Some low-cost data visualization tools that can enhance your story telling

We know a good story can give momentum to a vision or idea.  I previously posted here on the utility of data visualization as a way to improve your story telling.  This week I learnt more about data visualization tools from A Consumer’s Guide to Low-Cost Data Visualization Tools, and tried out a couple of them (see my results below!).  The Guide comes from Idealware, an organization focused on candid consumer-reports-style reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits.  I think this Guide has applicability beyond the non-profit sector; i.e., any organization operating under fiscal constraint.

Principles of data visualization

The Guide includes some basic principles of data visualization; e.g., define (up-front) the point you’re trying to convey, tailor it to your audience, present clearly, keep it simple, From my perspective these principles mirror a good presentation (thinking of the maestro of presentation style Garr Reynolds and his blog Presentation Zen).

Comparing the different tools

This informative, practical, and well-package Guide compares the following software types/products:

  • Desktop Charting Software installed on your desktop computer typically offer the power customize chart look and feel, and solid support for creating graphics for printed reports.  Products reviewed: Microsoft Excel, SmartDraw, DeltaGraph
  • Online Charting Software convenient, sometimes free, and typically easy to share online, less control over formats for printing.  Products reviewed: Google Docs Spreadsheet, ManyEyes, Swivel Business
  • Mapping software if you’re data is linked to geographical locations, display it on a map.  Products reviewed: Google Maps, Google Earth

The try-outs…

I created a couple of charts using two of the above products – Google Docs Spreadsheet and Google Maps.  I’love interactive products because they invite participation and engagement; i.e., collaboration!  Both of these products have that quality; as well as being free, web-based, and embeddable into a website.  It was the first time I had used either of these data visualization tools.  It didn’t take me long to learn how to create a chart with each.  It was a bit trickier to get them configured good-enough so I could embed into this blog.

The chart below I created using Google Maps, and conveys places I worked, on my recent assignment with CESO, in the Philippines.  If you’re a newbie to this type of software, click on a pin to get more detail; e.g., web links.  To get around the map, place your cursor anywhere on the map, hold it down, and move it.. or use any of the dials in the upper left.  The buttons in the upper right will give you different types of views (e.g., roads, satellite).  Have fun.  If you have trouble, just refresh the web page.

View Collaborative Journeys in Philippines in a larger map

This next chart I created using Google Docs, and made use of use of the Google motion chart gadget (in homage to Hans Rosling’s brilliant TED presentation from a couple of years ago).  The data set I picked is quite arbitrary – it’s municipalities in the region I live. The data comes from the British Columbia provincial government (BC Statistics). I manually entered the data into the spreadsheet. The fun part of this tool is that it’s a chart that if you click on lower-left button will be in motion. Once again you can change the parameters to see different views. Take a chance. Try it out!

What’s your favourite, interactive low-cost data visualization tool? Got an example of how you used it?

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  1. Hi there,

    I do a lot of work related stuff in Excel and wanted to see if I could animate the charts. The result is a little Excel add-in which allows the user to animate an Excel chart. It is freely avaiable at and I would be very intested to hear feedback from anyone who is willing to try it!


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