Originally published here
Don’t simply show data, tell a story with it!
Yes, we have data and we have insights, now what? Obviously, the next step would be to communicate these findings with people so that they can take the necessary actions. One of the most effective ways to communicate data is through storytelling. But to be effective storytellers, we need to simplify things and not complicate them so that the real essence of the analysis is not lost.
When it comes to storytelling and visualisation, there are a number of tools to choose from. Some are freely available while others come with paid subscriptions. Some are easy and intuitive but lack interactiveness while some are complex and require a bit of effort to get started.
If you are just getting started in Data Visualisation, have no experience in art or graphic design, don’t want to code and want to start instantly making graphs or maps, then this article is just for you. This article tries also bring to light tools other than the popular one’s tools like Tableau Public, PowerBI and Google Charts, which are used quite commonly in the Data Science ecosystem.
So, here are ten freely available tools that let beginners start building beautiful visuals immediately.
All of these data visualization tools are available for free, but may have a premium version if you want to upgrade and access more options especially the cloud services.
1. Data Wrapper
Datawrapper makes it easy to create charts & maps. You can create a choropleth, symbol or a locator map with ease, just with the click of the mouse. Similarly, you can also create a chart of your choice depending upon your data. The charts are interactive, responsive and embeddable in your website. The free version of the tool which is meant for a single user supports 10,000 monthly chart views.
Datawrapper is mainly built for journalists and by the journalists. Newsrooms all over the world use Datawrapper to build their charts and maps. However, it is pretty much useful for anybody, who wants visualisations to accompany their articles. The site also hosts their blog titled CHARTABLE, where they regularly write about the best practices in data visualisation.
Simply copy your data from Excel or Google Sheets. You can also upload CSV files or link to an URL for live-updating charts. Choose from many chart and map types with one click. Customize and annotate the charts to make it more effective. Copy the ready-to-use embed code into your CMS or website, or export the chart as an image or PDF to print it.
RAWGraphs is an open web tool to create custom vector-based visualizations on top of the amazing d3.js library.
Primarily conceived as a tool for designers and vis geeks, RAWGraphs aims at providing a missing link between spreadsheet applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, Google Docs) and vector graphics editors (e.g. Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape etc).
RAWGraphs is highly customizable and extensible, accepting new custom layouts defined by users. For more information about how to add or edit layouts, visit their site.
RAWGraphs works with tabular data (e.g. spreadsheets and comma-separated values) as well as with copied-and-pasted texts from other applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, TextWrangler, TextEdit etc). Based on the SVG format, visualizations can be easily edited with vector graphics applications for further refinements, or directly embedded into web pages.
Simply insert the raw data in RawGraphs, choose within a wide range of visual models and then tune the created chart and explore the data.
The easiest way to use RAWGraphs is by accessing the most updated version on the official app page. However, RAWGraphs can also run locally on your machine. For installation follow the instructions on their Github repo.
Charted lets you visualise data and automatically create beautiful charts. It has been developed by the Product Science team at Medium. Charted has been deliberately kept simple and easy to work with. It doesn’t store, manipulate or transform data and hence it isn’t a formatting tool. However, it has a few powerful core features:
- Rendering well on all screen sizes, including monitors
- Re-fetching the data and updating the chart every 30 minutes
- Moving data series into separate charts
- Adjusting the chart type, labels/titles, and background
Provide the link to a data file and Charted returns a beautiful, interactive, and shareable chart of the data. Currently charted supports .csv, .tsv. google spreadsheets and dropbox share links. It is also possible to generate an HTML code which can then be embedded to a website.
Download the repo and run
npm install to install dependencies. After that, you will be able to run
npm start. This will start a server at localhost:3000. Alternatively, it can be tried out at charted.co too.
4. Chart Studio
Chart Studio is Plotly’s powerful, web-based online chart creator. It is one of the most sophisticated editors for creating D3.js and WebGL charts. It is available as a basic version which is free to use. Additionally, there are enterprise and cloud versions which are paid. The source code is available for anyone to integrate into their applications.
Either drag-and-drop data files or connect to SQL through the Falcon SQL client. Then simply play with the options provided and get interactive charts instantly.
FastCharts is a product from the Financial Times DataViz team. They recently soft-launched a public version of their in-house, in-browser charting tool for people to work and provide feedback.
The tool can be used to :
• Make line, bar and area charts by simply pasting your data directly into the browser
• Add annotations to points and/or regions of the plot
• Download PNGs and editable SVGs
Though this tool was made for in-house use, FastCharts is also gaining a reputation in other parts of the business as they create charts for presentations — this is a simpler tool than Excel or Google Sheets and provides users with a more professional looking chart with FT branding.
Any data in CSV or TSV format can be used to create the chart which can then be further customised as per the user’s preference.
Here’s a demo GIF showing how to make a chart in under a minute:
Palladio is a free data-driven tool designed to visualize complex historical data with ease. The project was conceived to understand how to design graphical interfaces based on humanistic inquiry. Palladio lies at the intersection of History and Design.
There are four types of visualisations which can be created with Palladio:
- Map View: converts the coordinates data as points on a map.
- Graph View: Lets you visualise the relationships between any two dimensions of your data
- List View: dimensions of the data can be arranged to make customized lists.
- Gallery View: data can be displayed within a grid setting for quick reference
Any collection of information that can be represented in a table/spreadsheet format will work with Palladio, with the only requirement that all data is represented by delimited-separated values including commas, semicolons and tabs.
We can either paste, upload or provide a link to the data in order to create a new Palladio project.
Opeheatmap is a very simple tool that instantly turns spreadsheets into a map. Right from mapping house prices in a neighbourhood to twitter followers, openheatmap can turn all these into interactive visualisation without any complexity involved.
Simply upload your spreadsheet or provide a link to the google drive. If there’s no problem in the data, you’ll be able to view your map next. Your spreadsheet should have a column for the locations you want to map, one for the value and optionally one for the time of each row if you want an animated map. For example:
Let us map ‘London Underground stations’ using openheatmap.
MyHeatMap is another tool that makes it possible to view geographic data interactively. However, the free versions only allow the users to create Public maps with a maximum of only twenty data points, which is actually very less. Myheatmap outputs colour-coded heat maps which are extremely easy for the target audience to understand. The maps aren’t cluttered with markers, flags, contour lines, or growing blobs. Also, heat maps created with myheatmap are completely interactive with the ability to pan and zoom.
The user simply needs to upload the geographic data in a CSV format. The file should include a header row with at least three fields. Two of the fields must be named “Latitude” and “Longitude”, and their corresponding columns must contain geocoordinates in degrees latitude and degrees longitude.
Chartbuilder is a front-end charting application that facilitates the easy creation of simple beautiful charts. Chartbuilder is the user and export interface. Chartbuilder powers all chart creation on Atlas, a charting platform developed by Quartz. Chartbuilder is not a data analysis or data transformational tool. It simply creates charts in a consistent predefined style.
Paste csv or tsv formatted data into chartbuilder and export the code to draw a mobile friendly responsive chart or a static SVG or PNG chart. For the ones who are not interested in customizing the styles of the charts, the hosted version: http://quartz.github.io/Chartbuilder will do, else it can also be downloaded and installed locally.
TimelineJS is an open-source tool that enables anyone to build visually rich, interactive timelines. Beginners can create a timeline using nothing more than a Google spreadsheet. Experts can use their JSON skills to create custom installations while keeping TimelineJS’s core functionality.
TimelineJS can pull in media from a variety of sources. Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Google Maps, Wikipedia, SoundCloud, Document Cloud and more!
Creating a timeline is an easy process. A spreadsheet template is provided which needs to be filled in and then simply publish the content. The generated link can then be embedded in Medium or on any website at a point where the timeline is desired. The site has a good introductory video to get started with Timeline JS.
An example of how the Timeline will be rendered in a Medium Blog/Website.
Mandela: A Life of Purpose
11. Canva Graph maker
Canva Graph maker is a versatile tool that lets you create beautiful data visualisations instantly and hassle-free. Unlike other online graph makers, Canva isn’t complicated or time-consuming. There’s no learning curve — you’ll get a beautiful graph or diagram in minutes, turning raw data into something that’s both visual and easy to understand.
Essentially it takes only 5 simple steps to create a graph in Canva:
- Select a graph or diagram template
- Add your data or information
- Add icons or illustrations from our library
- Change the colours, fonts, background and more
- Download, print or share
There are a plethora of available chart types for any type of use case. There are area charts, bar graphs, comparison charts, pie chart and various others which you can explore on their site.
Here’s a demo GIF showing how to make a very basic chart with Canva easily. Try it yourself to build more professional and aesthetically pleasing graphs.
Data visualisation doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Coding definitely gives you more options to create and customise the graphs especially when the data is messy, but these tools can provide good options when it comes to instant data visualisations. This is not an exhaustive list and I am always on the lookout for more tools that try to simplify the visualisations process for others.