Graphic Tools Archive:


Apple finally released a new version of Keynote last week – and it is terrible.

In an effort to make the ios version of Keynote on ipads/iphones work the same as the OSX version, they removed a lot of features and dumbed down others. I call this “iosification”.

What’s worse, they did not bother to make the software backwards compatible. None of my existing presentations play properly in the new version. Font alignments have changed, slide transitions have disappeared, builds no longer build properly, image and movie adjustments have disappeared, smartbuilds have all been removed, build indicators have been removed, alpha layers no longer function the same, and formatting options previously easily accessed from one context sensitive smart toolbar are now buried in multiple menu pages. I could go on, but that was enough for me to close the program and re-open the old version so I could actually get some work done.

If people only used Keynote for 5th grade book reports, this would not be a big deal. I can see that having portability between the desktop and mobile devices would be nice. However, a lot of professionals use Keynote to produce high quality presentations – pulling together outputs from Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects, and data visualization platforms.

I have long suspected that the reason iWork ’09 was not being updated was because they were waiting until the processing capabilities of the mobile platforms were fast enough to run a new unified version. I would have preferred it if they had waited a little longer, instead of lowering the capabilities of the software to the lowest common denominator.

Oh well. There is some hope that Apple will listen to the power user community and restore crippled functionality, like they did after they broke Final Cut Pro back in 2011. In the meantime, I think most experienced users will use the old version, or take a closer look at Powerpoint.

By all accounts, iWork’s word processing software “Pages” has been similarly gelded. (The spreadsheet software “Numbers” has always sucked, so I don’t know if anyone even noticed any changes there.)

If you want to follow the reaction online, check out Apple’s keynote discussion groups:

Update 11/6/13: 
Apple has responded to user discontent with plans to re-introduce some of the missing features in the coming months:

Raw is a pretty cool (and free!) online tool for creating vector outputs of uncommon visualizations. You copy and paste your data, select a few options, and it cranks out the visualization. What’s so nice is that it doesn’t stop there – you can then save it in svg output, and then take that into Illustrator or other vector editing software for finishing touches. It’s nice to see free tools that understand that some users need professional quality outputs. Of course, you can also just download a PNG version and throw it up on the web if you want. 

The speed at which it generates the charts is also pretty impressive considering the complexities.

Treemaps with adjustable colors, size, etc:


Alluvial charts:




Circular dendrograms:


Scatter, bubble, and packed circle charts:

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and Binned hexagons:


Every once in a while you discover something that is obviously useful, but for some reason, you never even considered it before. That happened to me today in the form of graph digitizing software. Basically, it lets you create a chart in reverse: it starts with an image of an existing chart, and extracts the data. Why is this useful? Well, sometimes you find a great chart and want to use it for a project, but you don’t have access to the original dataset (it’s lost in time, etc). I’ve gotten around this in the past by tracing images in vector software – but obviously, extracting the data provides more precision and flexibility.

There are several digitizing programs out there, but I like Graphclick because it works with multiple chart types and has a simple interface (though it only works on Macs). Un-Scan-It is a nice one that works on PCs and Macs (but is a bit expensive).



Yes, I know everyone out there is a master at Illustrator and can create any image they want in mere moments. Ha! But why re-invent the wheel?!? There are a lot of cool free and pay collections of vector elements out there for re-purposing in your own creations.

First off, there’s one of my all-time personal favorites: The Noun Project. The simplicity of symbols convey a lot of power. The noun project usually has multiple versions of any noun you an think of. Some are free, some ask that you attribute the creator, and some are royalty-free for a fee.


If you don’t mind spending just a few bucks ($3-6 on average), head over to graphicriver and do a search for “infographic” or “charts”.  Sure, a lot of the packages are full of tacky design – but remember, these are just time-saving ingredients for your next masterpiece.

Infographic Elements Pack 02Infographic Elements Template Pack 01Infographic Elements Template Pack 01

If you are more comfortable with Photoshop, there are also decent bitmap based templates:


Why did I save the free ones for last? Because they aren’t very good, to be honest. Most of the free templates I found include only the most basic of shapes.

Business data elements vector 03High-Tech Graphics Vector

Anyone have any other recommendations?

Timelines are underutilized visualization tools – partially because they are a huge pain in the ass to create. Nate Kogan describes his experience using Timeline.Verite.Co’s nifty javascript timeline creation tool to convert stories stored in a google spreadsheet into a beautiful way to view history.

A list compiled by Brian Suda over at It’s a little heavy on java libraries – but I suppose that’s the direction visualization is heading. Still, you think basic tools like Illustrator, or BI software like Tableau would have made it in there somewhere.


FF Chartwell is an interesting tool for creating simple charts using font character sets. I’m not sure that this is really much easier than using excel or other charting software, but some people might find it more intuitive – but at $129 for the full set, it seem a bit pricey.


There’s a nice demo video at

An interactive online Hue test. It’s a little tedious to sort all the squares – but kind of challenging too. I got a 20, which apparently puts me in the top 25% or so.


Not sure what kind of chart best suits your data? Use the tabs at the top to indicate what kind of comparison you want to make.


Not much different than the original version, really.


The skilled designers over at pulled together this list of preferred applications, code libraries, and tools. Dig in! I wish I had time to learn them all. Sigh.


Sometimes you have to strangle software to get what you want. I was looking for a new way to compare world growth across analytical groups. Starting with an excel bubble chart, I noticed that sorting the values by growth rate, and sizing them by GDP value, produces a very beautiful visualization of the distribution. Looking closer, however, I noticed that excel literally draws the graph in the sorted order (lowest to highest in this case), resulting in some of the smaller balls being hidden by the larger ones:


To fix this turned out to be quite complicated, requiring some software hopping. First you have to copy and paste the chart into Powerpoint, then right-click/save-as-picture into an enhanced metafile (.emf), which you can then open in Illustrator where you can bring all the hidden balls to the front. Anyways, the end result is below. I hope the technique is useful to anyone looking to do some post-production excel chart tweaking.


A nice progression of intermediate steps in preparing a newspaper map of Santorum’s campaign, using R.

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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:


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?:


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:



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).