How do I Improve my Data Visualization Skills?

I have have a pretty decent ability to represent data in a manner which communicates easily with a unfamiliar audience. However, I'd like to expand into the use of different software to create visualizations like this:

What are some resources that will provide greater functionality than frustratingly limiting Excel Charts? Through what means are the creators of visual budget representing their data?

Please recommend software and resources from both free to the ridiculously expensive. Ability to chart quickly and maintain easily are important to me as well.
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Patrick TallaricoDecision Support and Systems AnalystCommented:
My suggestion would look at Visio and Powerpoint.  Visio is great for creating information heirarchies, diagrams, and flow charts that are based in data representation.  Powerpoint allows you to create a more interactive interface for the information and diagrams being presented..  I know someone who was using Powerpoint as the base for public information kiosks. You can make it interactive with hyperlinks, and animation.
There is also an online presentation site called Prezi that allows you to create presentations like what was on the youtube link you provided.  I have seen presentations very much like that one that had been created using Prezi.
If you need a more budget conscious version, Open Office, or Libre office have comparable options to powerpoint and Visio.
-PolakAuthor Commented:
Let me clarify when I referred in the original question to "Excel Charts" I meant charts that were created in PowerPoint that used Excel as the linked data. I'm not satisfied with PowerPoint 2010s default charts. For example sometimes you want a "clustered bar" graph but you may want a "stack bar" but only on ONE of the series; PP doesn't allow that to happen. Or maybe you want "pie of pie" charts that show that cause-and-effect like because Pie A is 80% completed the effect on Pie B is that it is 60% completed because of the relationship between the two pies. Again PP doesn't allow this to happen.

I took a look at Prezi it seems to depend on PP to generate the data-graphics for it and then  creates a more pleasing presentation. I do not think that the visual budget presentation I linked could be accomplished using prezi and powerpoint....
Ray PaseurCommented:
Got a neglected question alert on this one.  I don't have much of an answer, but I know one potential learning resource.
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You need to get a designer. There's more to good information graphics design than just a flexible charting engine.

That said, if you are just interested in charting software that's more flexible than Excel (and, therefore, PowerPoint), then you could look at Illustrator.

You can also check into Think-Cell. 

SmartDraw does a lot of thing nicely, too:
That example presentation was very professional - it appeared to me to be created by a design team (probably not just one person) and they probably used multiple graphics software programs - I would guess Illustrator and Flash. They were not typical charts in any way shape or form and no software program can help with visualization in that way. Only a trained, professional designer could come up with those types of innovative charts. Honestly, just learning software is not what makes a good presentation. There are all the basics of design involved: composition, color, size, shapes, textures, etc. This takes professional artists years to get good at, so to get better at all these things you would want to not only practice, but take some classes in graphic design to learn more.

What most non-graphic design individuals can do is to keep finding examples of what you think will work for specific projects. Keep these references to show to a any graphic design professionals you may hire to create your charts or presentation.  Another option is to have a designer create the "look" of the charts and then you find a way to use software you are familiar with to create the actual charts.

About the way Excel brings chart data into Powerpoint - they often still look like they were made in Excel. If the charts are created in Powerpoint, they can be edited (the colors, the type of chart, how the labels show), the shading, and all the other graphic features. So, don't limit Powerpoint to what Excel's charts will do.


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-PolakAuthor Commented:
Appreciate the responses; I'm pretty proficient in vector-based graphics in Illustrator, never made the jump to flash though. I actually forgot about the "Graph Tool" in Illustrator. And this is a great reminder for making fully customizable charts for publication, however they are still just static charts....

How about a visualization like this:

Is there any graphing engine (without making the jump to flash) that will let me build something that represents data over a number of years and allows the end user to manipulate a Year Selector and see the data in that specific year?
You could do this in Excel with some code. (And by the way, Excel now has the same formatting options PPT does -- just nobody ever uses them, heh. And of course you still have problems with things like stacked clustered charts.) Then you could use an OLE action animation in PPT to open it and input the info and manipulate it during a presentation.

I think you're maybe looking for the type of business intelligence that you can get via Sharepoint SQL and Excel, and I would guess you could then show it as a website -- which might be a cleaner look. (To show it in PPT, use Live Web add-in from ) But Excel doesn't HAVE to be ugly and clunky. Thing is, just like we recommended a designer, you'd probably need someone who can really push Excel to make it perform the way you want. Jon Peltier has a ton of charting tutorials so you can get the charts to behave (like stacked clustered columns), but that doesn't address the aesthetics. You can do a lot in Excel and PPT aesthetic-wise these days, though.

I don't think Flash is a graphing engine.
I really can't tell how they created that buy vs. rent graph - what ever it was created in, it was then made into a Flash object to be used on the webpage.

Possibly something like this was used: 

Though I didn't read more about the product/service to see if it had the ability to export as a Flash file

Could also be a combination of tools from Adobe, one being Fireworks
Adobe Fireworks interactive pdf chart graph tumblr
Infographics 3.0 After Effects template

 Adobe Illustrator also includes many features.
I'd look into the full Adobe suite
-PolakAuthor Commented:
There is seemingly a lot of good solutions in here, give me a moment to try them all out to see which works for me.
Hi -Polak hows it going?
Any progress?
regards Merete
-PolakAuthor Commented:
Well of all the options proposed Fusion Charts was the most flexible. However, the interface for editing their chart templates required that you can code. So I'm not really any closer to creating the type of data-visualization that I'd like. I think what I'm going to learn is that there really isn't any engine/software out there that can replace a coder.
I think you are correct that no automated software will replace the abilities of a designer or coder! The software can only assist as a tool in the creative process. The person using the software has to have the vision for what they want the final output to look like.
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