Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A quick comparison of online infographics makers - Infogram, Pikochart and Venngage

When I was back in school, I dreaded art class as I was simply horrible at it. I was never a visual type of person and even today I favor words and numbers and avoid most "artistic" endeavors. So you can understand why when I decided to try creating a infographic for the library I expected it to be a big disaster.

Fortunately many tools have appeared that help even the artistic impaired people like me to not fail too badly.

Creating infographics to me involve three parts

1) Pulling out the data you need from various library systems
2) Creating interesting infographic "objects" (images, charts, visualizations)
3) Organizing everything in a interesting structure

I am decently well versed in the first step and can happily pull library data from Google Analytics, Primo Analytics, Alma Analytics etc so this part wasn't the problem.

For the organization of the infographic, I kept it simple and used one of the numerous templates available.

So the last part involved doing charts and other visualizations of the data I had extracted. While Excel has become increasingly capable at creating all types of charts (Excel 2013 has donut charts, radar charts, combo charts etc while Excel 2016 adds histogramstreemaps, waterfallsunburst, Box & Whisker, Pareto and more ) , there are still some typical visualizations used in infographics that Excel can't do and this is where the online infographics makers come into play.

In particular a very common visualization commonly used is to show X people in Y type statistics.



Another similar visualization often seen is to represent a percentage by shading proportionally an icon.





While it's possible to create the above by hand using say powerpoint , it can be pretty exhausting. This is where the free online tools help.

I tried the free versions of Infogr.am , Piktochart and Venngage and these are my impressions.


Infogr.am - good for more than 2 categories


Infogram has the usual charts and visualizations you expect and also some less commonly used ones like Treemap, Bubble , Hierarchy etc

But it is the Pictorial ones that are interesting to me.




Pictorial bar is the down right easy way to visualize X in Y type of images.

For example, if you want to show say 1 in 4 history students visit the library daily, it looks like this.



You can easily change the colors by editing the data , then clicking settings





You can also change the shape of the icon, to say a female icon or any of the preset ones. The selection is very limited though compared to others for the free version.

What if you want to create a visualization of three or more categories? Say you want to show of 10 students who visit the library, three are from business, five are from history and two are from Science?

For that you use the Pictorial chart.






I admit that I am puzzled that when I first enter the data by default it gives me a row of icons that are 12 by 24 = 288 icons.

If you fiddle around with other switches such as turning off the "round values" and using the "absolute distributions", you can see some of the icons are partly filled.

But still I wonder what's the point, why such a weird distribution of 12x24, I may have missed something but I can't change this distribution to something more sane like 10x10 to get a "For every 100 students...."

In any case, you can always turn on the "actual" switch, to get the exact number of icons you included.



Do also check out the Gauge , Progress bar or Size visualizations but in general Infogram visualizations are fairly simple compared to the ones below.


Pikochart - upload your own icons


Pikochart has roughly the same types of visualizations as infogram via their "icon matrix" 




However Pikochart seems to have far more options than infogr.am. You can 

a) change to a far large set of icons available than in infogr.am
b) change to a icon you uploaded (svg file)
c) Set the number of columns for the icon to be arranged in.



In the above example, I changed the data to Business = 20, History = 30 and Science = 50.

I also changed the columns to 10, so there are 10 icons per row.


You can of course use this to do various tricks. In general, I find Pikochart has slightly more options than Infogram and the ability to upload your own icon is a big win.

Venngage - my favourite

Venngage  is by far my favourite tool  of the bunch at least for the purposes I am using it for. 

First off, if you just want to represent 2 categories (e.g Use/non-Use) you select Pictograms.

Like Pikocharts, you get a huge library of icons to select from. But unlike Pikocharts you can't upload your own (not for the free version at least).

Still with the wide variety of icons available, you can easily create high quality professional looking stuff like this.



By default, you get a 5 by 5 set of icons and you get 13 icons colored blue.

You can easily change it to say 10 by 10 with a value of 35. I've also changed the color.



Besides the fact that this visualization can't handle visualizations with more than 2 categories (say Faculty/Post-Graduate/Undergraduate), it also can't show partial shading of icons. So for example if you wanted to represent in a icon of 5x2 , 2.5 icons shaded it can't be done. 

A fairly unique visualization that Venngage offers is the icon column and icon bar. Below is an example of a icon column that visualizes queries at the desk by source.

All you have to do is to enter a table with values, choose the icons you one and venngage will automatically calculate and create the icons scaled proportionally to your values.

In the above example, below is what I entered as values.



I also changed each of the icons to the appropriate icons using one of the available icons. It doesn't seem possible to upload your own, but fortunately there seems to be hundreds available. 



Have you seen infographics where there are icons that are proportionally filled up to X%? Seems a lot of work to create one? Venngage makes it easy.

In this example, I wanted to show that the library has an average occupancy rate of 80% at 10pm by creating a icon of a chair that is 80% filled.

The way to do so in Vennage is a bit hidden. First go to charts (on left), scroll down and select Icon chart .



Drag the icon chart (the partly filled Twitter icon) to the canvas on the right. But how do you change it from the Twitter icon to something else?

This is done by choosing icon (again on left), selecting one of the hundred icons available and then dragging it to the canvas. If you have done it correctly, if you click on the icon, you can see at the top a way of adjusting colors and the percentage fill.






Other nice stuff to explore include icons showing percentages (see below), bubble, stacked bubble and cloud bubble.


Canva

Canva has a very nice set of icons and other graphical elements etc, but it is relatively lacking in the pictorials that I have covered above. Still worth looking at if you want to use the large number of templates and other graphical elements



Conclusion 

This is just a quick overview of these online tools in one particular aspect that I was looking for.

Most of these tools are also capable of creating map visualizations something I didn't try this time.

This is something I might cover in future posts together with a quick comparison of desktop visualization/business intelligence tools including Qliksense Desktop, Tableau public and Microsoft BI desktop.

I am obviously still a beginner at this, so any corrections, comments and tips are welcome.
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