Tools of the Trade
Visual communication doesn’t have to be expensive! These are a few of my favorite - and most affordable - dataviz tools.
Tools with names in bold are ones that I use regularly. The rest I’ve seen in action and have heard great things about their usability.
Static Visualizations & Design
For use in printed publications or online
- Microsoft Excel – This one isn’t technically free (or cheap), but most organizations already have it.
- Google Sheets – Free alternative to Excel.
- Python – Programming language used more by industry, has great data analysis and dataviz packages.
- R – Programming language used more by academia, very analysis and statistics-oriented, has good dataviz packages.
- Gimp – Free alternative to Photoshop (Windows only).
- Pixlr Editor – Free alternative to Photoshop (web-based).
- Affinity Photo – Reasonably-priced alternative to Photoshop.
- Inkscape – Free alternative to Illustrator.
- Affinity Designer – Reasonably-priced alternative to Illustrator.
- Adobe Creative Suite – Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop can be used to create and modify dataviz. Adobe offers discounts for nonprofits online and through TechSoup.
Interactive Data Visualizations
Online-only, featuring animation and interactivity
- Google Charts – Google’s dataviz package has a wide range of chart types but is geared for programmers.
- Tableau Public – Tableau’s free product. All data and visualizations done on the free account must be publicly visible (no private data).
- Infogr.am – Drag-and-drop chart creation for website embeds. Builds both solo and multi-chart creations.
- Datawrapper – Quick and simple web-based visualization creator, but offers limited chart options.
- ChartBlocks – Online tool for designing embeddable interactive data visualizations, has both free and paid plans.
- LOOPY – You draw lines and circles with your mouse, it creates animated schematics and org charts.
Other Interactive Visualizations
Numerical data isn't the only way to tell a story!
- Knight Lab StoryMapJS – StoryMapJS guides users through a spatial story. You choose the stops and add pics/video, it does the rest. [read my review]
- Odyssey – Like StoryMap, combines maps and multimedia for a guided tour – and no need for code!
- Google My Maps – Create an embeddable map with points and areas of interest. All maps must be associated with a Google account.
- Google Earth Pro – Build guided tours and narrated maps from spreadsheet files and GIS data. Free for nonprofits with code GEPFREE.
- MapBox – Open-source alternative to Google products. Extremely customizable, but you’ll want to have some GIS / code experience.
Other storytelling tools
Other stuff I use, in case you were wondering
- Asana – Project management app, free for up to 15 users.
- Toggl – Flexible time tracker with browser extensions.
- Teamweek – Visual task planner, I use it for workplanning and tracking client bookings.
- ConvertKit – Email newsletter service, great for offering downloads with sign-ups (affiliate link).
- Wave Accounting – Nearly-free invoicing, payment processing, and expense tracking.
- Hootsuite – Social media manager, lessens the chaos of your Twitter feed.
- Crowdfire – AI-assisted Twitter tool to help with audience growth.
- RecurPost – Automated Twitter scheduling, because Twitter is my frenemy.
- FlyWheel – Fast and friendly web hosting for WordPress (affiliate link).