How to visualize data?

Data visualization is something like an art. How to make results from your research in data easy to understand by management, business users or just everyone out there? A list of data, like an Excel sheet ist not what catches the eye. The art in visualization is shown perfectly on the site of Martin Wattenberg.
Now the questions is, what tools are easy to use in a company environment to visualize your data?

There are several classes of tools you can use:

  • Beginner: These are tools with a wide knowlegde throughout the company, mainly MS Excel. You can explore data easily and make diagramms without too much hazzle. It provides Barcharts, Lines, Pies and a combination of those. It is also very easy to use for adhoc analysis and making the data and graphs available to business users, if necessary.
  • Online Libraries: If you don’t want to be limited to Excel and use a Web-based reporting / analysis tool, you maybe can integrate one of the libraries available. There are several for all purpose you can imagine:
      Google Charts: For dynamic charts it has everything you need, as long as you are not bother by the Google look. They are running in every browser that supports SVG, canvas and VML. But there are JavaScript based, so there is a problem, if they should be used offline or in browsers without JS.
      Circos is a great tool, if you want to use circles to visualize your data. It is written in Perl and produces PNG output.
      panel-general focusses more on the infographics side of graph. It is mainly a marketplace, but you can make your own cartoon like graph with it.
      Kartograph is a tool for creating interactive vector maps. It is available as JavaScript or Python library. This is a great tool, especially since most people totally love maps and to use them.
  • Professional tools: The opposite of Excel in manners of manipulating and analysing data. These tools are sometimes pretty expensive, such as SAS and SPSS. But there are also open source and free to use tools, that sometimes are more flexible and easier to use, since they have a strong user base.
      R: Besides its nearly unlimited supply of libraries for all manners of analysis, R also has lots of packages concerning visualizing data and makes good use of them. It is one of the complexest tools I mentioned here.
      Gephi is a graph-based tool for data exploration. It is most useful for relations of notes of all kinds.

These are some examples and I evaluated even more tools. So there are many ways to visualize data and what you use, is depending on your environment and skills. I mostly use R for generating complex graphs, but only because I use that tool for the analysis. I will be integrating more Circos into our autmated scripts soon, since they are all based on Perl anyways.

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