Sunburst Charts: Illuminating Hierarchical Data and Relationships

Sunburst Charts, also known as Radial Treemaps, are a visually compelling way to represent hierarchical data and its structure in a circular layout. These charts are particularly useful for showing the relationship between parts and the whole, highlighting the proportions of each element within the hierarchy. This guide will explore Sunburst Charts, their applications, benefits, and best practices for effective data visualization.

What is a Sunburst Chart?

A Sunburst Chart is a type of data visualization that represents hierarchical data through concentric circles. Each level of the hierarchy is depicted as a ring or circle that is divided into segments, with the innermost circle representing the root level and each outer ring representing a deeper level of the hierarchy. The angle of each segment reflects the size or importance of the data point in relation to the whole.

Interactive Sunburst Chart Example

Try our interactive sunburst chart example below!

Applications of Sunburst Charts

Sunburst Charts are versatile and can be applied in various domains to:

  • Content Management: Visualize website structure or document taxonomy to understand the distribution of content across different categories.
  • Budget Allocation: Show how a budget is allocated across departments, projects, or categories, highlighting spending priorities.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze market segments and sub-segments to identify areas of interest or concern within an industry.
  • Portfolio Management: Display the composition of investment portfolios, showing the distribution of assets across different asset classes.

Benefits of Using Sunburst Charts

  • Compact Representation: Efficiently display complex hierarchical data in a compact space without losing the context of the overall structure.
  • Visual Appeal: The radial layout and colorful segments attract attention and can make the data more engaging for the audience.
  • Intuitive Interpretation: The structure of Sunburst Charts is intuitive, allowing viewers to quickly grasp the relationships between parts of the hierarchy.

How to Interpret Sunburst Charts

Interpreting a Sunburst Chart involves understanding its hierarchical structure:

  • Root Node: The center of the chart represents the highest level of the hierarchy.
  • Hierarchy Levels: Each concentric ring represents a deeper level of the hierarchy, moving from the center outwards.
  • Segment Size: The size of each segment within a ring indicates the value or proportion of that category relative to its parent category.

Best Practices for Creating Effective Sunburst Charts

  • Limit Hierarchy Levels: Too many levels can make the chart difficult to read. Focus on the most important levels of the hierarchy.
  • Color Coding: Use color to differentiate between categories and subcategories, but ensure the palette is not overwhelming.
  • Interactive Elements: Consider adding interactive elements, such as tooltips or click-to-zoom, to allow users to explore deeper levels of data without clutter.
  • Clear Labels: Label the most important segments directly on the chart and provide a legend or interactive labels for additional detail.


Sunburst Charts are an effective tool for visualizing hierarchical data, offering insights into the structure and composition of datasets. By representing data in a radial layout, they provide a clear and engaging way to understand relationships within a hierarchy, from the broad overview to the finer details. When designed with best practices in mind, Sunburst Charts can significantly enhance data storytelling, making complex information accessible and understandable at a glance.