Essential Resources: Charting, analysis and exploratory tools

This is part of a series of posts to share with readers a useful collection of some of the most important, effective and practical data visualisation resources. This post presents the data visualisation tools that could be generally associated with tasks such as conducting analysis, creating charts, undertaking exploratory analysis, business intelligence operations etc.

Please note, I may not have personally used all the packages or tools presented but have seen sufficient evidence of their value from other sources. Whilst some inclusions may be contentious from a quality/best-practice perspective, they may still provide some good features and provide value to a certain audience out there. Finally, to avoid re-inventing the wheel, descriptive text may have been reproduced from the native websites if they provide the most articulate descriptions. Your feedback is most welcome to help curate this collection, keep it up to date and preserve its claim to be an essential list of resources!



Microsoft Excel is the most popular spreadsheet tool in the world with over 400 million users and therefore the most accessible tool for conducting analysis and presenting data in graphical format. The package receives a great deal of justified criticism within the visualisation field for the poor defaults and inclusion of ‘bad practice’ visualisation options it provides but, in the right hands, it can be a very useful visualisation tool.


Examples/references: John Nelson, Jorge Camoes, Jon Peltier, Ann K Emery, Gender Analysis



Numbers is the spreadsheet application from Apple’s iWork suite, so naturally has compatibility across all Apple devices. “Transform your data into compelling 2D or 3D bar, line, area or pie charts. Combine line, column and area series in a single mixed chart. Create 2-axis charts with different value scales. Even apply trendlines and error bars. The charts you create in Numbers can be linked to your Pages documents and Keynote presentations, so you can easily keep all your documents up to date”. As with Excel you can do some very bad things but take control of the charting features yourself and you can manipulate the tools to create some elegant solutions.


Examples/references: Short video on creating charts


OpenOffice Calc

For those who cannot access Microsoft Excel or prefer open-source options, is provides a web-based office platform mirroring much of the functionality provided by Microsoft Office. The aim is “to create the best possible office suite that all can use”. The Excel equivalent is Calc and although some of the graphing features are limited it is an ever-improving tool, with version 4 recently released.


Examples/references: Gallery of chart types


LibreOffice Calc

Like the Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice offers a “comprehensive, professional-quality productivity suite that you can download and install for free, with no fear of copyright infringement”. It is a freely available community-driven project with releases in more than 30 languages. The spreadsheet application here is also named Calc offering “graphing functions to display large number of 2D and 3D graphics from 13 categories, including line, area, bar, pie, X-Y, and net – with the dozens of variations available, you’re sure to find one that suits your project”.


Examples/references: More info about Calc


Data Graph

DataGraph is a simple and powerful graphing application for Mac OS X. It is a great companion for Excel, Numbers or any of the big statistical packages. Simple because it is very easy to draw plots, bar graphs, and fit functions. Start typing in data and the graph immediately shows up. Pick from the initial template list and modify the data, change colors, resize easily and interactively.


Examples/references: Screenshots


Tableau Desktop

Fabulously powerful and rapid tool for visual analysis and much more. “Tableau Desktop is based on breakthrough technology from Stanford University that lets you drag & drop to analyse data rapidly and fluidly, connect to data in a few clicks, then visualise and create interactive dashboards in an instant. Tableau have based their product on years of research to build a system that supports people’s natural ability to think visually providing a tool that lets you easily build beautiful, effective, rich data visualisations”. Worth noting that Tableau Desktop is free for Students and there are free academic offerings too.


Examples/references: Andy Kriebel, Joe Mako, The Information Lab


Tableau Public

It is worth making a separate note for Tableau Public, the free-to-use web-based, publicly accessible version of Tableau Desktop which enables you to create interactive visualisations and embed them into your website, publish them on the Tableau Public Gallery or share within the Tableau Public community. Note, the visualisations cannot be saved locally, that is the ‘public’ essence of this free tool, but you can now link up to 1 million records.


Examples/references: DataRemixed, Public Gallery



TIBCO Spotfire Professional aims to make it easier to build and deploy analytic applications over the web or perform ad-hoc analytics on-the-fly by letting you interactively query, visualise, aggregate, filter, and drill into datasets of virtually any size.


Examples/references: Demo gallery



The QlikView platform aims to bridge the gap between traditional BI solutions and standalone office productivity applications, enabling users to forge new paths and make new discoveries. QlikView infuses a broad set of new capabilities, analysis, insight, and value to existing data stores with user interfaces that are clean, simple, and straightforward.


Examples/references: Stephen Redmond’s book, Demo Gallery



Grapheur is a reactive Business Intelligence tool integrating data mining, modeling, multi-variate analysis and interactive visualisation into an end-to-end discovery and continuous innovation process powered by creativity and curiosity.


Examples/references: Use Cases


Visokio Omniscpoe

Visokio Omniscope is a versatile, multi-tab and multi-view interactive data analysis, filtering and presentation tool. It offers a powerful new way to visualise, explore and report on large tables of data – with related images, maps, links, and more – then lets you share your file with others using the free Viewer.


Examples/references: Demos and screenshots



Panopticon data visualisation software supports rapid analysis of fast-changing and historical time series data sets. You can deploy it on the desktop or over the web — or embed it into your own enterprise applications. Originally focusing on real-time treemap visualisations, the product suite is now much broader encompassing traditional options such as bar charts, line graphs and an innovative time-series solution termed ‘horizon graphs’ and more contemporary solutions such as Stephen Few’s bullet graph and Edward Tufte’s sparklines. This creates a great variety of innovative and effective visualisations that can be combined into a single powerful, interactive dashboard display. Most importantly they employ best practice visual principles throughout their offering which stands them apart from other competitors.


Examples/references: Gallery, Review from Stephen Few, White papers



R is a highly extensible, open source language and environment for data handling, statistical computing and graphical techniques. One of R’s key strengths is the ease with which well-designed publication-quality graphical plots can be produced. Importantly, from a good practice principles perspective, great care has been taken over the defaults for the minor design choices in graphics whilst allowing the user to retain full control beyond. Many people traditionally think of R as a statistics system but its power and potential as a visualisation tool is significant and its popularity within the field is growing constantly.


Examples/references: Drought’s footprint, Making Heatmaps in R, RStudio, ggPlot2 Library



Gephi is an open-source, free interactive visualisation and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems, dynamic and hierarchical graphs. It claims to be “like Photoshop but for data”, allowing the user to interact with the data representation, manipulate structures, shapes and colors to reveal hidden properties.


Examples/references: Demo Gallery, The VIZoSPHERE


Wolfram Mathematica

Bring in your data, combine it with Wolfram Alpha’s ever-increasing store of knowledge, apply sophisticated symbolic and numeric analysis, and create state-of-the-art visualizations—all in one system, with one integrated workflow.


Examples/references: Gallery of features



All the graphics features that are required to visualise engineering and scientific data are available in MATLAB®, including 2-D and 3-D plotting functions, 3-D volume visualization functions, tools for interactively creating plots, and the ability to export results to all popular graphics formats.


Examples/references: Gallery of graph types



Stata is a complete, integrated statistical package that provides everything you need for data analysis, data management, and graphics – you get everything you need in one package.


Examples/references: Gallery of graphics



Mondrian is a general purpose statistical data-visualisation system written in Java. It features outstanding interactive visualisation techniques for data of almost any kind, and has particular strengths, compared to other tools, for working with categorical, geographical and large data sets. Currently implemented plots comprise Histograms, Boxplots y by x, Scatterplots, Barcharts, Mosaicplots, Missing Value Plots, Parallel Coordinates/Boxplots, SPLOMs and Maps. Mondrian works with data in standard tab-delimited or comma-separated ASCII files and can load data from R workspaces.


Examples/references: Mondrian Examples


Visualize Free

Visualize Free is a free visual analysis tool, providing the perfect solution for visually exploring and presenting data that standard office charting software cannot handle.


Examples/references: Gallery of visualisations



Dundas Dashboard brings together all of the tools you need to build meaningful, interactive and fully customized dashboards in one easy to use platform.


Examples/references: Dashboard Gallery


MicroStrategy Express

MicroStrategy Express dramatically simplifies and accelerates the way organizations consume business analytics,
allowing companies to deliver value to their customers 20 times faster and more cost effectively. MicroStrategy Express helps users quickly discover insights from their data using compelling visualizations. Express enables self-service dashboard creation for business users who need information quickly without expert assistance.


Examples/references: Fact Sheet



This visual discovery software from SAS sets itself apart by linking robust statistics with graphics on the desktop, producing visual representations of data that reveal context and insight impossible to see in a table of numbers. JMP allows you to be more efficient, tackle difficult statistical problems and bring your data analysis to a whole new level. Data and information visualisation, design of experiments, and statistical modeling techniques from simple to advanced are all within your grasp with this powerful platform. And when you make JMP your analytic hub, you can work with your other favorite tools: SAS, Microsoft Excel and R.


Examples/references: Screenshots and demos


SPSS Visualization Designer

Bizarrely there isn’t a single example image or screenshot on the SPSS website (the image below is from the brochure). There may be examples out there but it seems IBM don’t want you to see them on their site until you have given up your personal details for a trial version. It should be a worthwhile tool to include in this list (if nothing else then for completion) but all we can go on is bold claims about what the tools can do… “IBM SPSS Visualization Designer enables you to develop and share customized data visualizations, from simple charts to advanced graphics. The solution makes the creation of data visualizations accessible to non-technical users. With a drag-and-drop design interface, it eliminates the need for advanced programming skills.”


Examples/references: Download trial version



Zoomdata allows you to connect to internal and external data sources, combine, merge, and crunch data streams, visualize the results in real-time, and provide instant access to your colleagues.


Examples/references: Demo


LucasSeptember 5th, 2013 at 12:05 pm

D3.js should definitely be listed here too!

Andy KirkSeptember 5th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

There’s another 5 chapters, it’s in number 2 :)

MarcSeptember 6th, 2013 at 8:32 am

Hi Andy,

Great post!
You might have a loot at Dataiku (, not specifically a visualization solution but a “Data Science Studio” embedding visualizations capabilities (standard viz and custom ones with the help of D3.js).
I’ll be pleased to give you additional information if you’re interested.

Kind regards