A small multiple (sometimes called trellis chart, lattice chart, grid chart, or panel chart) is a series of similar graphs or charts using the same scale + axes, allowing them to be easily compared. It uses multiple views to show different partitions of a dataset. The term was popularized by Edward Tufte.
According to Tufte (Envisioning Information, p. 67):
- At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution.
In the example, the departmental salary expense is charted by month with a dashed line indicating the average for each department. The scales on each panel are different to emphasize the relative change over time compared to the range. Standardizing the scales could provide insight into comparisons in magnitude between the different departments.
- Tufte, Edward (1983). Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
- Tufte, Edward (1990). Envisioning Information.