Data visualization: 3 resources for enhancing articles with interactive graphics

Ginny Romney | Web Editor,, DDM | @GinnyRomney | August 1, 2016

Since early this year, the team has made a concerted effort to give readers a chance to interact with data, or in the very least, an opportunity to look at information in new ways. Some of the tools we use require (brace yourself) rudimentary coding, but others have been so intuitive, a print reporter could use them. ;)

1. Knight Lab

Northwestern University Knight Lab has graciously provided easy-to-use tools that don’t require any coding and include step-by-step guides. They practically hold your hand through it.

The tool our team has used the most is Timeline. The timelines can be simple or more involved, with photos, videos, quotes, embedded Tweets and Facebook posts and other similar elements.

For a step-by-step guide to creating a Timelines, click here.

• Our very own DDM Story Lab (which among other things is responsible for producing the Innovation Wire each month) has also used another tool, StoryMap, to make an interactive element for a story. The program supplies additional information as it zooms in and around an image in a way that is not dissimilar, but much more pleasant, to a Prezi presentation.

2. Google Charts

Who doesn’t love Google? Google Charts has a slew of possibilities, but does require some coding. No need to fret, though — I was able to figure it out enough to make this stacked bar chart without any previous coding skills, so I have faith in your ability to persevere and Google your questions when it gets tough.

For a step-by-step guide to creating a bar chart, click here.

• Most people are already familiar with Google Maps, which can be customized with shaped markers and colors and text to fit the parameters of your project. This can be done with Google Fusion Tables, which don’t require any coding but do require logging into Google.

• For projects a little less cartographical in nature, we have used Geocharts, which lets you make a basic map and allow you to add colors and markers. Our examples feature states and national parks.

3. Tableau

Tableau is a free data visualization program that allows you to make databases and then build from there. While it doesn’t require coding, it does need some thought and experimentation. Our team has only used it once, but was able to help visualize data around Utah testing.

For a step-by-step guide to Tableau, click here.

So you want to start a project — what to be aware of:

- Learning can be hard! Working with some of these tools is a challenge! It’s going to take more than a little patience to iron out the kinks and get your graphic live. But, when you see the end result, there’s a feeling of accomplishment that can’t be denied.

- Budget the necessary time. Even if it seems like you should be able to breeze through because you already have the data, imputing said data can take some time, let alone writing the content or finagling with coding later in the process.

- Just because something can be interactive doesn’t mean it should. Avoid parroting what a good graph could tell you. Because these projects are time-intensive, remember that not everything needs to change when you hover over it.

Now, with this small arsenal of interactive tools, you’ll be a data journalist in no time! Good luck!

Need some more help & inspiration? Here’s the slideshow that started it all for us.