scatter plot, you'll find that there's no option to add labels to your vertical (y) or horizontal (x) axis. In this article, we'll explain why that is and offer alternatives. 

In case you're interested in how we built any of the charts below, hover over it and click "Edit this chart" in its top-right corner. This will bring you immediately into the chart editing process.
  1. Why can't you add axis labels? 
  2. Alternative 1: Explanation in title, description, notes (or color key)
  3. Alternative 2: Append an explanation
  4. Alternative 3: Explanation in annotations

Why can't you add axis labels? 

Like with all design decisions in the charts you can create with Datawrapper, we have our reasons to not include axis labels: 

  • If axis labels are placed inside the chart, they might overlap with the data. That sometimes happens in scatterplots, where we do offer axis labels for both x and y-axis. But it would happen more often in bar charts, column charts or line charts.
  • If axis labels are placed outside the chart (e.g. left of a y-axis in a line chart), they take away valuable space – especially on narrow mobile phones – that we'd rather use to show the data.
  • In some charts out there, a solution for that is to rotate the axis labels by 90 degree. But then readers will need to tilt their heads (or phones) to read the axis labels, and we don't like the look of that.
  • And often, axis labels are not necessary anyway. The next part will explain:

Alternative 1: Explanation in title, description, notes (or color key)

We strongly recommend to always put a precise explanation of which data you show at least in the description, if not the title of your chart. Datawrapper makes it easy to give all your visualizations a title and description in the Annotate tab of step 3: Visualize.

Let's have a look at the following chart: Title and description and the first color key all explain what the chart is about and therefore make a y-axis label unnecessary. 

Note that the horizontal axis that shows the years is only explained once (in the description) since readers will know that an area or line chart shows development over time. At a glance, most people will recognize immediately that the x-axis shows years – there's no need to waste more explanation on that.

Indeed, you will find that most news graphics don't have direct axis labels, but explanations in the description or title. Here are examples from Axios, The New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post and BBC: 

Alternative 2: Append an explanation

If your y-axis label is a short one, you can append it to your numbers in step 2: Check & Describe. The result will be an axis label at the first axis tick (in e.g. line and area charts) or every axis tick (in e.g. range or dot plots):

To create this effect, go to step 2: Check & Describe, select any of your number columns and add your metric in the Append field:

There's no need to repeat this for all columns – once you've appended text for one number column, it will apply to all.

Alternative 3: Explanation in annotations

In area charts and line charts, you can use annotations to create axis labels. In the following chart, the text "sold cigarettes per day per adult" is a text annotation:

Note how even this text annotation is not truly necessary since readers can find the same explanation in the description above. However, it's never a bad idea to explain something twice.

👉 To learn how to create text annotations, visit our article "How to create text annotations" . Don't forget to turn on the  Fill background option if your annotation overlaps grid lines.

We hope this article helped you in understand our decision to not offer an axis label option. Please get in touch with us at support@datawrapper.de if you still have remaining questions.