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The right image convinces a conference room instantly.
Sell that new client, get your boss’s approval, and rally the team behind you. Data visualization tools turn a whole mess of numbers into a crisp image that says it all.
With the right product, you can take command of overwhelming amounts of data to tell a clear and compelling story. Leave your audience with a visual that resonates long after your presentation ends.
In this post, I’ll give a complete overview of the best data visualization tools, and what to look for as you make your decision.
The Top 5 Options for Data Visualization
- Tableau – Best for Enterprise
- Infogram – Best for Collaboration
- Plecto – Best for Sales Teams
- Datawrapper – Best DIY Visualization Tool
- Highcharts – Best for Interactive Visualizations
How to Choose the Best Data Visualization Tool for You
I get it. There are a million tools to help you visualize your data.
Then, when you start digging, it’s like, “Wait, do I have to know several programming languages to use this really cool product?”
Slow down. Don’t worry. You’re not going to have to go back to school to get amazing data visualizations.
Some of the high-end tools will require a little IT know-how to get off the ground, but those are really aimed at companies who can factor that into their budgets.
If that’s not what you’re looking for, no worries. There are really great data visualization tools a non-specialist can have up and running before lunch.
The key is knowing what you want your data visualization tool to do.
By understanding your local requirements, you can whittle down your options quickly by going through each of the major elements of data visualization products.
Are you looking for a nice tool that creates sleek reports, or a platform that lets you publish interactive dashboards?
Every vendor showcases data visualization examples on their site. Check these over and really reflect on your gut reaction.
If you are in search of the “wow” factor, don’t settle until you find something that will give your presentations that aesthetic edge.
This is perhaps the biggest make-it-or-break-it factor on the list: What data types and sources are supported by the data visualization tool?
No data visualization tool is good enough to justify a massive migration. You need to find something that connects with your data, wherever it lives.
Ideally, connecting data is an easy, secure, and highly-visible process.
Look for products that clearly explain how to manage and connect data sources. Official partnerships with the database products you use is a big plus.
Cruise a few reviews to see if people are finding that the connectivity is as good as advertised. Also, be sure to walk your sales team through your desired deployment to make sure it’s going to work as planned.
Not so long ago, complex data visualization required familiarity with structured query language (SQL), Python, or another language.
Today, great data visualization products like Tableau allow users to search vast databases using natural language. They provide drag-and-drop functionality that lets non-specialists drill down into the most complex questions.
That said, if you have complex data flows coming into real-time dashboards, it’s a good idea to have someone in-house who can ensure that everything is running smoothly.
Look for something that will appeal to your clients and customers, however they browse.
Does your data visualization tool support touch and multi-touch?
Good interactive visualizations take a lot of effort, and the last thing you want is for users on iOS or Android to be barred from the experience because of incompatibility.
Quality data visualization software delivers a final project that looks good on desktop, tablet, or smartphone. You can’t really budge on this unless you are committed to developing visual content for internal use.
Another thing to think about is collaboration. Will your remote and on-the-go employees be able to stay current with their team projects?
The Different Types of Data Visualization Tools
This product category is highly diversified, ranging from modest software that turns a spreadsheet column into a pie chart to interactive dashboards that interpret data flows from multiple sources in real time.
Although data visualization tools don’t break down into completely neat tiers, there are definitely recognizable categories.
I’ll start out with the lightweight tools and work up to the best business intelligence software, capable of handling the most complicated data analysis.
Simple Charts and Graphs
Simple chart tools have limited connectivity and few data visualization options. The draw is that they are often free and easy for anyone to use.
Here’s an example from Google Charts, which is free forever:
For teams in constant communication, these lightweight data visualization solutions can come in handy.
If you are presenting to clients or company leadership, however, the reports generated by a simple chart might not cut it.
Infographics are really great for making compelling visual statements.
I like them because you can tie multiple charts, images, and streams of information into a cohesive presentation that can be shared on a billboard or a smartphone screen.
Plus, these are great for your content. Adding original infographics increases shares and retweets because they make your posts stand out.
Infogram is a really popular infographic tool, and looking at the examples above, you can see why I chose to review it. Your teams get a whole new dimension of artistic and creative freedom to present data in an eye-catching way.
Using Publisher or Google Docs to achieve an end result that looks this good would be tedious, if possible at all.
Generally, infographic tools come with many options for visualization out of the box.
They don’t tend to have the connectivity or analytic capabilities that come with business intelligence software, though they are far more robust than a simple chart tool.
Want people spending time on your site?
Interactive visualizations let customers and visitors play with your data in a controlled way.
Below, in the data visualization example from Datawrapper, the chart displays information based on the county the user hovers over. The county itself is also highlighted, and the average income is adjusted on a sliding scale:
Consider these products a blend or midway point between infographics much more powerful business intelligence tools.
There is nothing complex about interactive visualizations for end-users to understand, yet they allow users some degree of control over the data, which an infographic can’t support.
Business Intelligence Tools
Business intelligence (BI) tools comb through massive amounts of raw data and turn it into actionable insights. As part of their reporting features, many BI tools come with data visualization tools designed to support the most complex analysis.
BI tools connect to a large number of disparate data sources, and usually require a higher-degree of technical skill to deploy and manage. Most often, however, end users like executives and sales managers can easily manipulate data within a dashboard once it is set up.
In the example below from Tableau, you can get a sense of just how BI tools take massive amounts of information and render a simple picture:
Customizable dashboards and robust reporting features allow different people within a company to pay attention to relevant KPIs in real time, picking up on trends and patterns that would otherwise be hidden.
Deploying and maintaining a BI tool represents a significant investment, whereas tools from the previous product categories tend to be a lot less work.
That said, there are BI options for small and mid-sized businesses that provide cross-organization connectivity and data visualization at an affordable price.
#1 – Tableau — Best for Enterprise
Tableau is a best-in-breed BI tool with phenomenal data visualization capabilities. It’s not the cheapest option on the market, but you get both an intuitive UI and the ability to drill down into virtually any data source.
In other words, you don’t have to make the typical sacrifices. Tableau is ultra-powerful in terms of supported visualizations, but it’s really user-friendly once you get it set up.
Many companies elect to use Tableau in order to encourage a data-driven, transparent, collaborative culture. It’s also one of the most secure products on the market, with enterprise-grade governance tools and the option for on-premises deployment.
For the most part, Tableau can do everything that any other data visualization tool can, but better. Some of the standout capabilities include:
- Combine different data sources without writing code
- Drag-and-drop statistical analysis, forecasts, and trendlines
- Optimize dashboards for all screen sizes
- Natural language queries of any published data source
- AI-powered data analysis
- Publish data sources as encrypted extracts on Tableau Server
- Robust data management tools
- Support and solutions from an active community of over 1 million users
Team pricing for Tableau is role-based, which lets large organizations economize their subscription. The roles are:
- Creator: $70 user/month
- Explorer: $35 user/month, 5 user minimum ($42 if fully hosted by Tableau)
- Viewer: $12 user/month, 100 user minimum
Creators have full author/edit privileges, and can connect new data sources and flows. Explorers can work with most existing assets and create their own visualizations. Viewers can interact with data and collaborate with colleagues, though they cannot author or prepare data.
Tableau Public is a free forever version of the product and the company offers a free 14-day trial that lets you test drive some of the premium features.
#2 – Infogram — Best for Collaboration
Infogram is an intuitive data visualization tool that delivers stunning reports, slides, dashboards and social media visuals.
First-time users are going to love the UI. Basically all of the visualization building can be accomplished via drag-and-drop.
Infogram makes it easy for teams to share and produce consistent work with customizable branded templates, role-based permissions, and file versioning.
You can see who’s editing your projects in real-time and you can add comment threads directly to an image within the infographic.
Teams can get up and running with Infogram quickly, taking advantage of its incredibly deep design capabilities::
- 1 million stock images and icons, as well as animations, GIFs, and video
- More than 35 interactive charts and over 550 interactive maps
- Preset and customizable branded design themes
- Data integration with Google Analytics, Amazon Redshift, OneDrive, MySQL, Oracle, and more
- JSON feed to import live data
- WordPress plugin
The streamlined features don’t stop there. Tasks like embedding projects, for example, involve no more than copy/pasting embed codes into your CMS.
Infogram can be extremely beneficial for companies of any size. In addition to a free forever version, Infogram offers several pricing tiers:
- Pro: $19/month for an individual
- Business: $67/month for an individual
- Team: $149/month for 3 users
- Enterprise: contact sales
With Team and Enterprise subscriptions, you get the ability to invite members, set flexible permissions, share projects, and collaborate in real-time. Connect your data, get the input you need, and start publishing great looking content before the end of the week.
#3 – Plecto — Best for Sales Teams
Plecto is a great tool for promoting a data-driven team culture. The idea is to involve everyone in the constant flow of data by making all relevant KPIs available in a real-time, highly-visible dashboard.
Okay, plenty of other tools can do that. Gamification is where Plecto really separates itself from the crowd.
Gamification? Yes, it’s a word, and a hot one these days. With Plecto, it’s super simple to create contests using your KPIs as benchmarks. This could be sales closed, employees hired, lists built—whatever metric you need to drive, use Plecto to enable the spirit of competition.
Plecto is built for this. It’s easy to set goals and achievements that are directly tied to the numbers you care about. Increase transparency and motivation at the same time.
The platform’s capabilities work exceptionally well for sales teams, yet other departments across the organization can benefit from the unique mix of features and functionality, which include:
- Unlimited dashboards and data sources
- Custom KPIs
- Display multiple dashboards on the same screen
- Integrations with Microsoft SQL, Oracle SQL, PostgreSQL, and MySQL
- Notifications based on thresholds and other milestones
- One-click integration with more than 60 leading cloud services
- Create and track individual performance agreements in private employee-manager dashboards
There are three plan options for Plecto:
- Medium: $100/month for 5 licenses, $20/month per additional license
- Large: $350/month for 10 licenses, $20/month per additional license
- Enterprise: Contact sales, minimum 100 licenses
Some of the important data visualization tools (like SQL integration) are not included with the Medium plan. You only need to buy licenses for users who send their data to Plecto (view-only users are free).
#4 – Datawrapper — Best DIY Data Visualization Tool
Datawrapper has a simple chart tool feel, yet it’s got the ability to deliver interactive and responsive charts, maps, and tables.
It’s not designed for BI so much as mass producing next-level data visualizations to capture attention on feeds and pages.
Lots of companies, like The New York Times, for example make use of Datawrapper every day to improve their content. Using striking visuals, the Times can convey complex ideas to consumers about voting data, consumer preferences, and so on.
Datawrapper has a clean, intuitive interface that makes it easy to engage with the cloud-based product’s full range of functions, which include:
- Copy data from Excel, Sheets, or the web into Datawrapper
- Create live-updating charts by uploading CSV/XLS files or linking to a URL
- Embed different types of interactive and responsive charts, maps, and tables
- Export as PNG, PDF, or SVG
- Colorblind check for all images
- Live-updating graphics for maps
- Collaborative tools and shared team folders
- On-premise creation to comply with regulatory requirements
You have to purchase premium plans to create custom charts and white-label projects. Custom, the first tier above free, starts at $599/month and really allows companies to reach their audience with on-brand, original visuals.
Datawrapper’s free version is excellent for internal or team use, but less attractive for public-facing visualizations.
#5 – Highcharts — Best for Interactive Visualizations
Upload multiple types of data and use official wrappers to work in:
- Microsoft .Net
- iOS & Android
This product requires some technical skills to use effectively, but the tradeoff is that it’s relatively inexpensive and works with any database or stack.
And the results are phenomenal.
Highcharts is extensible, scalable, and meant to work anywhere on every device. Some of the key features include:
- Multiple map types (heatmap, mapline, tilemap, etc)
- Dedicated Highcharts Gannt product
- Export JPG, PDF, PNG, or SVG
- Add tooltip text information when users hover over labeled data points
- Intuitive configuration and chart editing
- Mobile and touch-optimized for truly interactive user experience
- Download, inspect, and edit Highcharts source code.
For personal, non-commercial, or non-profit organizations, all of Highcharts’ products are available for free. This includes Highchart Stock, Gantt, Maps, Editor, and Mobile.
They also have deals for startups and ways for other businesses to customize the various Highcharts products to their needs. Contact sales to start putting together a pricing plan.
Tableau is the best tool for enterprise because it gives teams an edge in every aspect of data visualization.
It’s a considerable investment, though, and not every company is looking for a full-bore business intelligence solution.
If what you need is a data visualization tool to build and share memorable images, Infogram will help your teams take their game to the next level with zero graphic design or programming skills.
For companies that want to embed interactive visualizations in their online content, look no further than Datawrapper. Highcharts is another great option for embedding interactive content into your sites, though it’s not as easy for non-specialists as Datawrapper.
Coming back to Tableau for a second—yes, it’s heavy, but you can try the free version today without having to navigate a multi-step enterprise sign-up process. There aren’t any hoops to jump through, just the chance to take your data visualizations to the next level.
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