Dataviz tools

You’re welcome to use whichever tools you prefer for your data visualizations, but these are the tools with which we have the most experience and recommend:

You can get pretty far with Excel’s built-in charts and graphs. They often don’t look wonderful, but if they work, they work! Data at Work, by Jõrge Camoes, is a very thorough look at how to use Excel for data visualization.

Tableau has a lot of advanced features and documentation. If you want to install it on your own laptop, choose Tableau Public. This tool can be a little overwhelming at first, but the Lynda library has video tutorials; you might start with “Up and Running with Tableau.”

You can make some really cool graphs and charts with RAW, and it’s easy to embed them on a website. The alluvial diagram is always a big hit!

Flourish is a web-based tool for creating visualizations, with some really nice options and chart types. The one element of Flourish that might challenge you is that, unlike Tableau, where you can edit your data as you go, Flourish requires you to have your data pre-arranged in the format that the templates use. If you can do that, though, Flourish is a great option.

Quadrigram is a drag-and-drop, web-based tool for data visualization that’s pretty easy to use, and it’s pretty easy to embed the charts and graphs in your website.

DataWrapper makes great-looking, simple, embeddable data visualizations. Definitely recommended if you’re not trying to do anything super-complicated.

I love Palladio, but it’s important to understand what it is and what it isn’t. It’s designed for the exploration (not necessarily the presentation) of humanities data. So while you can produce some impressive visualizations, you can’t really embed them. (You can take screenshots, though!) I have a full tutorial here.

If you want to compare and contrast many images with each other, you can try ImagePlot, but just be aware that it’s not super-easy to use and we haven’t tested it in awhile.

If you want to try your hand at some custom programming, we recommend the JavaScript libraries D3 and P5. They’re not too hard to use! For learning D3, this is my favorite book. For learning P5, this is the best resource.

Want more tools? Here’s a huge list.

Choosing the right visualizations for your project

Students (and I, let’s be honest!) often struggle to figure out which kind of visualization best suits their data and the story they’re trying to tell. I have a deck of cards you can borrow, which might help a bit, and several guides take on this question: one, two, three.

Realistically, arriving at the appropriate visualization will probably take some trial and error, and likely some frustration, too! It helps to dissect existing visualizations, to try and understand what they’re good at showing, and to arrive at a solid idea of what you’re trying to show. It also might help to read about other visualization designers’ process: Karen Hao, the Interaction Design Foundation, The Pudding, Mike Bostock.

Getting Experimental (or Custom)

Should your visualization be relatively conventional, or would you like to challenge those conventions? It’s really up to you. Since this is likely your first DH project, you might like to find your feet by sticking to established graphical forms. Or maybe you want to get experimental right out of the gate!

If you want your data visualization to go beyond the standard chart types included in Tableau or Excel, it can be a little challenging to find tools that let you do that. Here are some suggestions:

At the moment, D3 is probably the most commonly used programming library among interactive visualization designers. It’s a JavaScript library, meaning it’s a set of functions written using the JavaScript programming language. Scott Murray’s book is the best introduction I’ve found.

P5 is another JavaScript library, this one designed for artists to make interactive, experimental visualizations. It has a close connection to UCLA, since it emerges from Processing, a programming language co-designed by UCLA’s Casey Reas. Moreover, Lauren McCarthy, who spearheads the development of P5, is also here at UCLA! The P5 people have done a really good job creating tools to help you get started. Try getting started here.

Glitch is a platform designed to help people make web-based applications. It’s based on the idea that you start with existing templates and modify them to suit your needs. You can even ask for help in real time! You could use Glitch to make a visualization, game, or other method of getting your point across.