DIY Infographics for Business Students

Would you like to turn this  . . .

Source: “Fall 2011 Product/Health & Beauty Aids” MRI+ Mediamark Internet Reporter database 2011,


  . . . . into this?

This some of the same data made visual using

Video of making an infographic with

Back in September 2012, I wrote about the ready-made infographics that can be found in library databases like Mintel.  Since the time I posted that blog entry, both Hoovers and Business Insights Essentials have added some nice new data visualizations and interactives to their services. Clearly, the database companies that serve industry are getting the message that effective visual communication is highly important in today’s business environment.

But while many industry and market research databases are adding visuals (or at least making graphics easier to locate), business researchers are still more likely to encounter statistics and demographics in the form of raw data.  That’s why, if you’re a business major trying to give this information full impact in a presentation, you might be interested in some of the free DIY infographic and data visualization tools that are available on the web.  Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • – Very easy to use and very clear navigation.
  •  Also easy to use, if you can figure out what to click on to begin the process.  The folks at have created a navigation that leads you back to their fee-based services, unless you know where to click.  After logging in don’t click “Create.”  Instead click “Marketplace” and then click the pink “Start Project” button on the upper right has changed considerably since my posting.  It is now mainly a commercial site connecting designers with clients.  There are a few “instant” infograhic tools left, which are easiest to get to if you use the following address:   You might want to use Piktochart or as an alternative
  • Many Eyes – A little more finicky than the others, but worth it.  Many Eyes from IBM allows you to create interactive data visualizations as well as textual analysis charts.  It also includes a lot of useful information about what types of charts or graphs to use for various purposes.
  • Piktochart – A much richer selection of options than is offered for free from and  Includes graphics and templates that are useful for expressing qualitative information.

These services make it relatively easy to create informative and compelling visualizations of both numeric and non-numeric information.  All of them allow for uploading data sets for the creation of charts and images for use as illustrations.  Many Eyes also allows for the upload of text for the creation of Word Clouds, Word Trees and other interactive visualizations.  Also of note are Wordle, Google Charts and the more complex Google Fusion Tables (which is still in beta).

Like anything DIY and free on the web, these infographic tools are no match for the services offered by skilled graphic or communication designers.  Even though these online services can produce something eye-catching rather quickly, using them well still takes time and some basic visual literacy.

If you need evidence of the rising interest in visual literacy and visual communication in the business world, a quick search of Business Source Complete will bring back a wide assortment of articles advocating visual thinking and visual language curricula for students in business programs. I thought I would include a link to a recent article from the Global Journal of Business Research as an example.

Siu-Kay, Pun. “Visual Language Skills – Do Business Students Need Them.” Global Journal Of Business Research (GJBR) 4.2 (2010): 85-96. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2013.





An idea

Every year at about this time, the FIT Media Design Club holds an exhibition of their works at the Museum at FIT.  Last year it was entitled Death 2 Pie Charts and featured some truly stunning  information graphics.  This year’s kinetic  4th Dimension exhibit, currently on display, is equally as impressive.

Digital Junkie – Information Overload

When attending these exhibits, I always am struck by the sheer amount of talent, skill and work ethic our design students possess. Being a librarian, however, I am also always curious to know more about the research that went into the project and the sources of the data that are being illustrated.  Like most people, I have a great deal of admiration for those who can transform dry numbers into compelling arguments and narratives, especially when the medium is visual.  I think revealing the data sources would only enhance the exhibit and would more genuinely reflect the real world situations faced by those in the communication design industries.

Shortly after viewing the Death 2 Pie Charts show last year, I stumbled upon a YouTube video about a program that brings together visual communicators and data producers – with beautiful results.  Visual Rhetoric is a collaborative endeavor between two separate educational institutions with ostensibly disparate missions:  the London School of Economics and the London College of Communication.  Essentially, graduate students in the social sciences from LSE pitch their research projects to graduate students from LCC, who then create presentations “as visually striking as they are epistemically credible”

Visual Rhetoric

It seems to me that a similar interdisciplinary initiative could take place here at FIT.  We are business school as well as a design school, after all.  Right now “Big Data” is king in the fashion merchandising world.  The capstone projects of our Global Fashion Management students are rich with statistics and demographic figures.  And our Home Products undergraduate senior presentations require in-depth exploration niche markets and trends. So while it might not all be original data that is being collected by FIT students and faculty, as is the case with the Visual Rhetoric project, there are local data sets that could be worked with by Communication Design, Graphic Design, Advertising Design, or Illustration students.

Just an idea.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I know how we would pull it off.  But I would love to be involved if we ever do!  In the meantime, kudos to the members of the Media Design Club and Prof. C. J. Yeh for all their good work.

There’s a Map For That

For some time now, I have been planning to write an an article on my favorite map sites and mapping tools, but it was Hurricane Sandy that motivated me to push the project forward. Whether needing to find gas stations that still had gas or trying to plot my commute into Manhattan on public transportation, maps were of far greater value to me these past weeks than #nygas twitter hash tags or text message updates from the MTA website.  Maps also played a huge role in the news these past two weeks, helping people understand the extent of the damage in the Caribbean and the United States or who had won key “battleground” states in the presidential elections.

Maps are arguably one of the oldest forms of information visualization, and while there is much dispute over what would qualify as the oldest map in the world (do pre-historic petroglyphs count if there is a chance we might interpret intent wrongly?) there is no dispute that they have been with us for a long time (at least since 2,500 BC). And now, needless to say, most people expect instant access to interactive maps and directions  using such tools as HopStop or Google Maps.

Customization and Mapping API

What a lot of folks don’t know is, that with a little familiarity with Javascript (and the patience of master weaver) this mapping technology can be manipulated to fit their precise purposes – far beyond what can be done using standard versions of Google Maps or MapQuest.  Many companies offer mapping API – in fact, the API directory on the website Programmable Web lists well over 100 mapping APIs that are either open source or commercial enterprises.  One of the most popular and widely used is the API from Google Maps, of course, which you can learn more about at the Google Geo Developers blog.   If API is not in your comfort zone, however, there are services that offer menu-driven customizations.  For example, image to the right is of a map that I put together in about 5 minutes using a free MapBox account.

Racist Tweets Map

A college friend of mine, Matt Zook, and the team at recently created a map of post-election racist Tweets using a database they’ve developed called DOLLY and the menu-driven map building site, GeoCommons. Click here for interactive map and here for an explanation of how they did it.



Library Databases with Interactive Maps

Whenever I can, I like to mention the fantastic resources we have at the FIT Library, and it just so happens that a number of our databases come with map features of one type or another.   Opposing Viewpoints in Context offers maps that illustrate trends in current social and ethical issues facing the United States.  SRDS Local Market Audience Analyst and Passport GMID offer US and World maps that correlate to general demographics,

Singapore Map – WGSN City by City

pyschographics, and market forecasts. And WGSN has a section called City by City, which includes interactive maps of major cities that are tailored for those in the fashion, design, or retail industries. Here’s Singapore, for example.

By far the most powerful mapping tool we have in our possession, however, is found in the database Demographics Now.   With this database you can map data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Consumer Expenditure Survey), and

Columbia, MO Book Expenditure Map from Demographics Now

display it by a wide array of geographic categories ranging from ZIP code to broadly defined metropolitan areas in the United States.  The image you see is a map of my hometown

displaying the current average expenditure on books by block groups (higher expenditure is indicated by a darker hue).


The Flat File and the Curio Cabinet

Buy Buy Baby/266 Seventh Avenue today and 1903

Technology has made it easier than ever to map data, directions, and locations, but what about personal narrative or history. One of my very favorite map sites, History Pin, attempts  do exactly that by allowing individuals and institutions to upload photographs of particular places to matching coordinates and street addresses, and to allow these photos to overlay the Google Maps “Street View” mode.

If history is your thing and you love the beauty and character of old maps, then you will also really enjoy the following two sites.  The first, simply titled Old Maps Online, is a portal to digital maps collections from libraries and archives around the globe.  One can search by place, as well as date. One of the digital collections whose maps turn up in the search results is the New York Public Library’s Map Warper collection, which is an incredible site all by itself.  NYPL Map Warper allows you to take historic maps from the the NYPL’s digital

West 27th and 7th with 1819 overlay depicting building plots

collection and layer them over and reshape them to fit contemporary maps of the same locations, an action that they call “rectifiying.”  If you don’t wish to rectify any maps yourself you can also browse or search the collection for maps that have already been rectified.


I would love to see some of the mapping tools listed above incorporated in teaching lessons or student projects.  If you are a professor or a student at FIT and would like to know more about using some of these tools, please feel free to contact me via this this blog by posting a comment below.




Notebooks, Napkins and Felt-Tipped Pens

Returning to a theme, here.  The research process is not just about looking for information, it is also about looking at information — analyzing it and making connections between ideas.  Looking at information by making one’s ideas or new found knowledge visual is something that many artists and designers have always done during in the process of creating their art.  It is also, however, a useful exercise for anyone who is starting, or who is in the middle of research project.  Sketching one’s ideas, concept mapping, and jotting down observations are all great ways to get ready to do research or to get the juices flowing again when faced with writer’s block.

I promised in an earlier entry that I would post some pictures of the beautiful artists’ workbooks that are in our collection.  The gallery below contains images from Cecil Beaton’s scrapbooks, Franco Moschino’s collages, and notebooks filled with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sketches and griffonage.

While we might not all be artists, we all could learning from this practice and I am not the only one who thinks so.  A recent bestseller among business titles, On The Back of a Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures by Dan Roam, is just the latest work suggesting that business leaders could get more done if they could learn to express their ideas visually.   Librarians and other educators have long understood the value of having students visualize (or at least jot down by hand) their information needs, especially when teaching textual research skills to students in the visual arts.

Concept mapping (aka mind mapping) is probably the most useful visualization technique for research that involves textual sources or text-based search tools (although I suppose there are cases where moodboards, or storyboards could do the trick).  As an example of how some academic librarians are making this work, here is a presentation that was given at the 2010 ARLIS/NA conference by Ellen Petraits of the Rhodes Island School of Design – Mapping a Research Topic: Using Concept Mapping to Visualize Research.  It contains some brilliant examples of students’ concept maps for an Art History Research project.  More research in the field can be found here (FIT username and password required).  I have used concept mapping when teaching the research workshop for FIT’s Photography Research for Senior Design Project (PH491) class with Professor Anne Hall.

While all you really need to create a concept map is paper and something with which to write or draw, there are a number of online tools out there that can help with the process.  Here’s a list of a few of my favorites.

  • – Basic, easy to use, collaborate and share
  • Mindomo– collaborate, incorporate media files, can be used for presentations
  • Spiderscribe – incorporate media files, calendars, maps, collaborate and share
  • Prezi  – while this is a presentation tool, its templates can easily be re-purposed for concept mapping

I want to emphasize, however, that as great as these tools are, sometimes it might be more effective to step away from the computer and pick up a felt-tipped pen (or some scissors and rubber cement).  The temptation to copy and paste from the web is pretty powerful, and it can impeded our abilities to observe, create and analyze information.


Basquiat, Jean Michel. Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Notebooks. New York: Art + Knowledge : Available through Distributed Art Publishers, 1993. Print.
Beaton, Cecil, and James Danziger. Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook. Assouline, 2010. Print.
Moschino, Franco. X Anni Di Kaos, 1983-1993 = X Years of Kaos, 1983-1993. Milano: Edizioni Lybra Immagine, 1993. Print.
Roam, Dan. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Expanded ed., 1st ed. New York: Portfolio, 2009. Print.

Ready-made Infographics

Ubiquitous Infographics

It seems as if infographics are everywhere now. Increasingly, the visual presentation of data is borrowing heavily from the fields of graphic art, advertising design and even cartography in an attempt to have maximum impact on the viewer, as well as to map complex relationships between data sets. Infographics are so ubiquitous and popular now that there are even infographics on infographics – below is one of my favorites and here is a link to more.

One of the implications of the current popularity of infographics is that they have become a standard and expected part of any business or marketing presentation.  The problem is that not everyone has the ability or the resources to create his or her own infographics.  And that’s were the library comes into the picture.   At the FIT Library, we always try to subscribe to the sorts of services that are actually used in industry, and it just so happens that one of our marketing databases provides users with ready-made infographics. How cool is that?

Mintel – Infographic Overviews

Mintel is a highly regarded market intelligence service that we have subscribed to for a number of years. Recently, Mintel has added infographics to both their product and market segmentation reports.

If a report has an infographic associated with it, it can be found directly under opening summary paragraph of the report and is usually the third PDF document presented for download.

Mintel’s infographics are eye-catching and colorful (if a bit formulaic) and will definitely make any presentation shine.

In the coming weeks I will be featuring other business and marketing databases that offer data visualizations.  In particular, I have an article in works that explores Passport GMID‘s visual resources, including their Datagraphics, which usually take the form of maps and interactive Visual Apps on industries and consumer attitudes.

Also in the works will be articles about free online tools for DIY infographics created from raw data.