The world is overflowing with data, but it can be hard for many to see the story in that torrent. That’s where the artistry of data visualization can come in.
While you can use different coding languages, there are a host of dedicated data visualization tools available. These tools can translate hard data into shareable and easy-to-understand reports, dashboards and interactive live charts.
What Is Data Visualization?
Data visualization is the process of converting data into graphics that can be easily understood. It’s used to present ideas from complex data, communicate strategies and inform business decisions. Common graphics include pie charts, line charts, heat maps, histograms and scatter plots.
While data analysts and data scientists rely on data visualization tools, professionals across a range of disciplines may find these tools helpful for explaining data-based findings.
What Are Data Visualization Tools?
Data visualization tools are software that generate graphic representations of data. They process data inputs, converting them into visuals that users can tailor to fit their needs.
Users can ensure the effectiveness of a data visualization tool by considering the expertise of their audience and the simplicity of their graphics. The right tool for the right situation provides accessible visuals that display information in a format familiar to the audience.
12 Best Data-Visualization Tools, According to Experts
- IBM Cognos Analytics
- Microsoft Power BI
- Sisense Fusion Analytics
- Dundas BI
- Zoho Analytics
Best Tools for Data Visualization
While many data visualization tools are actually platforms with various tools that can be purchased separately, Domo is different, according to Michael Wilson, senior data and analytics manager at Stream, a company that provides application software.
“It is a data extraction tool, data storage, data modeling, analysis and visualization tool,” Wilson said. “It enables your [organization] to integrate all of your systems into one cohesive ecosystem.”
Wilson’s team can accomplish all of their data needs, including visualization, with one product. The visualization features are also easy to use and collaborative, he noted.
“Our team uses Domo across the organization, from C-level dashboards to product tracking, support tickets, marketing progress and sales team scoreboards,” he said.
Here are some advantages of working with Domo:
- Interactive dashboards for sharing and collaboration.
- Automatic alerts users can set to notify them about relevant data changes or when numbers cross a certain threshold.
- Access to more than 150 charts and 7,000 maps for customizable visualizations.
Qlik is an analytics and data integration platform that includes visualization features. The company’s Qlik Cloud comes with Qlik Sense, which allows users to create interactive data dashboards to share graphs, maps and other visual elements with their teams
The platform uses artificial intelligence to automatically generate analyses and insights that support data scientists in “delivering interactive predictive calculations that are easily accessible by decision makers.” It also allows users to set alerts that help them monitor business data and enable automation for routine tasks.
Qlik Sense can be accessed on any device, as the company offers iOS and Android apps in addition to its desktop format. Samsung, DocuSign, Lenovo and Volvo have been among some of the customers to make use of Qlik’s data analytics and visualization features.
Here are some of the perks of using Qlik for data visualization:
- Charts, tables and other visual elements designed to be interactive.
- Scheduling reports to be delivered on a routine basis.
- Generating reports in formats like Microsoft Office and PDFs.
- Natural language processing helps the platform understand user intent.
Datawrapper is an online platform for creating interactive charts and maps, as well as responsive data tables. Users can sign up for a free account or upgrade to a paid one for more customization features. Organizations like The New York Times, Axios and the Associated Press have used Datawrapper to create visualizations. It can be used to visualize election results, for example, updating in real time as new numbers are announced, or to create illustrative line and bar graphs with annotations that explain what people are looking at.
Users don’t need to know any coding to take advantage of Datawrapper’s capabilities. They can simply copy and paste their data into the website, upload CSV/XLS files or link to the data to begin creating an unlimited number of visualizations, regardless of whether they have a free or paid account.
Datawrapper also has a library of resources available for users to learn about how to get the most out of its tools. That includes more than 100 articles on how to use Datawrapper, workshop slides and exercises, a blog full of best practices and visualization examples.
These are some of the capabilities data wrapper gives users:
- Responsive visualizations for desktop computers, tablets and smartphones.
- Integration with Slack and Microsoft teams for collaboration.
- Live updating when the visualization is linked to a changing data set.
With the integration of Looker and Google Data Studio, the Looker suite allows users to take a more holistic approach toward data analysis. Users can now transfer data from Looker to Google Data Studio, creating convenient graphics with the help of both tools.
Even before this pairing, Looker has always boasted an ease of use that characterizes many low- or no-code data viz tools. But it isn’t just for the non-technical user, according to Kevin Mattice, chief product officer at real estate data platform Cherre.
“We leverage Looker at Cherre because it gives our wide range of users the best tool to create the visualizations they need on top of their whole world of connected data,” he said. “Our engineering teams can create highly customized visualizations across many data sets because Looker makes it easy to implement custom code.”
He explained that Looker’s language, LookML, allows both his team and Cherre’s clients to write code to customize visualizations “without changing the underlying data pipeline.”
Mattice called Looker his favorite data visualization tool because of its flexibility and “great combination of out-of-the-box features.”
And Looker’s capabilities have only increased with the addition of Google Data Studio. Here are some of Looker’s top features:
- Exporting to PDF, Excel or various image files.
- Setting custom visualization logo and color scheme combinations.
- Scheduling report generation based on data updates.
- Developing dashboards and reports in Google Data Studio.
IBM Cognos Analytics
IBM Cognos Analytics inputs data from various sources, cleans it and then generates data visualizations for team members to view. The platform stands out with its artificial intelligence capabilities, automatically integrating data from different sources and organizing it into the appropriate format. Users can easily build dashboards that adapt to mobile devices and gather insights by asking the platform’s AI assistant verbal questions.
Another advantage of IBM Cognos Analytics is that it plays well with a diverse range of data sources. Besides spreadsheets and CSV files, IBM’s analytics platform collaborates with Redshift, Amazon, Google BigQuery and other SQL databases. As a result, teams can easily combine data from varying sources and arrange them into compelling reports.
Here are some of the platform’s main features to remember:
- Integrates with a diverse range of sources like Google BigQuery and Redshift.
- Features an AI assistant that can glean insights after receiving verbal commands.
- Makes it easy to create dashboards and reports that can be viewed on mobile devices.
Infogram is a website where people can use templates to design infographics, reports and other visuals. Users can access metrics that give them insight into how well their visualizations are performing and which elements viewers interact with most. The company says its visualization tools have applications for a range of industries from media and marketing to government and education.
Users can sign up for a free basic account that lets them create 10 projects using more than 37 types of interactive charts, but Infogram also offers a range of pricing plans for organizations looking to use more customization and collaboration features.
Here are some of Infogram’s popular capabilities:
- A library of templates that includes slide shows and designs sized for platforms like Youtube and Facebook.
- Version history that allows users to look back at past changes to a visualization.
- Setting permissions for different roles within a team.
- Custom links to provide analytics that track how a particular client shares or interacts with a visualization.
Microsoft Power BI
A big-name data visualization tool, Power BI by Microsoft is a platform composed of several individual products: Power BI Desktop, Power BI Pro, Power BI Mobile and more. These products integrate with each other and other Microsoft products. This connectivity, plus the ability to pull data from dozens of different data sources, can make Power BI very useful.
Katie Dootson, a former data analyst at Blue Prism, a robotic process automation software company, said she was attracted to Power BI’s low cost and high flexibility.
Power BI’s similarity to other Microsoft products like Excel makes it exceptionally user-friendly, she added.
“Power BI is low-code so anyone can work in their system and create powerful insights,” Dootson said. “For the more advanced users, they can do some powerful modeling and calculations in the power query section and data analysis expressions (DAX) calculations.”
Here are some of the advantages Microsoft Power BI offers:
- Equipped with a library of hundreds of data visualizations.
- Weekly and monthly updates to improve the platform’s features and capabilities based on feedback from users.
Sisense Fusion Analytics
Aimee Leidich, senior director and head of operations at Hint Health, uses Sisense Fusion Analytics, which maintains code-first options — unique compared to most other data visualization tools that are low- or no-code.
“An analyst with no engineering background could hard code in SQL to create data tables for analyses and run all visualizations,” she said. Having code-first abilities means the small analyst team can address their unique data table structure directly with SQL without difficulty.
Leidrich pointed out that a code-first approach might not work for every team, or even hers as it grows. This makes the Sisense Fusion Analytics’ range of code-first to no-code tools adaptable to users’ needs.
Here are some of the advantages of working with Sisense Fusion Analytics:
- Natural language narratives make data analyses accessible and understandable.
- More than 100 data connectors available.
With FusionCharts, organizations can build visualizations out of more than 100 different interactive charts and 2,000 choropleth maps that can be used for web and mobile projects. The company says there’s a low learning curve for understanding how to use its tools along with live chat support.
Users have the ability to incorporate annotations, which could offer additional details about a specific data point on a graph or merge custom images into the visualization that are relevant to the data. In addition to traditional graph and chart formats, there are widgets that help illustrate data with speedometers, thermometers, the fill level on a cylinder and more.
These are some of the pros of using FusionCharts:
- Customizing visualizations with brand colors and logos.
- Exporting charts as an image or PDF or turning the underlying data into a spreadsheet.
- Writing your own messages that display as visualization loads.
- Formatting for dollar amounts that allows users to switch between denominations for different countries.
Dundas BI is a business intelligence platform that provides mid-to-large enterprises and software vendors with dashboards, reports and visual data analytics created from raw data. The company says its customers don’t need highly technical expertise to use the platform because of its “intuitive, user-friendly functionality.”
The platform’s dashboards are optimized for web and mobile display and users can save customized styles and dashboard templates for uniformity across their visualizations. Dundas BI also has a notes feature that allows team members to post feedback, such as comments or questions, in direct response to particular data points.
These are some of Dundas BI’s popular features:
- Drag-and-drop design tools.
- Notes that can be organized into comment threads along with permissions to control who sees them and email alerts for replies.
- Scheduling reports to be sent regularly.
Of all the data visualization tools available, Tableau is among the most widely used. It is a data analytics and visualization platform owned by Salesforce. It offers a number of different products, including Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, Tableau Cloud and more. It integrates natively with a wide range of data sources, including Excel, Google Sheets, SQL Server, Google BigQuery, Amazon Redshift and Salesforce.
“It can connect to anything, pull data from anywhere and create powerful visualizations quickly and easily,” said Camden Daily, vice president of data at coding bootcamp General Assembly. Daily has also found Tableau to be great for exploratory analysis — namely, finding patterns in the data — as well as for explaining what the data says through robust visualizations.
Tableau is also known for its versatility. “If you can dream it up, you can execute it within Tableau,” Levi Dantzinger, former analytics manager at data-driven life insurance company Bestow, said. “The sophisticated propensity for complex visualization and analysis within Tableau is hard to beat.”
While Tableau is a paid product, there is also a free version: Tableau Public. This version offers a lot of the visualization tools of other Tableau products but visualizations published in it are available online publicly.
Marcin Bartoszek, head of business intelligence at Spacelift.io, an infrastructure-as-code management platform, said he is a fan of the various Tableau products, including Public, in part because of how easy they are to learn.
“The shallow learning curve that allows everyone to learn using Tableau has to be one of the main competitive advantages of the tool,” he said. “The ease of use that lets you create rich visualizations in just a few seconds is a strong reason why one should pay attention to Tableau.”
Here are some of the pros of working with Tableau:
- Integrates with a range of data sources.
- A library of resources available, including video tutorials and webinars, to learn about the platform’s capabilities.
Simplicity is a major selling point for Zoho Analytics. The business intelligence and analytics platform is self-service and allows users to connect and blend their data from a variety of different sources, prepare it for analysis, analyze it and develop a wide range of visualizations from it.
Trevor Larson, CEO and founder of employee recognition software company Nectar, named Zoho Analytics his favorite data visualization tool because “it strikes a good balance between customization and user friendliness that makes it really easy to use, even for complex data sets.”
This balance stems from the robust customization options and an intuitive user interface Zoho Analytics offers, according to Larson. One detail he especially likes about the user interface is that it is responsive, adjusting to the size of any screen.
“I think Zoho has realized that users need to be able to customize their work environment to match their specific needs and preferences, but they also don’t want users to have to spend a lot of time customizing the software in order to use it,” Larson said.
These are some of the pros of Zoho Analytics:
- Comes with an AI-powered analytical assistant called Zia.
- Interface has a drag-and-drop feature to simplify building reports.
- Comment threads allow teams to collaborate and offer feedback.