It's often said that data is the new world currency, and the web is the exchange bureau through which it's traded. As consumers, we're positively swimming in data; it's everywhere from labels on food packaging design to World Health Organisation reports. As a result, for the designer it's becoming increasingly difficult to present data in a way that stands out from the mass of competing data streams.
One of the best ways to get your message across is to use a visualization to quickly draw attention to the key messages, and by presenting data visually it's also possible to uncover surprising patterns and observations that wouldn't be apparent from looking at stats alone. And nowadays, there's plenty of free graphic design software to help you do just that.
As author, data journalist and information designer David McCandless said in his TED talk: "By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map. And when you're lost in information, an information map is kind of useful."
There are many different ways of telling a story, but everything starts with an idea. So to help you get started we've rounded up some of the most awesome data visualization tools available on the web.
Although armed with only six chart types, open source library Chart.js is the perfect data visualization tool for hobbies and small projects. Using HTML 5 canvas elements to render charts, Chart.js creates responsive, flat designs, and is quickly becoming one of the most poplar open-source charting libraries.
Packed with graphs, charts, maps and more Tableau public is a popular data visualization tool that's also completely free. Users can easily drag and drop data into the system and watch it update in real-time, plus they can collaborate with other team members for quick project turnaround.
Open, customizable, and free to download and modify, Raw lets users create vector-based data visualizations. Data can be safely uploaded from apps to computers, plus it can be exported as an SVG or PNG and embedded in your webpage.
If you're looking for a data viz tool with mapping, InstantAtlas is worth checking out. This tool enables you to create highly-interactive dynamic and profile reports that combine statistics and map data to create engaging data visualizations.
Timeline is a fantastic widget which renders a beautiful interactive timeline that responds to the user's mouse, making it easy to create advanced timelines that convey a lot of information in a compressed space.
Each element can be clicked to reveal more in-depth information, making this a great way to give a big-picture view while still providing full detail.
Developed by MIT, and fully open-source, Exhibit makes it easy to create interactive maps, and other data-based visualizations that are orientated towards teaching or static/historical based data sets, such as flags pinned to countries, or birth-places of famous people.
09. Modest Maps
Modest Maps is a lightweight, simple mapping tool for web designers that makes it easy to integrate and develop interactive maps within your site, using them as a data visualization tool.
The API is easy to get to grips with, and offers a useful number of hooks for adding your own interaction code, making it a good choice for designers looking to fully customise their user's experience to match their website or web app. The basic library can also be extended with additional plugins, adding to its core functionality and offering some very useful data integration options.
Another mapping tool, Leaflet makes it easy to use OpenStreetMap data and integrate fully interactive data visualisation in an HTML5/CSS3 wrapper.
The core library itself is very small, but there are a wide range of plugins available that extend the functionality with specialist functionality such as animated markers, masks and heatmaps. Perfect for any project where you need to show data overlaid on a geographical projection (including unusual projections!).
Billed as a "computational knowledge engine", the Google rival WolframAlpha is really good at intelligently displaying charts in response to data queries without the need for any configuration. If you're using publically available data, this offers a simple widget builder to make it really simple to get visualizations on your site.
Visual.ly is a combined gallery and infographic generation tool. It offers a simple toolset for building stunning data representations, as well as a platform to share your creations. This goes beyond pure data visualisation, but if you want to create something that stands on its own, it's a fantastic resource and an info-junkie's dream come true!
13. Visualize Free
Visualize Free is a hosted tool that allows you to use publicly available datasets, or upload your own, and build interactive visualizations to illustrate the data. The visualizations go well beyond simple charts, and the service is completely free plus while development work requires Flash, output can be done through HTML5.
Orientated towards making positive change to the world, Better World Flux has some lovely visualizations of some pretty depressing data. It would be very useful, for example, if you were writing an article about world poverty, child undernourishment or access to clean water. This tool doesn't allow you to upload your own data, but does offer a rich interactive output.
Another jQuery plugin, jqPlot is a nice solution for line and point charts. It comes with a few nice additional features such as the ability to generate trend lines automatically, and interactive points that can be adjusted by the website visitor, updating the dataset accordingly.
Dipity allows you to create rich interactive timelines and embed them on your website. It offers a free version and a premium product, with the usual restrictions and limitations present. The timelines it outputs are beautiful and fully customisable, and are very easy to embed directly into your page.
If you need to generate charts and graphs server-side, jpGraph offers a PHP-based solution with a wide range of chart types. It's free for non-commercial use, and features extensive documentation. By rendering on the server, this is guaranteed to provide a consistent visual output, albeit at the expense of interactivity and accessibility.
Next page: 18 more top tools for data visualization