What is it?
Data visualization is a way to represent data using various mediums such as but not limited to charts, animations, graphs, and plots (IBM, 2021). These visualizations can aid in simplifying complex data and information and highlight relationships between information in a way that is easy for most people to understand (IBM, 2021). In this article, we will discuss the 5 best data visualization tools.
What is it used for?
Data visualization is extremely versatile and can be used in many different ways across multiple fields (IBM, 2021). When talking specifically about its design applications, data visualization is often most useful during the brainstorming part of the design process. They are helpful at this stage since they can help designers to see the entire scope of a design problem and can also help teams to present preliminary ideas to clients or stakeholders they are working with (IBM, 2021). Data visualization tools are especially useful for UX/UI designers and can help aid the development of products and ideas.
The key to creating effective visualization is ensuring that they are simple enough to be easy to understand while still retaining the critical information needed for effective communication (IBM, 2021). Firstly, it is imperative to provide the audience with context, visual design with no explanation can be confusing to individuals that have limited knowledge of the topic being presented. Furthermore, it is crucial to do the necessary research on the audience you are presenting to present the information in a way that will resonate with them and inspire action based on your findings (IBM, 2021). Next, do not underestimate the power of an effective accompanying visual, oftentimes this is what will draw your audience’s attention. Lastly, keep it simple and only include information, colors, graphics, and other visual elements that are useful to the audience and support your data (IMB, 2021).
Tableau was a data visualization tool that consistently came up in my research with many good reviews from designers with skills ranging from novice to expert. Tableau is a powerful program designers can use to create a wide range of graphs, plots, and charts even within the free version (Compare Camp, 2020). There are multiple payment options for this app, ranging from free access to basic tools to a $70 monthly subscription to unlock all the features the app has to offer (Tableau, 2022). For the most part, the software is intuitive to use, even for someone who has very little experience with these kinds of tools. I was able to easily navigate through the tool and liked the ability to simply drag and drop any data set file straight into the website from my computer. Furthermore, when you drop data sets into the tool, it automatically separates each one and instantly finds suitable visualizations for you to use. Though I did have a positive experience with this tool, there was a bit of a learning curve that might be hard for novice designers and may take some time and effort to master. I found that the dashboard had many tools, labels, and buttons, that could quickly become overwhelming if you had limited prior experience with similar apps.
Chart Blocks is another data visualization tools that includes features such as analytics, chart building wizards, and templates, and supports many file types making it a great tool for most needs (CompareCamp, 2020). Chart Blocks features 3 different payment options ranging from free to $65 monthly to use the app to its fullest capability (Chart Blocks, 2022). After using the app to create multiple charts and exploring some of the tools, I believe it is one of the best options for beginners. This app also makes it incredibly easy to share and work collaboratively with others, which is a huge advantage for any designer working in a team. The interface was extremely easy to use and it utilized an easy-to-follow step-by-step approach for making professional-looking graphics in seconds. Some drawbacks when using this app include the limited functionality when using the free version and the watermark that appears on each visual you create.
One of the things that set inform apart from the other apps is the wide variety of templates it offers (Velarde, 2021). In addition to the data viz options, it also has many magazines, social media, and poster templates similar to Canva. Another advantage of this app is the wide variety of payment plans that it offers ranging from free to $149 per month (Velarde, 2021). However, many more mid-range price options are more affordable for students. This app is also very easy to use and would likely appeal to novice designers. Though the trade-off for the extreme simplicity is the lack of other more in-depth tools that other applications like Tableau offers. Furthermore, since this app is so simple, there are fewer options for customization and you would likely get a more personalized experience with a different website.
Plotly is an interactive app that allows users to create interactive designs that are extremely personalized and customizable (Naji, 2017). Since this tool requires you to do some programming, you can make small adjustments to ensure the visuals come out exactly as you imagined. Plotly is capable of creating stunning graphics and is one of the most affordable data visualization tools available (Naji, 2017). The application was recently used by the University of Alberta to keep track of covid-related statistics during the beginning of the pandemic (Clement, Kaur, Sedghi, 2020). This app is technically free/open source for individuals, however, some larger establishments may choose to pay subscription fees to support large volumes of people accessing their visuals at once. However, some designers may find this application difficult to use, since it requires coding, and to deploy a project, you must already have an existing site or app you intend to use it on. Though, if you were to use Plotly to make an asset specific to an app you were developing, it is extremely easy to upload it to that platform.
Datawrapper is the best tool in the Data Visualization Tools is an innovative tool that allows designers to quickly and easily create well-designed visualizations based on data sets that you can drag and drop or create on the website (Compare Camp, 2020). This platform is similar in feel to Tableau, however, it is much easier to use. This app allows you to see all the other possible graph visualizations and aids you in seamlessly switching between them so the designer can determine which is most effective. This is the only app I encountered that promoted inclusive design by featuring color blind filters you could apply to your graphic, dark/light mode previews, and the ability to see what the graphic would look like on different devices and screen sizes. The pricing model has made this app essentially free for individual users, as the features you have to pay for would likely only benefit a larger company or organization. This was also the only app that allowed you to design without signing up or making an account first, which was extremely convenient and made getting started easier than the other apps on this list. However, due to the simplicity of the app, it was a little difficult to figure out how to make customizations such as changing the color of the font and graphics. Another drawback was that you are unable to store projects locally when using the free version of the app, you must use Datawrappers online storage.
Through my research and using each of the apps to create my graphics, I concluded that the program I am most likely to use is ChartBlocks. This is because the entire process from start to finish took me under a minute, but I was able to create a high-quality professional-looking graphic. Not only was it easy to use, but the free version also came loaded with many features and templates, and an easy way to share the graphs to collaborate with others. I also determined that Datawrapper was the most cost-effective platform since the free version allowed you to have access to unlimited visualizations and the paid versions would likely only benefit a larger organization. Lastly, the most customizable app was Plotly, due to the ability to use programming to alter specific aspects and details of each visual element.