DIY data visualisation

Autoinfograph: How technology can make us all designers (sort of)

In April 2016, we were lucky enough to host a workshop with one of Australia’s largest property companies. The objective was to help them win more of the projects they tender for. It was a fun few hours. My colleagues Derryn Heilbuth and Chris Chatfield talked about the writing and design techniques we employ for these long-form documents, and I finished off with two hours on the wider world of data visualisation.

The bit I really enjoyed was watching a dozen marketers design their first infographic. They were awesome: creative, insightful and surprisingly good-looking.

It got me thinking: should we, a creative agency that does this sort of thing for a living, really be teaching our clients how to do it? How can we justify our fees if anyone can produce something similar, for free, themselves?

Fortunately, my fears were allayed almost immediately, as Chris stepped up and showed them one he’d prepared earlier. A prolonged ‘Ooooohhhhh…’ went round the room. His years of training, technical know-how and creative thinking blew them away.

So now that I don’t fear this democratised creativity, I feel entirely comfortable sharing my opinion on the DIY design tools we played with in preparation for the workshop.

 

Visage graphic

 

Visage

Visage was the first ‘content creation’ site I came across in my search for design templates and infographics. It’s built by a Californian agency that produces lovely datavis (the visual representation of data) work themselves and who share good intel through their emails and white papers.

Visage is built primarily for social media posts, so if you want to design your own tweet-sized graphics or you need some attractive charts or tables that look better than Excel, then this site will serve you well.

Canva

Canva is similar to Visage but it’s made in Sydney and has way more variety so we’re bound to like it more!

Canva has loads of templates to choose from, plus you can easily re-size the graphic to fit your need; I produced my LinkedIn background wall to the correct dimensions in seconds, instead of bugging our studio to do it for me.

In truth, most of their templates are for personal or consumer purposes, and I did have some trouble saving and downloading my designs during my first session, but overall it was rather fun.

 

Piktograph infographic

 

Piktochart

Piktochart is the application we used during our workshop. For an audience of corporate communicators it had the right mix of business-related templates, from reports and infographics to online presentations.

Our group of marketers got stuck in quickly and they all found a template to suit the wireframes they’d sketched.

In the Pro version there are more lovely templates, like the one above, plus you can download at print quality if you want to use them offline. So if you’re a business person who needs something designed fast and cheap and you don’t have a designer to lean on, Piktochart seems best-in-class to me.

Specialist Apps

As you’d expect, there are loads of niche applications to be found at the end of your Google search. plot.ly has got some radical, interactive chart types if you want to embed some complex datavis into your website.

Timeline JS, as the name suggests, is a tool for embedding timelines into your website, a task I’m sure most communications teams have been asked to complete at some point.

Similarly, Storymap JS enables you to plot your stories on a Google Map, which again is great if you want to show off your company facilities or a physical journey online.

There are many other mapping, graphing and visualising tools, so my advice here is to Google your need and let the application come to you.

Business Intelligence Tools

At the other end of the scale, if you’re looking to handle large, complex or unstructured datasets, then you’ll probably be entering the jargon-heavy world of business intelligence (BI) tools. Again there are heaps to choose from, as detailed in this ironic scatter graph from Gartner (the irony being that their data visualisation about leading data visualisation tools is an awful piece of data visualisation).

 

BI Tools 2016 Gartner

 

From what I hear around the corporate locker rooms, Tableau is the most widely adopted and easiest to use by people who don’t have an analytical background, but investment decisions in this realm are often driven by your existing IT stack and how well the tools work together.

In conclusion, it’s not surprising that designers get nervous about the arrival of tools like The Grid, which uses artificial intelligence to design your website for you, but the truth is that robots won’t take away our creative jobs. Not just yet.

To me, it’s a bit like owning a guitar. It might look great hanging on my wall, or feel nice in my hands, and I really would like one for my birthday, but owning a great guitar doesn’t mean I can make great music.

 


 

By Gethin Fisher