Tips, tricks and tools for data visualisation: 15 great tools for the job



In my previous article I discussed the importance of ensuring that your data is clean and processed before attempting any form of data visualisation. Here I will share some really awesome tools that (once your data is clean and ready to use) you can have at your disposal to create mind-blowing representations of the facts and figures.

Here is a list of tools, some more open and adjustable than others, that add value to your raw data and can be used as a source of inspiration and design when approaching the visualisation process.

1. 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.

Wolfram Alpha visualisation

2. 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.


3. Visual.Ly brings a social networking element to data visualization by connecting people, imagery and data around the world. With defined categories 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 your browser, however this functionality isn’t live yet.

To add onto the networking features has a handful of partner pages. These are 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.

4. We Feel Fine
We Feel Fine is an exploration of human emotion – a very unique approach to data visualization. How it works is that the app will load according to which operating system you’re running. It then provides fly-out options to sort the data, where the criteria includes age, gender, weather location, and even date. An extremely detailed analysis of the entire world’s emotions is then provided at any given point. Mind blowing!

We Feel Fine

As you click anywhere in the canvas the flying balls will 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. The number of emotions and feelings are beyond belief. You could easily lose many hours of your life playing with this app!

5. 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.

6. Better World Flux
Better World Flux is a really great tool that 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 you could possible need!

Better World Flux

7. 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.

8. 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.


You will need to sign up though but there is a free plan with the option to upgrade to a premium plan at a later stage. The good news is that 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.

9. 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
Circos is a tool to pack vast amounts of any data into a tight compact round visualisation. Showing the connections between two or more other components, these circular visualisations are a great way to browse and see patterns.


11. Tweet Spectrum
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.

12. Wordle
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 account name to display their tags in cloud format.

Wordle isn’t all about interactivity. 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.

13. Tag Crowd
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. Simple and effective!

14. Vuvox
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. Newsmap
A fun tool to examine the latest news around the world. Newsmap imports all the latest articles from Google News and displays them in a mosaic inspired format which can be customized by region and category along with some great built-in search functionality.


If you notice an interesting news story, hover over the block area to be given a preview image. This often includes some of the article text along with a link to the domain URL and time of publication. Articles with a larger block are generally more popular among Google users. The visualization techniques used are perfect for those looking to check news at a glance among a wide range of topics.

Image: Bigstock



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