When I was in the Army, there was a surprising amount of focus on the presentation of the intelligence we gathered. In the beginning, I was frustrated. I was young and could not imagine why it mattered so much that our presentation to the higher-ups had to be as clear and simplified as possible. It seemed like a waste of valuable time. I remained skeptical until I started comparing our work to that of some of the other units. It became blatantly obvious how well-manicured presentation of information can help inform the reader quickly and effectively. Since then, I fell in love with the process of synthesizing information into presentable formats.

Early infographic I made on censorship.

In my current job, that has translated into learning to use Tableau Public. It is free. It is flexible. And it is powerful. It allows you to visualize data by dragging certain elements into the worksheet. The best part of Tableau is the video tutorial library. The community is helpful, but when you are starting out, the tutorials are priceless for understanding how to take advantage of Tableau flexibility.

Tableau Training
Tableau’s video training site

The HUGE limitation is the lack of private storage options. If you use the free versions, your choices are to start from scratch later or save information publically to cloud community. If privacy is an issue for you, you can take the hard road, make graphics and clip the images for use in different apps. You won’t be able to manipulate the graphic later, but once you get used to using the program, retracing your steps will often not be terrible.

A quick snapshot of Vengage’s infographic templates

Another interesting option for pumped-up visuals is Vengage. It is not as powerful as Tableau, but it has infographic templates to model yours after and myriad options for visuals. The free version maxes out at 5 infographics. Depending on your needs, that may be enough. Often, because of my desire to tinker and limited budget, I often find myself bouncing between programs I have access to in order to take advantage of each ones particular strength (e.g., Publisher’s set to transparent feature, Powerpoint’s fill a shape with image options, or Canva’s free elements). It can be a bit taxing, but it can create great results.

I’ve gotten better at creating visuals that tell a story, but it takes a good deal of practice. I’ve learned the most by keeping an eye out for impressive visuals and analyzing their components. Hopefully, these tools can help you tell a story you need to tell.


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