Data isn't a thing that's easy for the average person to grasp. While some can look through a spreadsheet and instinctively find the information they need within a mass of figures, the rest of us need a little help, and that's where data visualisation can be a real help.
For the designer, the challenge is not only in rendering a set of data in an informative way, but also in presenting it so that it that stands out from the mass of competing data streams.
One of the best ways to get your message across is to use a visualisation 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 visualising 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 visualisation tools available on the web.
01. Chart Studio
DataHero enables you to pull together data from cloud services and create charts and dashboards. No technical abilities are required, so this is a great tool for your whole team to use.
Although armed with only six chart types, open source library Chart.js is the perfect data visualisation 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. Read more about how to use Chart.js here.
Packed with graphs, charts, maps and more, Tableau Public is a popular data visualisation tool that's also completely free. Users can easily drag and drop data into the system and watch it update in real-time, plus you can collaborate with other team members for quick project turnaround.
Open, customisable, and free to download and modify, RAWGraphs lets users create vector-based data visualisations. 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 visualisations.
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 visualisation 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. It's perfect for any project where you need to show data overlaid on a geographical projection.
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 publicly available data, this offers a simple widget builder to make it really simple to get visualisations on your site.
12. Visualize Free
Visualize Free is a hosted tool that allows you to use publicly available datasets, or upload your own, and build interactive visualisations to illustrate the data. The visualisations 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 visualisations 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.
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