A friend recently asked me, “how do you choose the right chart?” I thought about it, and essentially sent her a list of the sites that I have bookmarked, along with a few comments. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s meant more for a layperson, but here’s the list, nonetheless. If you have more suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
I’ll follow up with a future post illustrating a few of these, and summarizing best practices and my experiences (a post which my toddler recently published in draft form–word to the wise, never let your toddler near your blog
In the meantime…
Which chart should I use
Limited to basic charts but half the time, that’s all you need.
- SAP Design Guild: A great reference that can get technical and, if you’re so inclined, introduces (gently) some basic statistical concepts.
- CDC (pdf): Yes, this is from the CDC but for a layperson it provides a succinct reminder to keep things simple.
- Graphs.net: This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a nice primer on the types of basic graphs out there.
- Stephen Few (Effective Chart Design – pdf): These guidelines are from Stephen Few, a man more practical than Tufte (in my opinion), yet just as hell-bent on clarity and focus. If you can read his books, do so. At a minimum, spend some time on his white papers and you’ll learn a lot.
- A periodic table of data visualization: Less helpful if you’re looking for charts, and more helpful if you’re interested in mapping ideas or processes, this graphic mimics the structure of the periodic table, but for data visualization.
- Interactive version of the periodic table of data visualization: If you like the periodic table, this page actually has links to each example cited in the periodic table. The most helpful part is that the links point to either images in Google or links to wikipedia articles that discuss each graphic type. If you’d like to learn more about different charts and their uses, this makes for a good, albeit long, starting point.
- Creating graphics in Excel: There is also a very excellent blog about creating graphics in Excel. I hate Excel and love this blog. This is much more than a “there’s a chart for that” approach; lots of good information on best practices and case studies that go beyond Excel.
From Illustrator to information designer:
For more traditional graphic designers (not coders) seeking to make the move to data visualization and understanding both the mechanics and the theory behind visualizing information, a crash course in handling data in Adobe Illustrator is helpful. Lots of terrific designers never get the chance to interact with data in Illustrator, so that’s not unusual.
- Adobe’s how-to on Illustrator’s graphics tool): General, quick but good introduction.
- FlowingData: Good “how-to” from FlowingData.
- My recent, more specific post on how to create scatter plots and heat maps in Illustrator.
Free, open source data visualization tools for the non-designers that are good, and useful
Many Eyes: Many Eyes was developed by IBM labs. It’s a phenomenal tool for quickly visualizing a ton of information in a few seconds, without spending much time on having to learn how to format the data. Just copy/paste from Excel and you’re set. To start, first create an account. Then on the left under the “participate” heading, choose “create a visualization.” That takes you to the “upload data” screen, into which you can simply paste in your data. Then in that same screen go to step 4 (you can ignore the rest) and give your data a title (e.g., “test). Hit “create” to go to the next screen. Click the “visualize” button and then choose a format (bar chart, etc). What’s great about this is that each format has a “learn more” button, which explains in simple terms what each graphic type is best suited to do. At any rate, once you’ve chosen a format, you can see what the viz looks like. At that point, I just take a screenshot and exit, because I don’t wish to publish the data—I just need help with visualizing it. But you can click “publish” to do so.
Tableau: The “Tableau public” version is free, though you do have to publish what you use, I believe. There is definitely a learning curve to understanding how to format the data–different than Excel and not intuitive if you’re expecting an Excel experience. But very powerful once you get the hang of it.
The Guardian’s list on free data visualization tools: This article by the Guardian also mentions the above and a few other tools, most of which I’m sure you know about (Google maps, Google Fusion tables and Google charts) but also a few others that I haven’t tried.
On good data visualization practices:
There are three absolutely phenomenal articles by Enrico Bertini.
- The title says it all (Three free tools for non-programmers) and it’s worth reading every single word.
- And, for anyone who simply wants to understand data visualization (I doubt you will read every single book in this post, but if you’re serious you should consider the resources in this article, How to Become a Data Visualization Expert: A Recipe.
- Finally, read: How Do You Visualize Too Much Information