An interactive visualization at Datavisualization.ch.
Explain complex concepts with stunning visuals
Guest post by Miranda Rensch
Senior Product Manager, SEOmoz
Communicating visually is one of the most effective ways to explain complex concepts and relationships. It can be a great way to explain your services or products and create valuable site content. I often use diagrams and whiteboarding to communicate new features and concepts internally with my team.
Below is a list of tools that you can use to create visualizations or simply to communicate visually with your fellow staff members. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments! Check out these tools for creating simple infographics and data visualizations.
Piktochart: Create simple visualizations
1Piktochart is a Web-based tool that has six decent free themes (and a whole bunch more for the paid version) for creating simple visualizations. You can drag and drop different shapes and images, and there is quite a bit of customization available. You can also add simple line, bar, and pie charts using data from CSV (a data table or spreadsheet) or enter it manually. You can export to PNG and JPG in either print or Web quality. Note that with the free version, you get a small Piktochart watermark on the bottom of the PNG / JPG downloads.
Easel.ly: Web-based infographic creation
2Easel.ly is another free Web-based tool for creating infographics. You cannot create graphs using real data with this tool, but it’s really good for conceptual visualizations and storytelling. It has a beautiful user interface and the themes you can start with are gorgeous. The themes support many common purposes: map, flow-chart and comparison/relationship graphing. This tool has the best selection of well-designed objects (people, a bunch if icons, landmarks, maps, animals, etc.) and backgrounds that I’ve seen. Additionally, you can upload your own images with the free version, and download a Web-quality version as a JPG.
Infogr.am: Data-infused charts
3Infogr.am is another free, Web-based tool with some really nice themes and a great interface for creating simple infographics. This option also allows you to create charts using real data. There are 31 chart options that offer some really cool displays, like a radial bar graph, scatter charts, bubble graphs, and map charts. You can also add your own images and video. When you’re done creating your infographic, you can embed it on a website and publish it to the infogra.am site (I wasn’t able to find a way to download it).
Visual.ly: Analytics meet visuals
4Visual.ly (I know, these visualization tools love their ‘.ly’s!) has some simple free tools worth mentioning, many of which integrate with social networks to analyze Twitter and Facebook data. You can create fun Venn diagrams, Twitter account showdowns, visuals that analyze hashtags and a few others, but there’s almost no customization available. However, they offer a marketplace where you can get connected with visual designers and motion graphics artists who specialize in infographics. The site itself also has a ton of great infographics to inspire you or your designers. There is some serious data visualization eye candy in here, people.
Tableau: Interactive data visualizations
5Tableau has some free tools for creating data visualizations. It’s not Web based, so you’ll have to download the software. Once you do, you can upload a spreadsheet or CSV and create a variety of interactive data visualizations, including heat maps showing density of an activity by location, Venn diagrams to show associations, bar charts, line graphs and others. This tool is for Windows only. See Tableau’s gallery for examples of the types of visualizations you can create or learn more about how it works.
Bonus! Looking for some more fantastically geeky data visualization options?
Datavisualization.ch has created an excellent list of packages, libraries and data visualization frameworks for creating more complex and interactive visualizations using your own data sets and development environments.
Omnigraffle: Wireframe in detail
6Omnigraffle is a desktop application that I use all the time at work. The interface is very intuitive, and it’s quite an effective tool for wireframing in detail. You can customize and stylize objects to the extent that you can use the tool to create whole infographics exactly as you want them using this tool; it’s difficult to do data visualizations with actual data, though. There are tons of free downloadable stencils that make it super easy to diagram mobile and Web interfaces, architecture diagrams and even office or home layouts. This tool has its drawbacks, though; it’s not the cheapest tool at $99 for standard and $199 for the pro version, and it’s offered for Mac only.
RSA Animate: Make a video
8The RSA Animate series (illustrations done by CognitiveMedia) is a really good example of using visual communication to accompany a verbal explanation of something. You can hire an illustration artist to do something like this, or do it up yourself and draw on a whiteboard while you explain your topic. (This works great in internal meetings too; try it next time you’re trying to explain a concept to someone and see how it goes.) If you hire an illustration artist, deliver the verbal script that they’ll need to animate to and add points where you can see visuals supporting the topics, but give them freedom to explore creative ways to visualize, too.
TimelineJS: Interactive timelines
9TimelineJS uses a Google spreadsheet with links to YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Sound Cloud and other media sources to create really nice-looking timelines. You could use this tool to create an interactive visualization of the starting of your company, your client’s company, tell the story of an industry, etc.
Present.me: Create proposals with A/V
10Present.me allows you to create presentations you record yourself talking next to the slides you’re presenting. This tool might be a good way for people working remotely to share a proposal or concept, or for documenting presentations you’ve given on your blog or site.
Good luck, visualizers! If you have any other suggestions for great ways to communicate visually on the Web or IRL, please feel free to share in the comments!