Creating a professional, stylized graphic that would make Tufte proud
July 29, 2013 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to create a diagram for a business proposal and am really disappointed with the quality of the tools I have. I need help creating something polished and attractive.

I'm proposing a model for something that is probably best displayed in an arrow format, with the shaft of the arrow containing elements that lead to a final element represented by the point.

I mocked this up in Vizio (super ugly), PowerPoint and Microsoft Word (also super ugly), and then Gliffy (less ugly but still not great). This is the best of the batch. I want to turn this homely arrow diagram into something stylized and sleek, with at least a tiny bit of good design. I am (clearly) not a graphic designer. I don't own Adobe Illustrator. What free or inexpensive tools can you recommend to help me really transform this ugly duckling into a swan?
posted by yellowcandy to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know what you want it to look like? (Or do you have an example of the kind of finished chart you want to make?)

You can do a lot with Word in "publishing layout" view, if you need to get it done tonight using a tool you already have. You can make shapes filled with color gradients, etc.

If you have a little more time to play with, Inkscape is a free program similar to Illustrator, which is reasonably easy to use. You can download it and fire it up, and there are a lot of beginner's tutorials on Youtube.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:03 PM on July 29, 2013

Try Lucid Chart. They have a free option which should do the job for you.

It looks like you want to create a fishbone.
posted by Kerasia at 10:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure Inkscape will do what you want.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:53 PM on July 29, 2013

You can make lovely graphs with Prezi. I don't actually like it for full presentations but you can always screenshot your chart and dump it in your other presentation software.

Your arrow concept is very simple and probably doesn't have to be an arrow; you could do five circles with dotted arrows to a final circle.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:16 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You definitely can do this in Powerpoint and for it to look good. Failing that, I think Diagrammer might be what you're looking for.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:53 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Inkscape is probably the best free tool for what you have in mind, but I don't think your problem is software. One of Tufte's big points is to not use any visual metaphors that don't reinforce the data - from what you've told us it sounds like you have five reasons for your conclusion, so I'm not even clear why you're using an arrow instead of a list. If the important thing in your proposal is the text, make the text big, not the arrow. Do you have something cool-looking you were thinking of when you decided on the arrow?

As a basic step I think you could improve the appearance of this a lot by left aligning all your text. Centered single lines look good, stacked unjustified centered lines look rumpled.

For inspiration take a look at Mike Bostock's stuff.
posted by 23 at 3:13 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi there! Powerpoint can do this in 5 minutes. Sorry for any typos, Latin isn't my first language.

Good design is summed up by Robin Williams (no, not that one) as CRAP - Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.

I've contrasted blue & orange. They "pop" together because of the colour wheel. If you can't use colour - maybe white text on a black background, or bolder text on the white background.

Repetition - I've used the same glossy fill for all bits. I gave the conclusion its own bit as well, so it didn't look unfinished.
Alignment - I've left aligned the text. Ragged left edges are hard to read (and ugly in my opinion).

Proximity - um - okay, when Robin talks about this, it's like, hey, put the caption near the picture, dickhead. In this case, it's not really applicable.
Oh, okay, there is an arrow in Powerpoint (2010) which I just dragged and dropped over the page. Then I picked Shape Style to give it the glossy 3D view. For the Dot point text boxes, I used a text box (rectangular) and then Drawing Tools - Shape Styles, and then I changed the colour to something brighter with Shape Fill. With the final shape for Quod Quis, I picked an arrowy shape out of clipart, dragged it to fit, and did the same stuff.

Oh with the dot points, hold down CTRL, and mouse click on each of them, to select them all, then go to Arrange (HOME tab) and choose Align Left, and then Align>Distribute vertically.

Any other questions?
posted by b33j at 4:14 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're interested, I can give you a link to a couple of websites where I have diagrams up. Memail me.
posted by b33j at 4:18 AM on July 30, 2013

Excel is grossly under-rated as a tool for making simple diagrams, especial when your design entails complex interplay between shapes and text. You can be extremely precise using cells to align content, text boxes and shapes and it includes all the little formatting hoo-ha available in PowerPoint or Word. When finished, turn off grid lines, select, copy and paste-special as a meta file. The paste special is critical as it enables you to size and place in either PP or Word as though the result were a jpg. If it's PP with a dark background or a photo, remember your range and turn text to white before copying to create white font on a transparent background. That way you never need to redo the graphic if you change the background color.
posted by carmicha at 5:12 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: Memail me.
posted by tel3path at 5:52 AM on July 30, 2013

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