Graphic Tools Archive:

Diagrammer

In: Graphic Tools

15 Mar 2012

The design experts over at Duarte have released for sale a series of diagram elements, for use in creating presentations, reports, etc. The elements are well organized, letting you filter them by the type of relationship you are trying to visualize, number of nodes, and style. I have mixed feelings about these sorts of collections (Powerframeworks is another) as they are very similar to what is available for free in Powerpoint’s SmartArt graphics. And yet, whenever I browse through them, I always find something I haven’t seen before, or get inspired to mash a few designs together in a new way. If you have strong illustrator or photoshop skills, these probably won’t be of much interest to you. But if you don’t, and just need a quick diagram to drop into powerpoint with no fuss – these are a lifesaver.

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Of course, the most remarkable thing about the list of datavis blogs, tools, and resources over at Daily*Tekk is that Chart Porn isn’t on it. Oh well. Can’t win them all.

As there were no actual charts at that blog, I will instead invite you to contemplate this sign:

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There are lots of great new books out there about graphics and data visualization. But have you ever taken a look at some that were written back before computer software? It turns out that most of these chart and visualization methods have been around for decades – it’s just that they used to draw them by hand.

I highly recommend these books to anyone. Besides the impressive graphics and nostalgia values, the writing quality and content advice are excellent – regardless of what century you are in.

Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts, Willard Cope Brinton (1914). Brinton not only presents a variety of graph types, he goes into quite a bit of detail on the decisions that go into making a well designed chart. Note the author’s sarcastic review of the first chart  below – Ha!

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In 1939, Brinton released a greatly expanded version of his book, entitled Graphic Presentation, which covers an amazing breadth of graphic methods (520 pages with separate chapters for 59 different graph types!) –  including these beauties:

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Sections on chart elements and color choice:

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Who knew they were drawing 3d curve charts in 1939?:

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Next up, Calvin Schmid’s 1954 Handbook of Graphic Presentation. Schmid focused a lot on the proper use of design elements, including some draftsmanship tips. It’s amusing how many of the examples resemble charts from recent policy debates:

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Others are a bit more dated:

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Note: if you want to read these on your iPad (like I did), you should follow the directions at this link (the PDF files available directly from the Archive do not always display properly).

This is an example of why you keep checking back on mediocre data visualization tools. The last time I looked at the OECD’s explorer, it was slow, kinda clunky, and not very innovative. This morning I took another look. Wow! It has interactive choropleth maps, motion scatter plots, profile plots, time graphs, and cool histogram tools – and all of them have excellent filters and fine tuning controls, can be viewed over time, are smoothly animated and you’re allowed to load your own data.

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But wait! There’s more! MUCH more! It turns out the explorer is just one tool created by the Swedish National Center for Visual Analytics (NCVA), who have constructed a set of Geovisual Analytics Visualization (GAV) Flash tools, including what you need to create your own statistics explorer.  The NCVA also has a spin-off company that sells a desktop version of the explorer, a Flow Map explorer that draws proportionate arrows on maps to track flows, and a multi-dimensional explorer (which I only played with a little – but is very very cool).

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Check out the scatter tables in the MDIM as a way to select data in the other two panels:

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I’m almost embarrassed I haven’t seen these before. On the other hand, I love that there is such innovation going on – all the time.

Ushahidi is a non-profit tech developer of free and open source software for collecting and real-time visualization crowd-sourced information. The project originated in a desire to map post-election violence in Kenya back in 2008 – but it has since expanded into a number of free toolsets that can be set up quickly during emergencies. To be honest, I haven’t dived too deep into this, but I wanted to post it in case others have a need.

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Wow! The excellent online thematic map software Indiemapper is now free.  Unfortunately, this decision appears to go hand in hand with one to reduce future development – which means we aren’t likely to see easy excel integration anytime soon (always a drawback in my mind).  The features that are there, however, are beautifully integrated. The method for assigning classed and unclassed color ranges using an interactive histogram, for example, should be a model for other software; and the ease with which you can switch map projections is almost magical.

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Based on a survey of 180 designers and creative professionals. This is a good reference for new tools to play with if you’re not happy with what you’re using now. The most glaring omission I see is Sugarsync for storage – it’s like Dropbox, but with greater flexibility. (via)

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A well annotated graphic from the NYT. Over at Visual Journalism, they point out the design differences between the print and online versions of this graphic.

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online version:
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As excellent article over at the Guardian about the rise of data journalism and what it takes to do it right.

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An excellent list from Computerworld, with good descriptions of each, including pros and cons. My favorites are Data Wrangler, Google Refine (which I had never heard of before), and Timeflow.  Thanks to D2 for the link!

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I receive a lot of emails asking what tools can be used to move past excel and create cool charts. Well, here’s one: ezViz is a very affordable ($79) desktop data visualization analysis tool that has many of the same cool features as much more expensive products such as Tableau and Spotfire. Starting with an excel spreadsheet you can easily assign variables to chart attributes, filter, and drill down through your data. Chart types include heatmaps, scatter bubbles, maps, and surface plots, among others. Watch the video and read the manual to see some of the nifty features included. Tableau and Spotfire are awesome and more powerful products, obviously, but they have priced themselves so far out of the reach of researchers and analysts that it’s nice to see a product like this fill in the gap a little.

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What is Chart Porn?

An addictive collection of beautiful charts, graphs, maps, and interactive data visualization toys -- on topics from around the world.

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