I can’t tell you how many times a visual example has helped me understand some concept or idea more easily. Whether I’m listening to a lecture or reading some instructions, a slide or diagram usually helps get the point across. Sometimes seeing an idea represented visually can even provide insight that, otherwise, might not have been obvious. I going to share a couple data visualization tools in this post that I have used to design informative graphics or, info-graphics.
The first and most straightforward tool is a word cloud generator called Wordle.net. Word clouds are visual arrangements of words taken from an any text like an essay or speech. Certain words are given prominence in their arrangement through color, size or placement. I have used the text from this post to create this example.
Once I entered the text, I edited the case and chose to leave out common words that might clutter my cloud. I then chose a font, some layout options and palette. At the least, this kind of graphic serves as a quick scan of the content of a text but the effect is quite dramatic.
The next tool, called Many Eyes, has many more features and works with spreadsheet data. Many Eyes requires you to create an account but it is still free. I used this tool to create a bubble chart seen as below. Each bubble represents comments submitted by conference attendees by category. The category’s bubble size depends on the number of comments per category.
I uploaded a simple spreadsheet with categories in rows and the number of comments per category in the corresponding column. The colors are random and I didn’t have much control over the appearance but I was able to use a screen grab of the generated chart as a starting point in Illustrator to produce the one you see. I left the colors as is and work with the text to improve the legibility.
Both of these tools allow you to create visually compelling graphics fairly quickly. Whether you want to analyze word usage in a text or provide a unique chart for some simple statistics, both tools are a great value and easy to use. By playing around with data visualization, who knows, you might learn something about your subject that you didn’t expect.
Next post, interactive information graphics.