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Visualization Tools

An introduction to tools for creating infographics, timelines and other data visualizations.

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Particularly when we talk about large numbers, it can be difficult to fully understand their impact. With an ever-increasing amount of data and information available to us, data visualization is becoming more important to help people truly understand the meaning of the information that is collected. Whether you are teaching in a classroom or presenting in front of clients, the ability to distill and contextualize data is one that will set you apart and the tools in this guide will help you to do just that.

If you are new to the world of data visualization and want an overview, try Lynda.com's Data Visualization Fundamentals tutorial.

Looking for media to use in your visualization? Try the resources on our guide to public domain and Creative Commons media. Do you want to incorporate your data visualization into a presentation? Check out our guide to presentation tools.

Infographics

Visme

Visme, which is currently in free beta, is a versatile tool that can be used to create infographics, presentations, charts/graphs, or animations. The drag-and-drop interface will make infographics, even more advanced animated ones, approachable for new users. They also offer a support site that will help you get started with your projects.

Sprites

Sprites allows users to created animated, online infographics and data visualizations. Its tools offers options that would allow users to create full presentations that are run online or included in their web presence. The services offers both free and pro plans. The company offers a tutorial that walks users through creating their first infographic.

Easel.ly

Easel.ly uses a drag-and-drop interface to make infographic creation more intuitive and user-friendly. Though it offers a limited number of themes and options, Easel.ly is versatile enough to make creating infographics possible to users at all skill levels.

Piktochart

Piktochart is a nice tool for creating infographics for use on the web quickly. Users have access to a number of themes and images to use in their infographics and the finished product can be easily shared on social media or to connected apps, such as Evernote and Slideshare. They also offer free and discounted subscriptions for education use. The videos below will help you get started creating infographics.

Venngage

Venngage is another drag-and-drop infographic creation tool. Over 30 templates are included in the tool, making it easy to find one for your project. It offers both free and paid plans, though you do need to pay for a subscription if you want to export your infographic rather than sharing it on the web. You can see Venngage in action in the video below.

Infoactive

Infoactive is a new option for creating infographics. It is focused on creating interactive and mobile friendly infographics using a drag-and-drop interface. You can create up to two infographics using the free plan and there is a paid subscription available to create more.

Timelines

TimelineJS

TimelineJS is a tool from the Knight Lab that was developed to make it easy for journalists to create responsive online timelines without advanced technical knowledge. It is currently available for free to anyone. Creating a timeline only requires basic knowledge of spreadsheets and Google Drive as the entire timeline is created from information entered into a Google Spreadsheet. If you have more advanced knowledge of JSON, you can further customize your timeline, but even without this, you have plenty of opportunities to modify the timeline to fit your exact needs. The tutorial below demonstrates the entire process for creating a timeline.

Tiki-Toki

Tiki-Toki is a versatile timeline creation tool that allows you to include pictures as well as audio and video materials in your timeline. The tool offers both free and premium accounts, including one specfically for teachers and students. The final product is a very professional looking timline that can be embedded in other websites.

Dipity

Dipity is a timeline creation tool that lets users create dynamic timelines for use on the web. Finished timelines can be embedded on any website and Dipity offers a lot of customization options so that your embedded timeline meets your exact needs. There is a free version of the tool as well as several subscription options. Education users are eligible for a subscription discount.

TimeToast

TimeToast is another browser-based timeline tool. It offers both free and paid subscriptions, though it is important to note that the free accounts display ads both while you are using TimeToast and as others are viewing your timeline. The tool produces interactive timelines and paid accounts include the option to collaborate with others on projects.

Histropedia

Histropedia is an interesting take on timeline creation. This tool uses content from Wikipedia to make it extremely quick to create timelines. Users simply search for items they want to include in their timeline in the included search bar to find and incorporate content from Wikipedia automatically. It is a great option for creating timelines that are interactive. Finished timelines can either be shared via a link or embedded on a website.

Word Clouds

Tagul

Tagul allows you to create word clouds based on text you import or text that already exists on a website. The resulting cloud is highly customizable, with the ability to specify features such as colors, fonts, and the shape of the cloud to name just a few. The resulting word cloud is animated with words expanding as users hover over them. You can see a word cloud based on the library's homepage below.

Tagxedo

Tagxedo is another option for creating word clouds. It works particularly well if you want to pull in content from sources such as Twitter or an RSS feed. The tutorial below shows how it works.

Wordle

Wordle LogoWordle is another alternative for word cloud generation. While its word clouds are not animated, it is nice for creating a simple image of a word cloud for use in a presentation or on a website. It also has some advanced features that allow you to weight words and specify their colors. 

Charts & Graphs

Tableau Public

Tableau Public is a robust tool for visualizing data you are analyzing. It is the free version of the Tableau software and is available for both PC and Mac. They offer a number of resources for those getting started with the software, including a guide to how it works, a gallery for inspiration, and an online community for users.  In addition to the free web version, Tableu offers the destop version for free to students and teachers.

Many Eyes

Many Eyes is a tool from IBM that allows you to create a wide variety of types of data visualizations. You can use your own data or one of the data sets they provide. Check out their Quick Start tour or the video below to get started visualizing your data.

Gephi

Gephi is a free tool for Windows, Mac and Linux that makes it possible to visualize complicated networks and systems. The resulting graphics are very engaging and because this is an open source project a number of plugins have been developed to extend it.

Filtergraph

Filtergraph is a free tool for creating interactive visualizations. You can upload data from a wide array of file types, including Excel and ASCII and once you have uploaded the data, creating a visualization is quick and easy. If you do run into any questions, the project includes detailed help information on their Wiki.

Plotly

Plotly is a tool that will help you create free, web-based graphs. The tool offers both an educator version and a free public version, as well as an enterprise version for companies that want to install the software on private servers. With Plot.ly, you can create a variety of types of graphs, including bar charts and scatter plots. Plot.ly offers extensive training materials as well as an API library.

StatTrends

StatTrends from StatSilk is a free tool for creating interactive charts and graphs with both web-based and desktop versions available. For those with more advanced needs, there is also a premium version of the tool called StatTrends Plus. The video below demonstrates a StatTrends chart in action.

Maps

CartoDB

With both free and premium account options, CartoDB offers a lot of ways to use maps to convey data. It will help you to build maps to represent a variety of types of information and offers examples to inspire you. It also has a lot of detailed documentation and several tutorials to help you get started.

Google Tour Builder

Tour Builder is a tool from Google that allows you to create place content, including text, images, and videos, on a Google Earth map. This can be used to trace a route taken or highlight the geographic element of any topic. Harvard Law School Library used it to highlight items in an exhibit of some of our rare and historic materials, which is just one example of the many ways that institutions have used the tool. Though it is free, finished tours can only be displayed on computers that have Google Earth installed, which is an important consideration before using it.

Weave

Weave is "designed to enable visualization of any available data by anyone for any purpose." While this broad purpose will make it useful to a wide range of users, it does require a bit of technical know-how to get started with it. However, once you become comfortable, it can make visualizing information very straightforward. You can see examples of visualizations created with Weave on their demo page.

StatPlanet

StatPlanet from StatSilk offers both free and premium tools that allow users to visualize their data on interactive maps that can be published to the web. The video below shows you how quickly you can create a map using this software.

Other Tools

Dadaviz

Dadaviz is a new service that highlights some of the best data visualizations available online. It is a good place to go if you want inspiration for future projects, ideas of how others have visualized various types of data, or examples to illustrate what data visualizations can do. Below is an example of one of the data visualizations that they shared.

Graphs of USA income tax rates from 1913-2013

Canva

Canva is a simple, web-based graphic design tool that makes it easy to create web or print graphics. Though it is not specifically intended for data visualization, you can easily import graphics and other content, making it an additional option for either creating infographics or displaying visualizations created with other tools. It is free and includes hundreds of free images, fonts and other design elements as well as premium content that can be purchased from within the tool. 

ThingLink

Thinglink allows users to add interactivity to existing images. If you have already created an infographic using another tool, you can add clickable links to other websites, music, and other media using ThingLink. A free plan allows you to add links to your images and collect basic analytics. You can see it in action in the video below.

Silk

Silk offers a way to visualize a range of data into a coherent web page that can then be used on other sites as well. There are versions of Silk for both public and private projects as well as for teams that want to collaborate on a single project. You can get started by working through one of their tutorials.

Books on Visualization

Visualization Books at Harvard

Ebooks

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