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Infographics for the (Un)Skilled Masses

Lucia Mancuso, 18 February, 2011 0 Comments

Google Public Data Explorer

We love a good infographic. Truthfully though, who doesn’t? Over the last two years, I’ve begun to notice that infographics are one of the most popular items that you see blogged, tweeted, re-tweeted and passed around online. Infographics look pretty. They take what are often complicated data-sets or bits of information, and make them simple to understand. You can digest an infographic quickly. The people who create infographics are able to make a point fast, and the evidence, in the form of data is included right in the argument itself. They are compact, to the point, attractive, data rich and clever. Looking over the analytics for a wide variety of our clients, the numbers show that infographics grab the clicks on blogs, Twitter and Facebook across all kinds of audiences. Infographics are the perfect format for sharing information in the social media world.

A few days ago, we were discussing creating an infographic here at The Blog Studio. It isn’t easy, was the conclusion we came to pretty fast. You need data. You need to make a point with that data. You need design skills. You need to create a way to display that data so it makes your point. Then you need to make it look pretty. It’s a tall order, and there are a lot of very disparate skills involved. The person who crunches the numbers may not have the design chops to make the end product. The designer may need a hand figuring out how to make the graphics tell their story.

We did some poking around, and discovered the Google Public Data Explorer. Leave it to Google Labs to take a complicated process, and simplify it enough so that anyone has a shot of creating an informative, attractive infographic. That’s what Public Data Explorer is all about.

To get started creating your infographic masterpiece, begin by exploring the data sets that Google provides as part of the web app. Stat geeks are going to lose it when they see what’s available here. There is deep financial data: GDP, personal income, unemployment and retail sales are all available. Population data is covered by country, both currently and historically. A vast amount of health data, like info on prevalent STD’s, flu outbreaks and cancer cases is presented by location. The environment, education, greenhouse gasses and whole lot more data is available for your number crunching pleasure. Since Data Explorer is relatively new, I imagine more datasets will become available as time goes on. It’s also possible to add your own datasets in a variety of formats to work with.

Once you’ve decided on the data you’d like to work with, you’re presented with many ways to parse and compare this data. It’s possible to break things down by location, time frame, density, performance and many more useful ways. Decide what data comparisons make your point, and then quickly see them graphed and displayed. You have the option to display the data in several graphic formats, including overlaying it on Google Maps. The colors, size and many of the graphic elements are completely configurable to make a wholly unique infographic. There are tons of filters and customization options available, depending on the data you’re working with. I can safely say you won’t feel limited in any way as you are creating your infographic masterpiece.

The final results are outstanding. While the infographics lack the last bit of sparkle you’ll find in an infographic done up from scratch by a talented designer, they still look great.  You would be happy to pass along something you created with the Public Data Explorer to your Twitter friends, or use it in a professional presentation. A tiny bit of additional polish from an Illustrator wizard could easily make one of these infographics as visually appealing as any I’ve come across.

To the best of my knowledge, Google Public Data Explorer is a first. It’s the only serviceable, self-contained, infographic creation tool I’ve come across. I’ve tried some other apps that claim to do the same thing, but the results have been very sub-par. Not here. I already have plans to create some infographics with this tool for blog posts and presentations I’m working on now. It’s that good.

If you’re a stats nerd, a designer, a speaker or someone with clever ideas that could use the graphics treatment, you will find the Google Public Data Explorer supremely useful. It took me two hours of playing with the app to become a full fledged convert. If you’ve been wanting to make some infographics, but needed help in some area of creation this is the app for you. This FAQ from Google will get you up and running fast.

You can definitely expect to see lots of infographics by The Blog Studio popping up soon.

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