Top 10 Data Visualization Tools for Storytelling
In an increasingly data-heavy world, business intelligence, and the ability to digest data to tell a compelling story is crucial for companies to succeed. Is your online marketing strategy working? How are customers interacting with you? Where are they coming from? What trends are you seeing in revenue performance tied to ad spend?The list of possibilities goes on and on.
Being able to tell that story without the complexity of raw numbers in spreadsheets with thousands to millions of rows of data is complex, and whichever data visualization tool you choose has to be able to match your data needs, big or small. Below is a list of some of the best data visualization tools on the market.
What is data visualization?
Data visualization is the visual depiction of information through charts, graphs, maps, and other graphics. It is imagery dedicated exclusively to messaging or presenting information. Data visualization tools can help you reveal the hidden stories within your data—whether it’s pulling website traffic data into a scatter plot to tell you how your marketing campaign is going, or using a heatmap to highlight the areas of a city that are most prone to flood damage. Most tools allow you to create your own, customize charts, have powerful presets, or offer both capabilities.
What to look for in a data visualization tool
With so many data visualization tools out there to choose from, it can be daunting deciding which one is right for your needs. Here are some of the criteria you can use to help you with your decision:
- Ease of use: Is the user interface (UI) intuitive enough for you to create the data visualizations you need? Do you need a drag-and-drop interface for non-coders or a lightweight library for developers?
- Interactivity: Does the target audience for your data visualizations need to be able to filter, zoom, and otherwise interact with your graphics?
- Dashboard capabilities: Is your goal to create a business intelligence (BI) dashboard that can update visuals from live data feeds?
- Customizability: From data presets to chart types to the degree of software integration—how much control do you need over the design and implementation of your data visualizations?
- Integrations: From Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Salesforce to social media, does the data visualization tool have a data connector or API for the app you wish to pull data from?
What are the best data visualization tools?
Tableau and Tableau Public
Tableau is a market leader for big data analytics pipelines. It's used by enterprises to publish high quality data visualizations. Tableau Desktop boasts hundreds of data import options from CSV files to APIs to full integration with AWS, Spark, Hadoop, Microsoft SQL and more. The enterprise version supports live data feeds for BI dashboards. Tableau Public is the free version for personal use—your creations are public and can only be saved to the cloud. You are also limited to pulling data from CSV, Excel, and other flat files.
- Features: Intuitive dashboards with drag-and-drop capabilities. Support for live and in-memory data feeds. Hundreds of data important options, including 60 instant data connectors.
- Price: Tableau Desktop costs $70 per month per user.
- Pros: Strikes that sweet spot of being user-friendly to beginners but robust enough for data scientists and developers, this is one of the most popular data visualization tools available and does everything you’d expect a comprehensive data visualization tool to do.
- Cons: The free version is pretty limited compared to other offerings on this list.
Infogram caters to data visualization designers, but its comprehensive drag-and-drop interface is user-friendly enough for non-designers to use. Create data visualizations for infographics, social media posts, and even analytics dashboards.
- Features: Sports a full-featured drag-and-drop editor, an API for linking to data sources, and data visualization templates (35+ chart types and 550+ map types).
- Price: Infogram has a three-tier pricing structure: free, $19 per month for Pro, and $67 per month for business.
- Pros: Probably the best drag-and-drop editor for data visualization. Makes it easy to create data visualizations that are branded, stylish, and mobile-friendly.
- Cons: Relatively small ecosystem of built-in integrations for third-party data sources
Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is an industry leader for analytics and business intelligence platforms. Its data connectors make pulling data from other apps a snap and it integrates nicely with all the usual big data analytics sources including AWS, Spark, and Hadoop. If your enterprise technology stack already uses Microsoft technologies, Power BI is a natural fit. The premium annual subscription model also gives you dedicated cloud compute and storage resources.
- Features: Power BI sports a familiar Microsoft UI, drag-and-drop functionality, hundreds of data connectors, and support for both in-memory and live data feeds.
- Price: Power BI Desktop is free, Power BI Pro is $9.99 per user per month, and Power BI Premium is $4,995 per month.
- Pros: Power BI Desktop is very robust, giving you a single workspace to consolidate data sources, create reports, create data visualizations and run analyses and tests.
- Cons: $4,995 per month is costly for those who require on-premises storage and processing.
- Features: The developer’s license grants access to FusionCharts, FusionWidgets, PowerCharts, FusionMaps, and FusionTime. The package also provides 100+ interactive charts and 2,000+ interactive maps.
- Price: A perpetual FusionCharts license costs $497 per developer. Custom quotes are available for SaaS product licenses and on-premises applications.
Google Data Studio
- Features: Provides a web interface for creating BI dashboards and reports. Easy sharing of reports via Google links, and access to 800+ data sets from over 260 connectors.
- Price: Google Data Studio is free, but data source connectors can cost $39 per month or more depending on the vendor.
- Pros: Seamless integration with Google products. Plenty of style options to match reports and visualizations to your brand. Google Data Studio also has no data caps supporting unlimited tables and pages.
- Cons: Google Data Studio reports can only be read online, there’s no way to export reports as CSV, PDF, or other file types.
Flourish is great for journalists looking to tell stories with data. Its intuitive UI makes it easy for non-coders to pull in data and present it in polished mobile-friendly data visualizations. The interface runs in the browser and allows you to adjust the width and styling of your data visual as you build it to see how it might look with different screen widths. Flourish also allows developers to create custom templates with their developer SDK.
- Features: An intuitive drag-and-drop UI that lets you build responsive interactive data visualizations in your browser.
- Price: Flourish Public is free, Flourish Personal costs $69 per user per month, and Flourish Business Lite starts at $4,999 per year.
- Pros: Flourish probably has the best UI for non-coders looking to turn spreadsheets into dynamic data visualizations.
- Cons: Flourish is clearly for social media sharing and website content, if you want a BI dashboard and reporting tool you’ll need to supplement those technologies.
- Price: D3.js is a free open-source library.
- Cons: Steep learning curve for anyone who’s not a web developer unless they use one of the tools built off of D3.js
Sisense is an end-to-end data analytics platform with an enterprise interface that will be familiar to any BI analyst. It can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud and provides robust data visualizations for reports and dashboards.
- Features: A centralized data hub, data source connectors, and all the tools you need to perform big data analytics, visualization, dashboarding, and reporting.
- Price: Sisense no longer reports its pricing publicly and must be contacted directly for a quote. The last recorded pricing was $35 per user per month for an on-premises deployment and $42 per user per month if deployed in the cloud.
- Pros: Sisense delivers enterprise-grade end-to-end BI dashboarding and reporting.
- Cons: Sisense is a robust enterprise tool with taxing resource requirements and a hefty set-up and configuration process.
- Features: Highcharts boasts numerous chart types, tooltip labels, and axes options with an open dynamic API.
- Price: Highcharts is free for personal use but costs $595 per developer license.
- Cons: Steep licensing prices must be factored into your budget when leveraging Highcharts for commercial apps.
ChartBlocks is a user-friendly online chart builder that lets you build custom data visualizations without programming skills. The platform also makes it easy to share and embed your charts on websites and across social media. Built off of D3.js, BlockChart visualizations are responsive and rendered as SVG files that look great on high resolution screens.
- Features: An intuitive drag-and drop interface for building charts that can easily be embedded on websites and across social media. A powerful API that supports data imports from spreadsheets, databases, and live feeds.
- Price: ChartBlocks supports up to 50 active charts for free, 75 for $20 per user per month, and 200 for $65 per user per month.
- Pros: A nice combination of a noncoder-friendly interface, easy web sharing, affordable pricing options, and a flexible API access to a wide range of data sources.
- Cons: Appears to lack support for interactive mapping and unclear data limits.
Data visualization tools are a diverse bunch, so we tried to take a representative sample of the different types of data visualization tools that are available. Some tools will be better for developers while others are better for BI analysts. Choose the tool that best suits your needs. Regardless which tool you choose to use, the art of telling a compelling story through data visualizations is a skill that must be honed. Here are some tips for finding the best data visualization expert for your needs.