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Example sparklines in small multiple
Index Day Value Change
Dow Jones Sparkline dowjones new.svg 10765.45 −32.82 (−0.30%)
S&P 500 Sparkline sp500.svg 1256.92 −8.10 (−0.64%)
Sparklines showing the movement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 during February 7, 2006

A sparkline is a very small line chart, typically drawn without axes or coordinates. It presents the general shape of the variation (typically over time) in some measurement, such as temperature or stock market price, in a simple and highly condensed way. Sparklines are small enough to be embedded in text, or several sparklines may be grouped together as elements of a small multiple. Whereas the typical chart is designed to show as much data as possible, and is set off from the flow of text, sparklines are intended to be succinct, memorable, and located where they are discussed.[citation needed]


The earliest known implementation of sparklines, called "inline charts," was by interface designer Peter Zelchenko, who designed it for the PC trading platform Medved QuoteTracker, in early 1998.[1] The term sparkline was introduced by[2] Edward Tufte for "small, high resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, numbers, images".[3] Tufte describes sparklines as "data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics".[4]

This is a 1999 screenshot of an implementation of sparklines developed around January 1998. The concept was developed by interaction designer Peter Zelchenko in conversation with programmer Michael Medved, while Medved was developing the QuoteTracker application. The product was later sold to E-Trade.

On May 7, 2008, Microsoft employees filed a patent application for the implementation of sparklines in Microsoft Excel 2010. The application was published on November 12, 2009,[5] prompting Tufte[6] to express concern at the broad claims and lack of novelty of the patent.[7]


Sparklines are frequently used in line with text. For example: The Dow Jones Industrial Average for February 7, 2006 sparkline which illustrates the fluctuations in the Down Jones index on February 7, 2006. The sparkline should be about the same height as the text around it. Tufte[3] offers some useful design principles for the sizing of sparklines to maximize their readability.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WaybackMachine snapshot from Oct 13, 1999, see "Screen Shots"". Archived from the original on November 27, 1999. 
  2. ^ Bissantz & Company GmbH. "Sparklines: Another masterpiece of Edward Tufte". 
  3. ^ a b Edward Tufte (November 2013). "Sparkline theory and practice". Edward Tufte forum. 
  4. ^ Edward Tufte (2006). Beautiful Evidence. Graphics Press. ISBN 0-9613921-7-7. 
  5. ^ "Sparklines in the grid". 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  6. ^ "Sparklines in Excel". 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-11-20. 
  7. ^ "Microsoft makes patent claim for Sparklines". 2009-11-19. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 

Further reading[edit]