The 38 best tools for data visualization

Creating charts and infographics can be time-consuming. But these tools make it easier.

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.

01. Chart.js

Data visualization: Chart.js
Chart.js is perfectly suited to smaller projects

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.

02. Tableau

Data visualization: Tableau
Create and share data in real time with Tableau

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.

03. Raw

Data visualization: Raw
Raw is an open web app with a simple interface

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.

04. Dygraphs

Data visualization: Dygraphs
Help visitors explore dense data sets with JavaScript library Dygraphs

Dygraphs is a fast, flexible open source JavaScript charting library that allows users to explore and interpret dense data sets. It's highly customizable, works in all major browsers, and you can even pinch to zoom on mobile and tablet devices.

05. ZingChart

Data visualization: ZingChart
ZingChart lets you create HTML5 Canvas charts and more

ZingChart is a JavaScript charting library and feature-rich API set that lets you build interactive Flash or HTML5 charts. It offer over 100 chart types to fit your data.

06. InstantAtlas

Data visualization: InstantAtlas
InstantAtlas enables you to create highly engaging visualisations around map data

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.

07. Timeline

Data visualization: Timeline
Timeline creates beautiful interactive 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.

08. Exhibit

Data visualization: Exhibit
Exhibit makes data visualization a doddle

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

Data visualization: Modest Maps
Integrate and develop interactive maps within your site with this cool tool

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.

10. Leaflet

Data visualization: Leaflet
Use OpenStreetMap data and integrate data visualisation in an HTML5/CSS3 wrapper

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!).

11. WolframAlpha

Data visualization: Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is excellent at creating charts

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.

12. Visual.ly

Data visualization: Visual.ly
Visual.ly makes data visualisation as simple as can be

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

Data visualization: Visualize Free
Make visualizations for 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.

14. Better World Flux

Data visualization: Better World Flux
Making the ugly beautiful - that's Better World Flux

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.

15. FusionCharts

Data visualization: FusionCharts Suite XT
A comprehensive JavaScript/HTML5 charting solution for your data visualization needs

FusionCharts Suite XT brings you 90+ charts and gauges, 965 data-driven maps, and ready-made business dashboards and demos. FusionCharts comes with extensive JavaScript API that makes it easy to integrate it with any AJAX application or JavaScript framework. These charts, maps and dashboards are highly interactive, customizable and work across all devices and platforms. They also have a comparison of the top JavaScript charting libraries which is worth checking out.

16. jqPlot

Data visualization: jQPlot
jqPlot is a nice solution for line and point charts

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.

17. Dipity

Data visualization: Dipity
Dipity has free and premium versions to suit your needs

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.

18. D3.js

Data visualization: D3.js
You can render some amazing diagrams with D3

D3.js is a JavaScript library that uses HTML, SVG, and CSS to render some amazing diagrams and charts from a variety of data sources. This library, more than most, is capable of some seriously advanced visualizations with complex data sets. It's open source, and uses web standards so is very accessible. It also includes some fantastic user interaction support.

19. JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit

Data visualization: JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit
JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit includes a handy modular structure

A fantastic library written by Nicolas Belmonte, the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit includes a modular structure, allowing you to only force visitors to download what's absolutely necessary to display your chosen data visualizations. This library has a number of unique styles and swish animation effects, and is free to use (although donations are encouraged).

20. jpGraph

Data visualization: jpGraph
jpGraph is a PHP-based data visualization tool

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