Make me a beautiful TPS report
December 22, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

After reading the Wire article about blood tests getting a make over, I want to find software that will allow me to custom design a report but have the data be automated (from a spreadsheet, database, etc.). I think Word will do this but I'm looking for more horsepower in the graphic department. Is this even possible?
posted by grefo to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely. R can make nice graphics from statistical data. Or you can make nice stuff with a script pipeline that generates SVG, converted to other vector or bitmap formats for downstream consumption (in Word, LaTeX, etc.).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:25 PM on December 22, 2010

You can do this in a million different ways. You can start from the application, create a template and data connection, then pull the data into some combination of Office applications semi-manually. Intermediate level would be using Crystal Reports/Access or some other software to pull data and render the report in whatever format you use. The most flexible but most complex way to do it is to write the code to pull the data and render it yourself. If you want interactive native Office docs use C# or some other .NET language, if you just want to generate nice looking PDFs use any language and platform you want (python, java, R, etc.) with the appropriate database, charting, graphics, and stats libraries.

What's your level of comfort in scripting or programming? Do the end users have to interact with the report or do anything with the data?
posted by benzenedream at 6:03 PM on December 22, 2010

Seconding R as a great way to make beautiful visualizations. It requires some programming chops, though.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:49 AM on December 23, 2010

Crystal Reports, yo. There is a learning curve, but it's not terribly steep, and for non-programmers, it can do a whole HELL of a lot... pull and link data from a dozen different data sources? Done! Aggregate that data, make a dozen different charts out of it, arrange it in a nice color-coded cross-tab, group it and sort it and hide it and highlight it? Done! I love the hell out of Crystal. Disadvantages: its graphics probably aren't quite AS 2010 as everything else out there. It's kinda spendy.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:38 AM on December 23, 2010

Best answer: All the data visualisations in the Wired article have one common element: most of the content is static. Everyone who just posted "Use R!", or "Use LaTeX!", or "Use Crystal Reports!", look at the images again. I'm not good with areas but I'd say 95% of each image is static content, i.e. invariant with the input data.

I love R and LaTeX, but the inescapable truth is what Wired put in the article:
And we tapped three exceptional designers to reimagine how this information can be presented—limiting them to one printed page per report.
These images are beautiful! You need design talent way before you need visualisation talent, hence I'd recommend something like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign. R is exceptional at creating information graphics for the purpose of exploring data in the search for patterns or trends, whereas the Wired article is basically a giant design orgy.

In fact, taking a look at all the visualisations again...they look suspiciously achievable with web pages! Have you considered rendering the data as HTML+CSS+Javascript?
posted by asymptotic at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2010

Response by poster: asymptotic, Very good point and one I hadn't considered.

Just to clarify, I have individual incidents that have details rather than a large dataset that need visualizing.
posted by grefo at 12:07 PM on December 23, 2010

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