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TL v66n1: Online Data Sources and Design Tools for Creating Quick Infographics
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Online Data Sources and Design Tools for Creating Quick Infographics

by 

Kebede H. Wordofa


Infographics

In recent years, you most likely have heard about or used the term “infographics,” which refers to “a larger graphic design that combines data visualizations, illustrations, text, and images together into a format that tells a complete story” (Krum, 2014, p. 6). Data visualization, as it is referred to in this definition, represents different types of visual illustrations of numerical data, such as charts, graphs, scatter plots, progress bars, networks, and other data visualization methods. Thus, infographics and data visualizations are not synonymous, and data visualizations alone may not necessarily represent infographics. It should be emphasized that a good infographic should tell a complete story about a specific subject or topic. This infographic from SenSource, which presents facts and figures in an attempt to show how libraries could outlast the current threats posed to them by the advances in information technologies, is a good example of an infographic telling a complete story.

Infographics have become very popular during the past few years. To recognize the ever-increasing popularity of infographics as a new area of interest in representing and communicating data and information, take a look at the interesting Google Trends chart of Internet searches for the word “infographics” (Figure 1). Having seen the growing popularity of infographics, one may ask, “What makes infographics so popular?” The popularity of infographics has to do with the current information overload that has resulted in availability of vast amounts of data and information that have to be processed and consumed. Infographics allow us to better understand and retain information using our powerful visual ability (Lankow, Crooks, & Ritchie, 2012).

Figure 1. A screenshot of a Google Trends chart showing searches for "infographics" conducted in the last decade.

As clearly stated by Phetteplace (2012), infographics are a modern method of representing and communicating large and complex data and information in an appealing and easily comprehensible way to demonstrate otherwise incomprehensible trends and patterns. The processing and consumption of complex and large amounts of data and information require better and more effective methods of communication, and infographics are at the forefront of these methods (Lankow, Crooks, & Ritchie, 2012). Infographics help tackle the “challenges of [data] size and complexity by fusing the art of design” (Phetteplace, 2012), making the consumption and retention of such data much easier.

Today, infographics are used everywhere, and libraries are no exception. In libraries, infographics can be used to communicate important information to create awareness about a particular issue as well as to promote library services and resources (Qualey, 2014). Specific uses of infographics in libraries can include representation of collection sizes, electronic resources and databases, circulation data by subject areas and user categories, membership patterns, visitors over periods of time, social media followers, usage of reference services, available computer workstations, available physical space, etc.

One of the challenges of creating infographics is the ability to find the right data and information (Krum, 2015). In addition to information and data, one needs infographic design tools to create different types of infographics. These are the two most important things you will need in order to design and create infographics. Of course, one may also need some creativity. You can design and create infographics by tapping into enormous amounts of online data sources or by using your own data. In the past, infographics were primarily created by experienced graphic designers who used expensive design software suites. These days, however, anyone can create infographics to great effect with using easy-to-use online design tools, data, and some clip art (Guevara & Moore, 2013). Some major online data sources as well as popular web-based infographic design tools are described below. 

Online Data Sources

There are many wide-ranging online data sources available for free. Some of the major ones are described and linked here.

Data.gov

As the official data website of the United States Government, Data.gov is one of the most comprehensive and influential data sources. It was created as a result of the Open Government Initiative. Datasets are collected and made available on a number of topics, including agriculture, business, climate, consumers, ecosystems, education, energy, finance, health, local government, manufacturing, ocean, public safety, and science and research. Data.gov is possibly one of the best data sources for creating infographics and data visualizations and conducting research on these and other topics. It also includes other important government statistics, including the Statistical Abstract of the U.S., which is an authoritative and comprehensive statistical data source on the demographic, housing, social, political, and economic condition of the United States. The United States Census, another key data source, can also be accessed through Data.gov. Most Data.gov datasets are available for download in multiple formats, such as CSV, Excel, and JSON. Access to government data on Data.gov is free and mostly does not require registration.

Historical Statistics of the United States

Historical Statistics of the United States is a standard source for quantitative indicators of American history, including datasets from earliest times to the present. Fully cross-referenced and indexed, it provides downloadable and customizable datasets to suit individual areas of interest, including downloadable tables in Excel, CSV, and Zip file formats. Historical Statistics of the U.S. provides an advanced search option for searching its tables, documents, and essays, and also provides citation information for datasets.

Google Public Data

Google Public Data is another important source of datasets and metrics from many governments and organizations worldwide. Useful datasets provided by major international organizations such as IMF, Eurostat, World Bank Group, OECD, and the U.S. Department of Commerce are available through Google Public Data. Users can browse through datasets and access interactive data visualizations on the website.

Internet World Stats

Internet World Stats features current global Internet usage statistics, population statistics, travel statistics, and even Internet market research data related to most countries and regions. Internet World Stats provides easier navigation using active links at the bottom of each page as well as content menus on the top of most webpages. It provides different graphs and tables for most statistical datasets. For example, this pie chart from Internet World Stats shows Internet usage statistics for North America.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is an online “computational knowledge engine” that answers factual queries directly by computing definitive answers from vast amounts of built-in data, using dynamic algorithms and methods. It can be a useful source of facts and statistics that can be used for creating infographics, though some of its features, such as downloading data and images, require a Pro account for $6.99/month.

Infographic Design Tools

Designing infographics used to require advanced graphic design skills as well as complex and expensive design software programs (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Publisher, etc.). However, now there are many free web-based tools which make it easier to design and create infographics using intuitive drag-and-drop design tools (Guevara & Moore, 2013).

Piktochart

Piktochart is an intuitive, web-based infographic design website which allows users to design and create professional-grade infographics by using pre-designed templates and themes. One of its key features includes the HTML publishing ability that allows users to automatically generate infographics with multiple clickable elements for web content and that are readable by search engines. That means anyone with no design experience can create infographics that are web-publisher ready. Currently, Piktochart has more than 400 customizable templates.  

In addition to creating infographics, Piktochart also allows users to create reports, posters, and presentations. Users can embed videos from YouTube and Vimeo in their infographics. One limitation of the free account is that the infographic design has a Piktochart watermark and no download options. The Pro version is available for $29/month to have access to all Piktochart features.

Easel.ly

Easel.ly is another useful web-based tool for designing basic layouts of infographics by simply dragging and dropping layouts from various categories of existing design themes (called Vhemes), objects, backgrounds, shapes, and fonts. It will allow users to upload their own locally saved images to use in infographics. Once created, infographics can be saved and shared using shareable URL links and embed codes, and can be downloaded in a PDF format. The free account only provides a limited number of Vhemes, objects, and fonts to choose from to create an infographic from scratch. However, there is a large collection of user-created-and-shared infographics which can be used as templates. One shortcoming of Easel.ly is that it lacks proper instructions or tutorials for beginning users.  

Venngage

Venngage is a web-based infographic tool for visualizing data with a large number of free charts, maps and icons. It claims on its website that you will be able to create an infographic in an easy 3-steps-process – selecting a template, adding charts and visuals, and customizing a design. The free account has some limitations, while the premium account (which is available for $15/month) offers all features, including the ability to download infographics in PDF and PNG formats.

Infogr.am

Infogr.am is most suitable to create interactive charts and share them through social media or on websites. It provides more than 30 different types of editable charts to choose from as templates. It uses the WYSIWYG editor and allows users to import and edit data in XLS, XLXS, and CSV file formats to create charts. It has a built-in spreadsheet to input and edit data manually (Qualey, 2014). Also, it allows users to embed YouTube and Vimeo videos in their infographics. It is one of the easiest to use as the only thing you would need to start off with your infographic project is the data. Downloading infographics requires a Pro account.

Google Chart Tools

Google Chart Tools is free, versatile, and powerful. It lets users easily create different types of charts from their own data and embed them in websites. Currently, Google Chart Tools supports line, bar, pie, and radar charts, as well as Venn diagrams, scatter plots, spark lines, maps, Google-o-meters, and QR codes. It has a chart gallery which provides a variety of customizable HTML-based design charts that can be used for different data visualizations.

References

Guevara, S., & Moore, M. (2013). Infographic tools for the non-designer. Information Outlook, 17(3), 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.sla.org/IO/2013/May-June/IO-MayJun2013final.pdf

Krum, R. (2014). Cool infographics: Effective communication with data visualization and design. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Lankow, J., Crooks, R., & Ritchie, J. (2012). Infographics: The power of visual storytelling. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Miniwatts Marketing Group. (2015, November 15). Internet users in North America [Pie chart]. Internet World Stats. Retrieved from http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats14.htm 

Moorefield-Lang, H. (2010). Infographics: Information gets visual. Information Searcher, 19(3), 15-16.

Phetteplace, E. (2012). Effectively visualizing library data. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 52(2), 93-97.

Qualey, E. (2014). What can infographics do for you?: Using infographics to advocate for and market your library. AALL Spectrum, 18(4), 7-8.

SenSource. (2015, July 17). Technology: Libraries of the future [Infographic]. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://sensourceinc.com/blog/technology-libraries-of-the-future-infographic/


 

Kebede H. Wordofa, Technology Resources Coordinator at Woodward Library, Austin Peay State University, can be reached at wordofak@apsu.edu.


 

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