Data Illustrator: What I Love and Hate

Early in the semester, Professor Cairo introduced us to Data Illustrator, an open source tool that was designed to create data visualizations and infographics without programming.

My first graphic using Data Illustrator:

This was for a class exercise. I used data already provided by Data Illustrator so I could get a feel for how to use it. I imported it into Adobe Illustrator to clean it up and add copy.

My second graphic using Data Illustrator:

This is a heatmap I made to include in my final project for the Intro to Data Visualization course. I made it in DI and then exported as an SVG to modify using Adobe Illustrator. I love how this turned out.

What I Love and Hate

Love: The seeming flexibility.

Even though I don’t really feel anywhere near comfortable using DI, I can see from the examples that it is very flexible in terms of the type of visualizations that can be created. Plus, I was able to create the heat map above with Data Illustrator which I could not figure out how to do with any other tool in my student tool kit.

Hate: The hurdles of learning its flexibility

I am a beginner with visualization and Data Illustrator but as someone who is learning about user research and user experience, the UX could be greatly improved for novice users. I have no idea how experts in data viz feel about Data Illustrator but from a novice point-of-view the usability — efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction — is low.

Love: Downloading the files as SVG

The ability to download SVG files and modify them in Illustrator is very cool. The files are relatively clean (compared to Flourish) and works great.

Hate: Saving projects

Ok, it would be nice if I could save the project name within Data Illustrator rather than having to rename an Untitled DI file after I it downloads to my desktop. This is just so counter-intuitive. Still, at least when you re-open a saved DI file, the web-based tool actually recognizes it and it works so you can continue to modify as desired.

I wish and hope…

A usability test will be done if not already with Data Illustrator to improve it. It think it has a lot of promise but from a usability standpoint, it really needs refinement. Some user testing and UI improvements and improvements to the Help and Documentation especially for novice uses would help make Data Illustrator really shine.

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