Data visualization is a hot topic these days in the analytics community, yet stepping away from good ol’ Excel sometimes seems daunting. Yet when you see a cool visualization you wonder: how can I also make this happen?
To answer this question you turn to Google, but the first hits you may find could scare you away with their complexity. In order to help you ease the transition and find the right level of complexity for you I have collected 13 resources and ordered by the difficulty of their usage. There is no clear metric though on difficulty, so this ranking is only based on my assumptions and approach. Still I think some of this guidance will help you out.
Easy and fast to learn
These tools are either very similar to Excel itself or are so simple to start using that you will not have major difficulties starting out.
Datawrapper is probably the easiest to use among all of these data visualization tools. It is as simple as pasting a Google Sheets link or uploading your data, then picking the chart. Many online publications, like the Guardian, use Datawrapper to pimp up their stories, so no shame in going super simple.
Because of its simplicity this is the tool of choice for most non-techie people.
One of the specialized data visualization tools Timeline.JS helps you, well, creating timelines. Actually I think it is a pitty that there are not many more timeline visualization libraries out there.
Charted is as simple as Datawrapper. You give it a link or upload a CSV and you are ready to go. It is particularly easy to use due to it’s very clean user interface.
You can also download it’s source code if you wish, but anyways using the service itself is free.
Google Charts errs towards the intermediate difficulty section, but still simple enough to learn it fast, but already feature rich enough to power more complex visualizations.
There is also a gallery where you can check out many examples.
Here you might need to read, learn and play a bit around to get the basics of these tools, but with some time investement you can really get to amazing data visualiations.
Tableau is probably one of the big names around here. It’s public version is free to use, though has some limitations, which I think are OK for starting up.
This tool shines when creating interactive charts and maps. Filter and click around with any finished, published chart to drill down easily and gain more insight.
Learning Tableau is not super complex, yet it is still not as simple as uploading a file, picking a chart type and go. If you invest some minimal time though, you can get pretty awesome data visualization, or their combinations, published.
Raw promotes itself as “the missing link between spreadsheets and vector graphics”. Using it is still relatively simple, as explained in the above video. Raw is powerful enough as it is built on top of D3.js (discussed later), probably the most popular and powerful free data visualization tool.
In terms of looks the results of Chartist.js pretty much resemble that of Excel, but slightly more polished. While being a small library it brings in responsiveness, animations and beautiful rendering to up your game. Chartist.js already requires some actual coding, so it is borderline expert territory.
To get some inspiration you may check some examples here.
At times you need to get down to high complexity or even actual coding to get the best. Actually some of the most popular tools on the web belong into this category. If you want to get really awesome, prepare to invest significant time into learning these tools.
Dygrpahs shines when interpreting dense data sets, it does so very efficiently.It also allows for panning, zooming and mouse-over actions and supports all browsers back to Internet Explorer 8.
You may check out the dygrpahs demo gallery to see your options.
Polymaps is, as its name suggest, a specialized tool for maps. While many other libraries, especially in the advanced section, handle maps well if you want something sharpened for it you should look at Polymaps. It can also pull data from OpenStreetMap, Bing or other map image provider helping you to get things done faster.
Fusioncharts boasts over 90 chart type and more than 960 maps. All this is supported in browsersback to Internet Explorer 6, so basically in any browser no matter how old the viewer’s computer is. This is already a power user’s tool, supporting both JSON and XML data formats. If you want to become a real pro Fusioncharts can be an excellent option.
Probably the most well kown charting library on the web, D3.js gives the ability to developers to create even the mst complex charts or maps. It is using open web technologies, such as HTML, SVG and CSS to ensure cross platform and cross browser compatibility. One drawback could be that D3 is created for modern browsers so will not support as many users as Fusioncharts does.
The learning curve here is considerable, though your time investment can make youa real pro when it comes to data visualization on the web.
Luckily there are many free data visualization tools around the web ranging from super simple and clean solutions to the ones which are recommended only for developers who are willing to invest serious time into becoming pros.
Whichever option you pick, I’m sure a beautiful chart will boost engagement on your site or publication. Just be careful not to overdo it.