An ongoing surge of digital information makes creative data visualization tools even more relevant for today’s marketing professionals. Data visualization presents the attributes or variables of information units in schematic form. Ideal visualization should communicate clearly and stimulate viewer engagement.
Writing for the HBR Blog Network, John Sviokla says “we will naturally migrate toward superior visualizations to cope with this information ocean.”
In Why your brain needs data visualization, Analise Polsky explains the benefits of processing information through pictures.
According to Friedman (2008):
The main goal of data visualization is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means. It doesn’t mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often fail to achieve a balance between form and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve their main purpose — to communicate information.
Creative representations of raw data are more appealing and easier to understand than yawn-worthy spreadsheets, and can make you and your data stand out in client meetings and pitches.
In Sviokla’s work with clients, he’s seen three primary benefits of creative data visualization and superior graphic representation:
- Great visualizations are efficient — they let people look at vast quantities of data quickly.
- Visualizations can help an analyst or a group achieve more insight into the nature of a problem and discover new understanding.
- A great visualization can help create a shared view of a situation and align folks on needed actions.
Keep in mind there are times when data visualization doesn’t work. If the visualization does more to confuse the viewer than it does to bring clarity, the visualization has not achieved its goal. It could almost be considered more of an art piece rather than a data visualization piece. That being said, most data visualization pieces should be art–not all art is a data visualization piece.
Once you take the time to be sure your raw data is flawless, here are a few stand-out tools recommended by the folks over at WorldStar Inernet Marketing.
Wolfram Alpha isn’t a search engine, it is a knowledge engine. For just about any piece of data, WolframAlpha can plot it. It does this by asking questions and then returning the results in as basic visualisations. If for example you ask it about your Facebook account it returns a host of interesting charts, graphs and other data about your connections and interests. Although this isn’t a general purpose tool, it is a good example of taking a large data sets and representing them in different ways.
Visual.ly brings a social networking element to data visualization by connecting people, imagery and data around the world. Designers are able to submit their own projects on data visualization and infographics which can then be shared and used by others looking for a similar solution. Eventually this tool will allow users to create dynamic infographics directly within a browser.Visual.ly has a handful of partner pages similar to a profile page where users can view comments, likes, views, and infographic submissions, however these are targeted towards big-name brands such as National Geographic, eBay, Skype and CNN.
We Feel Fine
We Feel Fine is an exploration of human emotion – a very unique approach to data visualization. The app will load according to which operating system you’re running. It then provides fly-out options to sort the data including age, gender, weather location, and even date. An extremely detailed analysis of the entire world’s emotions is then provided at any given point. Click anywhere in the canvas and flying balls scatter about. If you mouse over one of them it’ll provide a bit more detail, and clicking will open a whole new bar at the top with more detail. Many of the results are pulled from Twitter and also include photo/video media.
This tool provides a new outlook on how to approach Twitter. With this tool you are able to create custom line maps of data connecting tweets related to one or many keywords. You can additionally add a title to your graph and share the link, or post it directly to Twitter. Clicking on an individual breakaway line off the graphic will display further details. Tweets will often include metadata such as the time posted and important/related keywords. The search criteria are limited to standard Twitter notation which uses a comma separated list of keywords.
Better World Flux
Better World Flux allows you to visually represent data encompassing important ideas around the world. One is able to select a single country or countries, followed by specified indicators such as life expectancy or access to water and then creates a beautifully crafted inforgraphic to represent this data. This is a great tool to add depth into your own data and visualizations and the extent of clean data here is so extensive that you are able to extract just about anything.
Google Fusion Tables
Google Fusion Tables is an experimental data visualization web application to gather, visualize, and share larger data tables. All you need is a Google account to sign in and some time to play around. This tool lets you share data openly online and build custom visualization graphics. Data can be imported from a .csv or Excel spreadsheet. Once you’re logged in you’ll find a table of public data lists to demo with. These are updated constantly with each new user submissions. After opening a document the top toolbar has a visualization link with additional menus to customize your graphic. Google Fusion Tables allow you to merge two or three tables to generate a single visualization that includes both sets of data as well as find public data to combine with your own for a better visualization.
Dipity is an awesome tool to create and externally embed custom interactive timelines. You can pin markers on important dates to include photos, links, audio/video, and other forms of media. The most popular member timelines are offered publicly, so you can easily sort through an exciting existing list of dynamic timelines. A good one to check out is Steve Job’s life and career fully formatted with photos up until 2011.
JpGraph is a great tool if you are looking for static graph generation. While fancy interactive charts are great, a lot of the time you just want to copy and paste a graph into your document or presentation and with vector SVG graphs this is nearly impossible. JpGraph allows for the ability to export a graph in a flat image format, and includes screen capture. This is a great replacement for Google Static Charts and is written in PHP, is self-hosted, and comes with a liberal license.10. Circos
Twitter is one of the best networks to apply data visualization to considering that there are millions of tweets flooding the internet every day and the size of its network. Tweet Spectrum is a custom-built web app using Java where you can enter two keywords you’d like to compare and the spectrum will fill in surrounding keywords. A fantastic way to visualize words related to similar topics.
Wordle allows you to play around with graphic visualizations of word clouds from practically any medium. There is no login or signup required making this a quick easy tool to use. Wordle gives you three options: pasting in custom text, adding the URL to a blog or feed, or using a Del.icio.us account name to display their tags in cloud format. Even just browsing through the site you can find a lot of really cool examples created by other users by browsing the Wordle Gallery which means you don’t always have to start from scratch.
Tag Crowd is an awesome web-based cloud visualization tool. You can paste in your own text or even link to another website online where the application will automatically analyze the page for content and rearrange popular keywords by size and density. There have been a few other popular solutions to this; however Tag Crowd seems to be the most elegant, not to mention that it doesn’t require installing any third party software. You are able upload a file (such as .doc or .pdf ), link to a web page, or directly paste your content into a text area.
Vuvox is a great interactive web app for designers and data lovers. It allows you to share slideshows and photo galleries dynamically on your own website or profile page, but you aren’t limited strictly to photo media as Vuvox allows for music and video uploads as well. This tool allows you to create collages and data slide shows – perhaps a nice alternative to PowerPoint.15.
Also check out 7 Data Viz Sites to Inspire Your Creative Eye by Mashable. One of my personal favorites is Bloomberg Billionaires, a mind-blowing visual ranking of the world’s richest people according to gender, industry, citizenship, age and source of wealth. Let us know your approach to creative data visualization and preferred tools in the comments.