Creative Data Visualization

“A good sketch is better than a long speech.” — Napoleon

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:

  1. Great visualizations are efficient — they let people look at vast quantities of data quickly.
  2. Visualizations can help an analyst or a group achieve more insight into the nature of a problem and discover new understanding.
  3. 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

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.

 

Chart.js

Chart.js is an open-source charting library perfect for designers and developers. By making use of just a few lines of JavaScript code it allows you to extract a chart inside a canvas element. Chart.js is a good tool to use for basic chart types and the good news is that it only adds 20KB to your page size to do it.

 

Visual.Ly

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.

 

Revisit

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

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

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

 

Tweet Spectrum

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