How do you turn a static graph into an interactive, animated data visualisation without writing a single line of code?
If you are looking to create a graphic for your next blog post or to share on social media, there are a number of online tools that will do the job in minutes.
Many are subscription-based, offering free account options, discounted fees for academics and students, and collaborative workflows.
Here I review some of the tools that I use in my own SciComm.
1. Piktochart: A simple and intuitive graphics package
This intuitive online tool is great for creating professional looking static and interactive graphics.
Piktochart’s browser dashboard allows users to import images or work with the inbuilt library of design assets – icons, images, graphic elements, text styles, fonts and colours, and data.
Alter the element’s font, colour, size and positioning with drag and drop functionality. You can also upload your own data to create simple interactive graphs and maps.
Download formats for final graphics are limited: only PDF and png were available at the time of writing. But, you can embed interactive and responsive graphics directly into your blog posts and web pages.
Piktochart offers a free account, which allows you to publish five graphics and access a large library of templates for designing posters, reports, fliers, infograhpics, and presentations. To embed more requires a subscription starting at 24 USD/month for individuals. Education subscriptions are available at 40 USD/year, and 200 USD/year for a team of 5, though more team members can be added for a higher price.
Upgrading to a paid account unlocks further features – higher resolution downloads, removal of the Piktochart watermark, customised colour palettes, and more storage space for imported photos. It also allows you to store your documents in folders and work collaboratively in teams.
Like: Extensive library of customisable templates. Create a professional looking data visualisation in minutes.
Dislike: No option for exporting vector graphics to share with other designers or to continue working in another graphics package.
Verdict: Overall, Piktochart is a great allrounder, especially when you need to create graphics in a hurry. Use Piktochart to quickly and easily create simple graphics for use online.
2: Datawrapper: Powerful data visualisation for journalists and bloggers
Use Datawrapper to create more complex interactive graphs, tables, and maps.
Originally designed by journalists for journalists, Datawrapper offers an intuitive, drag and drop interface to plot modern, interactive graphics in minutes. There are plenty of customisations features and you can link to original data sources. You can also add sharing buttons for a number of social media channels.
Datawrapper has a much more extensive library of chart types than Piktochart, including scatter plots, bar charts, arrow plots, pie charts, and long and short tables. And they have a number of map types: simple location maps, chloropleth maps and symbol maps.
Unlike Piktochart, it is not possible to combine plot types or multiple plots within a single document in datawrapper. But you could always arrange the finished graphics in your webpage such that they appear inline or grouped in some way. Read on for another simple fix to this problem.
Datawrapper is free, but paid subscriptions unlock further features and customisation options. These include collaborative editing and export of static images (png and PDF). You can also unlock full chart customisation of fonts, brand logos and so on.
Like: Simple drag and drop interface to input data and design. Great for producing maps.
Dislike: To unlock full customisation options and vector downloads you need to sign up for the ‘custom’ package. At 500 USD/month it’s not exactly cheap!
Verdict: A great tool to supplement your blog or popular science writing. Can be embedded into other graphics packages to combine multiple charts in a single graphic (see below).
3. Genial.ly: A powerful package for interactive graphics and presentations
is a powerful tool for creating professional looking responsive and fully interactive web graphics, including games, learning materials, and PowerPoint presentations.
The interface is simple and intuitive. Import images or use the library of design assets (icons, images, graphic elements, text styles, fonts and colours). Adding animation and interactivity is simple with click and play functionality.
Unfortunately, Genial.ly doesn’t have any in-built data visualisation options. But you can embed charts, maps, and tables directly from Piktochart or Datawrapper. All embedded charts retain their interactivity within the published Genial.ly graphic. How smart is that?!
At the time of writing, only PDF and png export was available with a paid subscription. But again this isn’t really a problem as the strength of Genial.ly is in the creation of interactive embedded graphics.
The free accounts allows an unlimited amount of creations and views. Upgrading to an educational account costs less than two USD/month for students and five USD/month for individuals. Paid accounts have access to offline viewing, downloads, templates, privacy controls and the option to import power point presentations. This last option sounds particularly promising, allowing you to embed animated and fully interactive presentations into your homepages and blog posts.
Like: The price. Versatile interactive and animation elements. Able to embed charts from Piktochart and Datawrapper.
Dislike: Unable to plot data directly, but this is easily solved by linking up to Piktochart and Datawrapper.
Verdict: I haven’t yet scratched the surface with Genially, but it appears to be a powerful tool. Great for scientists and journalists, and perfect for blogging and popular science writing.