7 great data visualization tools for communicators and marketers


Some of the most exciting content published today includes data visualization.

More than just charts or graphs, today’s tools allow journalists and communication professionals to provide interactive content in customizable and visually pleasing ways.

Great data visualization often requires coding, which not everyone can do. Fortunately, there are many newer data visualization tools that take care of the coding for you.

Without code your sample size could be limited (especially if you’re cutting and pasting from Excel), but as a communication professional you’ll be able to provide more engaging resources to journalists and to the public. Imagine the strength of your media pitch or the engagement of your content with a unique interactive chart or two to illustrate your points.

Let’s look at data visualization tools that anyone can use. As an example in each instance, I used 2010 fire incident data from Cincinnati for the data in my charts (about 12,000 rows of data). I didn’t demonstrate any bells and whistles, just a basic chart (when I could) to give you an idea of what each platform can do.

Here are some outstanding data visualization tools:

1. Raw

Raw is one of the most versatile out-of-the-box data visualization tools that you can use—and it’s free. It enables you to upload data from an Excel spreadsheet or paste from the source.

Raw offers you 13 unique visualization options that look very professional. (Its “Bump” chart for example is modeled after The New York Times’ visualizations.) All the variables are drag-and-drop from your dataset, and the visualization populates in real time to demonstrate what your visualization will look like as you’re building it.

One caveat: Raw uses a lot of computer resource to operate, so it’s helpful to close out programs and superfluous windows before building a chart with it.

Here’s a “Clustered Force Layout” chart:

2. Plotly

Plotly produces terrific interactive charts: line chart, scatter plot, bar chart, histogram and area plot.

You can upload data from a spreadsheet or cut and paste it (similar to Raw). The user experience of Plotly isn’t as intuitive as that of Raw. There are aspects of populating the graph that require tinkering, but it’s a powerful, effective tool for making these interactive forms of familiar graphs.

Plotly also boasts a collaborative network, so you can share your data and visualizations with co-workers. If you’re collaborating on data visualizations, this might be helpful.

Plotly is a freemium product, ranging from free to moderately expensive (depending upon your customization needs). Here’s a bar graph:

3. Timeline

Developed at the Northwestern University Knight Lab, Timeline is a smartly conceived data visualization tool. It doesn’t have a lot of customization features, but it’s superb for creating timelines, and it’s free.

Data has to be loaded in their specific format, which makes this a (relatively) labor intensive process. It’s hard to argue with the end result, however.

I chose not to parse data to create a unique timeline example, but here are three examples of timelines created with the product:

As you can see, this tool is widely used and looks pretty consistent from graph to graph.

4. Datawrapper

This is a straightforward visualization tool with a few neat bells and whistles. Uploading data can be done with a .csv file or by pasting from the source. I had trouble uploading the Cincinnati fire data, which may mean that you have to parse your data thoroughly before uploading to Datawrapper. Its sample datasets have a limited number of columns.

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Datawrapper is not free of charge. Users must pay a monthly (12 euros) or annual fee (100 euros) to generate embedded graphs and download images of Datawrapper charts.

Despite its limitations, Datawrapper has the most intuitive interface of the tools I sampled.

5. Chartblocks

With this intuitive and easy-to-use data visualization tool, uploading data can be done with a spreadsheet or by pasting from the source. Chartblocks enables you to create interactive bar graphs, line graphs, area graphs, scatterplots and pie charts. Its usability is strong and customizable.

Like Raw, Chartblocks takes up a lot of computer resources when creating charts, which can slow an otherwise fast process.

Chartblocks is a freemium product. Below is a bar graph of fire incidents by day:

6. Google Fusion Tables

What post about tools would be complete without mentioning something from Google? Google Fusion Tables are the search giant’s solution for data visualization. It’s free, and it’s good.

Uploading of spreadsheets and pasted data is straightforward and fast. There is a slight learning curve to create charts and embed them, but once you figure out where things are, it’s a fantastic tool. Though not as flashy as other options, it is stable and fast, and the price is right.

Here’s a basic line-graph comparing number of fire incidents day to day:

7. My Heat Map

You might want to create a “heatmap” type of visualization to tell a specific story. My Heat Map offers a great step-by-step guide and customer service, and it’s the best looking of any of the heat map tools I looked at.

You can do one heat map with up to 20 data points for free, but then you have to spring for the subscription, which costs $ 20 a month.

At first I couldn’t see how to embed a map into my site. It’s not evident, but it’s easy. (A hat tip to My Heat Map for responding to my email.) To do so, put the enlarged map link into an iframe with size specifications. Here’s an example:

Here’s the finished product, an embedded heat map of birds of prey and their locations created by the Audubon society:


The sites listed above are probably the best tools for data visualization without coding (at least in plain sight). Here are other tools that can help you create neat visuals for media pitches or to enhance your organic content:

  • IBM Watson Analytics. This powerful toolset allows for thorough visualization but feels like an internal tool rather than for public consumption. It is a free up to 0.5 GB and 50 columns.
  • Tableau. Tableau probably would warrant consideration in the list (it is an enterprise data visualization tool), but it is probably cost prohibitive to use for basic data visualization purposes. If you have it already, it’s a powerful tool (and the creators offer a free trial subscription).
  • Canva. Canva has become the hot site for cloud graphic design. Not only can you do some cool, creative things with Canva, but you can also embed and embellish a graph there, too.
  • Infogram. An intuitive infographic creation tool.
  • Microsoft Excel (Office 365). You don’t have to look outside your spreadsheet program to visualize data. There are plenty of visualization options available for you there as well (“charts” is located under the “insert” tab). These Excel add-ins may enable you to conduct data analysis and create a visualization in one program.

Data visualization is often a component of stellar content. Whether it’s for The New York Times or FiveThirtyEight or Mashable, data visualization enhances content and is increasingly prevalent in digital media circles.

Regardless of your technical aptitude you can create professional, interactive data visualizations using the tools listed above. Of course, the charts will be only as good as the data sets that inform them.

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision blog, where a version of this article first appeared. He also blogs at leaderswest. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.


14 Data Visualization Tools to Tell Better Stories with Numbers



By Rob Petersen, {grow} Community Member

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.    – Peter Drucker

This succinct truth says you can’t know whether you are reaching your goal unless success is defined and tracked.

Data visualization is technology that lets corporate executives and other end users see data to better understand information in context.

Hundreds of tools are now available to chart, create dashboards, and better measure and manage data. They range in sophistication from “drag and drop,” plug-ins and widgets to JavaScript that is likely to involve a web developer; prices range from open source to thousands of dollars per year.

Data visualization adds a narrative element to your data, and can be a great way for a business to tell their story.

Which tools are best to tell your story?

Here are 14 of the best data visualization tools. They are grouped by categories to help determine how you tell better stories with data.



  • DYGRAPHS is a fast, flexible open source JavaScript charting library. Dygraphs creates chart that are interactive: you can mouse over to highlight individual values. You can click and drag to zoom. Double-clicking will zoom you back out. Shift-drag will pan. You can change the number and hit enter to adjust the averaging period.
  • jqPlot is a plotting and charting plugin for the jQuery Javascript framework. jqPlot produces beautiful line, bar and pie charts. qPlot is an open source project by Chris Leonello.
  • Zing Chart is a JavaScript charting library and feature-rich API set that lets you build interactive Flash or HTML5 charts. It offer over 100 chart types to fit your data.

Color Brewers

  • Color Brewer was originally designed with federal funding and developed at Penn State?—?is really for choosing map colors, and is worth spending some time with if plan to make many more. You can choose your base color and get the codes for the entire palette.
  • Exhibit was developed by MIT. Fully open-source, Exhibit makes it easy to create interactive maps, and other data-based visualizations that are orientated towards teaching or static/historical based data sets, such as flags pinned to countries, or birth-places of famous people.
  • Instant Atlas enables information analysts and researchers to create highly-interactive dynamic and profile reports that combine statistics and map data to improve data visualization, enhance communication, and engage people in more informed decision making


  • Timeline is a fantastic widget which renders a beautiful interactive timeline that responds to the user’s mouse, making it easy to create advanced timelines that convey a lot of information in a compressed space. Each element can be clicked to reveal more in-depth information, making this a great way to give a big-picture view while still providing full detail.
  • Here is Today is a great example of an interactive timeline which continues to zoom out to give relative times all based on today. It seems simple, but is an example of several good aspects of data visualization design. It compares today with a month, then a year, then century, etc. It isn’t overwhelming the reader with all the data at once, or forcing the person to choose only one interpretation.
  • TimeFlow allows you to create time-based diagrams easily and quickly. Designed for journalists, it allows for a variety of different ways to visualize the data and help you understand any underlying trends.


  •  Visual.ly is a combined gallery and infographic generation tool. It offers a simple toolset for building stunning data representations, as well as a platform to share your creations. This goes beyond pure data visualisation, but if you want to create something that stands on its own, it’s a fantastic resource and an info-junkie’s dream come true.
  • Piktochart is a web-based tool that has good 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 (or manual entry). The infographic in our previous blog post “6 more studies prove Digital Marketing ROI” was created with Piktochart.


  • Google Charts is the seminal charting solution for much of the web. It’s highly flexible and has an excellent set of developer tools behind it. It’s an especially useful tool for specialist visualizations such as geocharts and gauges, and it also includes built-in animation and user interaction controls.
  • NVD3 is a library meant for reuse. The project takes all the power of D3 and distills them down into common chart types. I really like this idea because it gives you constrains and prevents you from running wild with different designs, while at the same time making the code much easier and more approachable if you are just getting started in data visualization.
  • Tableau places great emphasis on the ability to create visualizations without the need for any technical skills (scripting). and has a relatively easy to use interface. As with other products of this nature its utility is firmly anchored in visual exploration of data using every format imaginable. It is not a data mining tool or a text analytics tool, but sits in the traditional business intelligence camp, albeit with a rich visual interface.

Which of these 14 tools are of interest to you? Do they convince you of the power of data visualization? Would you use them better tell the story of your business?

Rob PetersenRob Petersen is an experienced advertising and marketing executive and the founder of the BarnRaisers agency. Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobPetersen

Illustration (c) businessesgrow.com

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