What tool is used to create graphs on the market data page in the WSJ?
February 12, 2013 8:14 AM   Subscribe

The market data page of the WSJ is incredibly dense and filled with interesting graphs. I've been trying to figure out what must go into the creation of such an item on a daily basis, and by perusing the careers page for Dow Jones, i've gathered some information, namely that there is extensive use at the WSJ of Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and MATLAB. What I haven't figured out is what the workflow looks like for the latter part of creating those graphs.

I imagine there's data ETL and preprocessing to get the data condensed/melted into the right form. I know a lot of more "catchy" infographics are done in Illustrator with the use of pathing and graphing tools, but is it really possible to get things like the faceted stripcharts and bar chart graphics done with those tools, or are there other data analysis/graphing toolsets in use for print-quality basic graphics at large production houses? What does the workflow look like?
posted by arimathea to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's very likely that many of them are not built by humans using illustrator, but by software. A unique infographic is built by hand; stripcharts and bar charts and whatnot are pretty easy to produce programmatically. I imagine somebody actually does look at each one before it goes out the door, but it would be pretty easy (in the scheme of things) totally automate the entire process, from data processing to image file creation.

To put it another way: It's not that a person used a tool to make the graphic, it's that a person built a tool, which itself makes the graphics.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:32 AM on February 12, 2013

I can tell you what my workflow looks like for preparing figures for papers or talks with the same tools (mostly MATLAB and Illustrator).

I have a lot of MATLAB functions that take a very stereotyped sort of data structure as input, and output a very nice looking plot, using wrappers around the builtin plot functions, modifying linestyle and typeface, etc. In other words, 80% of the time, I have zero direct action with plotting tools. (I imagine/hope WSJ's data are even cleaner and better-organized.) Anything that I don't already have a wrapper like this for I run it through generic plot, and once I'm happy, I modify the style in the same way. (I actually have a function that makes my most common modifications to an existing figure.) This gets me most of the way there for simple bar-, scatter-, or line-plots.

Anything more complex I turn to the MATLAB File Exchange. There's some really amazing stuff in there for making really pretty, really complex graphs. Panel, for example, is fantastic, and extremely useful for me. I don't do a whole lot with 3-d plots, but the FEX functions for that are invaluable.

I use Illustrator for cleanup only, and not even all the time. I can do almost everything in MATLAB (like graph annotation, legends, symbols). (Transparency in vector graphics is a key counterexample; I've never gotten SVG export to work quite right.) For one-off stuff, or mockups of how we'd like a graph to look, it's often easier in Illustrator, but once you have to do it more than once, it's got to be programmed.
posted by supercres at 8:42 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Caveat: this was a number of years ago, but I worked for the Special Reports section of WSJ and those of us in the graphics department wore a lot of hats. One of the things I did in addition to page design/layout and art direction was create bar charts, pie charts, and tables for the paper.

At the time we opened up excel docs and plugged the numbers into DeltaGraph. That was only the first step though, since those raw charts were then brought into illustrator where we would make all sorts of style adjustments. I have no idea what is being used now, but I hope for the sake of the graphics department tasked with that it's now far more automated than it was when I was doing this.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:26 PM on February 12, 2013

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