Data Visualization: best practices, tools, trends

Before data visualization, reams of data were compiled monthly for key executives in the form of “blue books” which organized and presented statistics, metrics and other information in lists and tables. Information in this format was difficult to access and interpret.

Executive Information Systems augmented the blue books with higher accuracy and more useable information graphically presented in an up-to-date dashboard rather than lists and tables. But these systems were costly, often requiring IS staff for their implementation and support. Recently, innovations in desktop and cloud applications have enabled users with modest skills to access and create meaningful reports and presentations due to these new data visualization software tools.

This article shares best practices and new trends in data visualization techniques, while also discussing key criteria for choosing the right visual software.

Gantt Chart for Mac

Data visualization software will improve the content, quality and impact of your reports, and presentations created using data visualization tools will impress your customers, colleagues and partners.

Best practices and new trends in data visualization

Behind the scenes, you are able to access databases, spreadsheets, and applications to craft visually meaningful representations of that data. How do you ensure that the information is actually received as intended? Experts and experience advise us:

  • Know your audience’s comfort level with new, visual technologies and scale the visuals you use accordingly.
  • Optimize the visuals for specific content – e.g. bar charts for comparisons; pie or waterfall charts for displaying composition; timelines for events or related developments; infographics for complex relationships based on interactions or reactions revealing trends, patterns, outliers, clusters.
  • Keep formatting simple and consistent throughout the presentation or document. Be mindful of unnecessary text, illustrations or ornamentations such as drop shadows, gradients, and 3D effects, which only make the visual harder to follow.
  • Use colors to add meaning or draw the eye quickly to specific areas of interest.
  • Organize data in a logical, intuitive way to avoid misinterpretation. Categories displayed sequentially, alphabetically or by value will guide readers through the visual and help them process the data faster.
  • Prompt others’ participation with interactive maps, allowing valuable data to be recorded.
  • Employ the variety of new and powerful data visualization tools to create informative, lasting presentations.
Gantt Chart for Mac

Choosing the best data visualization tools

A quick search of “data visualization software” yields thousands of results, and sorting through them can become overwhelming. As there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, professionals can use a few key criteria to quickly determine what visual tool would fit them or their organization best.

1. Skill level needed

Many data visualization programs may have astounding capabilities, but they can take years to master, some even requiring computer programming skills. When evaluating such tools, it is important to consider the users’ skillsets first. In most cases, a simpler tool, with fewer features but an intuitive interface, will provide far better results than complicated software that no one fully understands.

2. Desktop vs. web-based

Web tools are easily accessible from anywhere but may lack in functionalities and data storage capabilities, while desktop versions are usually richer in features, but they can be limited by the hardware they are run on. In the case of desktop apps, it is important to check whether they operate on Mac or Windows systems, or if they require Java.

3. Data import capabilities

Nothing kills the momentum like having to type in rows after rows of data for hours only to create a graphic. The ability to connect to and import information from other sources is key in data visualization.

4. Customization capabilities

Out-of-the-box visuals don’t always provide the best overview of the data. Some data visualization tools allow users to fully personalize the look and feel of their charts and graphs. While this is a big plus, professionals might want to make sure that enhanced customization doesn’t come at the cost of usability.

5. General-use vs. industry-specific

Some tools are designed to serve multiple purposes and are able to create a large variety of visuals, while others may be more specialized for a specific industry, role, or line of business. Professionals will need to decide if they’d prefer the adaptability of a general-use tool or the personalized approach of an industry-specific app.

For instance, project managers and planners will rarely use – if ever – all the graphs, charts and maps provided by multi-purpose software. Instead, they may resonate much better with a simple, tailored tool that helps them quickly generate timelines and Gantt charts to present proposals, plans or reports in a clear, appealing manner.

Gantt Chart for Mac

Simple tools to help visualize plans or events

Professionals who need to present a series of tasks or activities in a visual way can use lightweight timeline and Gantt chart makers such as the Office Timeline PowerPoint add-in or its online equivalent. The two data visualization tools were designed to be simple and intuitive so that users can get started right away, without having to learn intricate functions. Both apps can import their data from other sources and instantly turn it into a meaningful timeline, which can then be fully customized and updated easily.

  • Office Timeline Add-in is a feature-rich desktop tool optimized for Windows systems. It plugs into PowerPoint and allows users to build, revise and share their visuals right from within the familiar presentation tool. Try Plus Edition for free.

  • Office Timeline Online is a flexible online data visualization tool that works on any operating system, including Mac. It enables professionals to build Gantt charts directly in their browser, access them from anywhere, and update them on the fly. Once ready, the visuals can be saved as images or as native PowerPoint slides to be used in presentations. Make timelines online now.

Using the right data visualization tools for presentations or reports, professionals can quickly turn complex data into easily-digestible graphics that will impress clients, colleagues and partners.

Useful Resources:

Office Timeline Online Quick Start Tips

Office Timeline Add-in Quick Start Tutorial

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


Ernest Hemingway Timeline

Ernest Hemingway Timeline

On the 21st of July, 1899, American journalist and novelist Ernest Miller Hemingway was born. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, the writer gained admiration not only for his unique style of writing, which he coined as the Theory of Iceberg, but also for his adventurous lifestyle and controversial public image. With seven novels, six collections of short stories and two non-fiction works published during his lifetime – plus ten other volumes posthumously – he significantly influenced the 20th-century fiction and is considered one of the greatest figures in American literature.

To celebrate the anniversary of the author who succeeded in conveying powerful, evocative messages in a terse style and inspired later generations to say more with less, we created the Ernest Hemingway Timeline, which summarizes his tumultuous life and prolific work.

Starting his career as a newspaper reporter, Mr. Hemingway retained the minimalist style of journalism and ingeniously used it in his literary creations. The action-packed plots and the sap of his novels stemmed not so much from his imagination, but his very own thrilling life as a solider, wartime correspondent and incurable traveler. At only 18 years old, Hemingway received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery for saving dozens of lives as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I. Having learned to hunt, fish and camp in childhood, he also had a tremendous passion for outdoor adventure, which would take him to exotic parts of the world – fishing in the Caribbean or on safaris in Africa.

His effervescence would lead him to experience extreme situations that often put his life in danger and took a toll on his physical and mental health. Given that he took part in the Normandy Landings on June 6, 1944, was repeatedly injured in his hunting expeditions, and survived two successive plane crashes, his famous “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” makes so much sense.

The Ernest Hemingway chronology was built with Office Timeline, an easy-to-use add-in for PowerPoint that helps you generate beautiful timelines, Gantt charts and other similar visuals with a few clicks. The slide, which is free to copy and share, can be edited using the Plus version of the tool.

Download the Ernest Hemingway Timeline for PowerPoint here.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


Frank Sinatra Albums Timeline

Frank Sinatra Timeline

To some, 13 may be an ill-fated number, but not for singer and actor Frank Sinatra. The legendary crooner, dubbed Ol’ Blue Eyes or The Voice, made his recording debut with the Harry James band on July 13, 1939. Fast forward a few years, and he was already a widely acclaimed artist and a teenage heartthrob, fans flocking to see him. Unlike with other pop singers, his career was not short-lived, but spanned across more than half a century, yielding a recorded legacy of 59 studio album, 2 live albums, 8 compilation ones and 297 singles.

To celebrate the breakthrough of one of the most influential and popular artists of the 20th century, we have created the Frank Sinatra Timeline, which gives a chronological overview of his most important studio album releases.

Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey’s band, Mr. Sinatra signed a deal as a solo artist with Columbia Records in 1943 and soon became the idol of bobby soxers. Once he found success, the My Way singer released numerous critically lauded records and performed in front of large audiences, which included presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Among the recordings that make us involuntarily think of him, there were some that the blue-eyed swing artist hated, such as Strangers in the Night. The only reason he recorded it was because of the improvised skat at the end of the song.

Even 2 decades after Mr. Sinatra’s death, his songs still appeal to audiences of all ages and he is considered one of the best-selling artists of all time, with more than 150 million records sold worldwide.

The Frank Sinatra (Albums) Timeline was designed with Office Timeline, a user-friendly PowerPoint plugin that allows you to create elegant timelines, Gantt charts, and other types of visuals almost instantly. The slide can be copied and shared for free and is easily editable using the Plus version of the tool.

Download the Frank Sinatra Albums Timeline for PowerPoint here.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


The FIFA World Cup Winners Timeline

Fifa World cup Winners Timeline

The FIFA World Cup, the international competition contested by men’s national association football teams and awarded once every four years, is at its 21st tournament and in full swing. The inaugural edition of the world’s most prestigious sporting event was played in Uruguay in July 1930. Not only did the South American country host the championship, but it also won the first World Cup trophy. Presently hosted by Russia, the 2018 tournament is the first one to take place on two continents - Europe and Asia – and also the first one to be held in Eastern Europe.

As the quarter-finals of the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup loom large and the number of contestants slims down to soon unravel this year’s champion, we have created the FIFA World Cup Winners timeline to recap all the victors throughout the history of the competition since its debut.

Out of the total of 20 tournaments played so far, Brazil holds the most titles with five trophies won, Germany and Italy being close behind with a number of four each. For the 1930 World Cup only 13 teams entered the competition, while the current format includes 32 competing nations. It has been announced that the number of contenders will jump to 48 in 2026.

The FIFA World Cup Winners chronology was built with Office Timeline, an intuitive PowerPoint plugin that allows users to quickly put together impressive timelines, project schedules and plans, as well as other similar visuals. The slide is free to copy and share, and you can easily restyle and update it with new data using the Plus version of the tool.

Download the FIFA World Cup Winners timeline for PowerPoint here.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


How to Make Gantt Charts and Timelines on a Mac

There are many advantages to using a Mac. You may love it for its sleek look, its attention to user experience, the invulnerability of its systems, but also because it works so seamlessly with your iPhone and iPad.

But when it comes to creating important project visuals like Gantt charts or timelines, as a Mac user you may find yourself without many options or guidance. Most of the tools and tutorials available online today have been developed for Microsoft Windows because of the wide adoption of this operating systems, leaving Mac users out in the cold. And there's nothing more annoying than having to constantly switch back and forth to a Windows PC or a virtual machine just to use a professional timeline or Gantt chart maker when you have a tight deadline breathing down your neck.

That's why we've decided to show all of you Mac users around the world how you can make timelines and Gantt charts using Apple's iWork office suite of apps: Keynote, Numbers, and Pages. This new series of tutorials contains step-by-step instructions to help you get started and templates you can download to practice anytime.

We'll show you different options and guide you through different ways to do them. Some may take you longer, and some may save you precious time. Take a look, choose which procedure suits you best and start making Gantt charts and timelines that wow your audience.

1. How to make professional timelines for Mac

Gantt Chart for Mac

Timelines are a great way to visualize a series of events that happen over time, making it easy to understand and remember essential data. If you're a Mac users who needs to create timeline for important presentations, you can use the iWorks suite, as all three apps have functions that can produce timelines one way or another. Check out the links below to read the tutorial for the app you want to use.

Learn how to make a timeline in Keynote for Mac

Learn how to make a timeline in Numbers for Mac

Learn how to make a timeline in Pages for Mac

2. How to make Gantt charts for Mac

Gantt Chart for Mac

Similar to timelines, Gantt charts are powerful planning tools as they show activities or tasks and their corresponding timeframes in a simple visual format, making it easy to see the big picture at a glance, coordinate work, and track progress. As a Mac user, you can use your iWork applications to create such visuals. Just choose which app you want to use and explore the tutorials below.

Learn how to make a Gantt chart in Keynote for Mac

Learn how to make a Gantt chart in Numbers for Mac

Learn how to make a Gantt chart in Pages for Mac

Depending on the software you use, making clear, impressive timelines and Gantt charts can become quite a chore on Mac OS – or any other operating system. That's why using an automation tool like Office Timeline Online may be a better solution for Mac users who need to regularly build Gantt charts, update and present project timelines or other visual plans.

Related content:

Office Timeline Online Quick Start Tips

See What Office Timeline Online Plus Offers

How to Instantly Turn Excel Data into a Gantt Chart

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts right in your browser.

Make Gantt charts and timelines online free