I think ultimately you end up having to pick tools that you're familiar with, and try to become as good as you can be with it/them. If you have enough of an interest in data visualisation then any new piece of super kit will find you.
However, just to be helpful, I’ve scoured the net to see if any new tools have popped up, especially the open-source ones! Whilst I’ve downloaded and played with a couple I’m by no means an authority on any of them, so can’t sponsor any in particular - just look how many there are! Explore for yourselves, should keep you busy.
For me personally I still work day to day in excel - it's far more flexible and sexy than people think and integrates with other microsoft products that I use daily. Beyond that, I use QGIS for mapping and dabble with a couple of the websites below when I need something quick and quirky. Finally, I have made a conscience effort to learn to use D3 as I think it will remain popular for a long time to come and offers the most flexibility for interactive visualisations.
- numberpicture.com - very simple 5 step chart creator. Stylish and customisable. Just awaiting some of the more interesting chart types. Provides a embedded code to drop straight into your website (if you like this also check out RAW below)
- datacopia.com - similar to the above but with the introduction of a watermark and pricing plans!
- Quadrigram - create interactive visualisations from templates.
- Knoema.com - free to use open data platform, choose to play with a range of worldwide datasets.
- Circos - a niche piece of software, just for the fans of circular visualisations out there!
- Color Brewer - colour advice for cartography. Don't tell them but I have been known to use the colour scales for things other than maps.
For ease, here’s also some of the tools I’ve shared in the past:
RAW – if you can’t be bothered to learn the tricky bit then helpfully there is now a drag and drop version of D3, simply paste your data in. Currently limited in the visuals you can produce and labeling can go off the page etc…(so you may be best off learning to work the code yourself to avoid disappointment). But this definitely looks like the future, drag and drop visualising websites.
IBM Watson Analytics (formerly 'Many Eyes') – built by IBM, it was one of the first tools on the web to let you upload data and try out visualisations. Recently had a facelift but the outputs still aren’t very customisable. But nonetheless quick and dirty.
Excel (no hyperlink needed!) – all of my data prep and the majority of my charts are still churned out from Excel. Day to day, still my most used programme.
Charted – another tool that quickly charts your data for you. Limited options but it will keep the chart up-to-date as it checks the data source every 30mins.
Visualisefree – haven’t played about with this too much, but it does what it says on the tin. And offers more options, although less attractive than many eyes and charted.
Tableau Public – Tableau seem to be taking over the world, certainly seem to have spent enough on the online marketing to bombard my web experience. Getting a lot of backing, I know Oxford University adopted their system. I’m a little hesitant to use their free version in case it pulls me in and leaves me wanting more, like their premium package.
Infogr.am - simple to use templates for churning out slightly more stylized charts and infographics.
Inkscape – I downloaded inkscape when I realised I wasn't quite enough of a designer to justify Adobe Illustrator. It’s icons are still a bit foreign to me but it’s free!
QGIS - For all my mapping I typically use this programme now. It’s overtaking the industry standard ArcGIS and has an active online community pushing out useful plugins. Occasionally frustrating when producing outputs but it’s getting there. My favourite example of open-source software done well.
doogal - anything awkward to do with postcodes or maps this website probably does it. Geocoding hundreds of addresses is a breeze, calculating multiple drive times, producing route elevations analysis, working out postcode districts…Well worth a browse.
Freemaptools – measuring distances, radius around a point, seeing how far you can travel, population within a certain area. All available at the click of a button.
Mapcite - an add-in produced for Microsoft Excel – quickest way to map postcodes, produce heatmaps. No mess. Straight forward. Offers a free trial and around £50 after that.