Graphs like Google
December 30, 2005 8:45 AM   Subscribe

How can I make graphs like the ones found in the Google Zeitgeist?

I've had a quick play around with Excel, but can't get the graphs looking as sleek as the ones used by Google. I'm looking for graphs with that simplicity, although I may wish to add a top and bottom value for the y-axis. Do you think Google drew the graphs themselves or used some software to do it for them?
posted by xvs22 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
gnuplot. Looks like the ouput was to postscript?
posted by orthogonality at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2005

I would guess Abobe Illustrator or Freehand.
posted by boombot at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2005

if you have a graphing package that can output a vector format, then you can mess with it in whatever design system you want.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2005

Also check out some of the software based on Edward Tufte's sparklines concept. For example the PHP Sparkline library. (Sparklines are minimalistic but high-resolution graphs that have the size and resolution of type.)
posted by mbrubeck at 10:32 AM on December 30, 2005

Best answer: You could probably approximate this pretty easily in Excel. This is a quick graph of Google's stock price for the year:

Assuming you have a WinPC, this is what you need to do: highlight your data and use the graph wizard to make a line graph. Then highlight all the stuff you don't want (background, value axis gridlines, title) and hit delete. Highlight your bottom axis and right click to format it. First, hit the scale tab to make your major unit field larger (359 days here to get between Jan 3 and Dec 30. Then hit the number tab and go to custom format - type in number format "mmmm yyyy" (no quotes) in the field provided. Similar stuff for the y-axis (400 units, changed minimum value to 100 from 0).
posted by sachinag at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2005

if you have a graphing package that can output a vector format

Can you name any that output in vector format?
posted by scarabic at 10:59 AM on December 30, 2005

You can copy/past Excel graphs to Adobe Illustrator and edit pretty much anything in there that you haven't already edited in Excel itself.
posted by easternblot at 11:16 AM on December 30, 2005

I'd use gluplot, as orthogonality said. Best tool for the job IMO.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:24 AM on December 30, 2005

gnuplot is fine and I use it all the time, but honestly, it's charts look like ass. You can sometimes get a decent result by making a really huge one and scaling it down with anti-aliasing. I've never fooled with cutting and pasting into illustrator but that might make for some nice graphs.

I like netcharts to make decent look graphs of all kinds. It's a resource hog, though, it's a pain to work with, and it's essentially a little web server that you send special URLs too. If you're making charts in a web environment it's pretty good, otherwise I wouldn't bother.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:47 AM on December 30, 2005

You can create graphics straight from your data in Illustrator and Freehand, and yweak to your heart's content. No excel required. Vectors all the way.
posted by signal at 12:10 PM on December 30, 2005

What, like manually drawing all the lines? Not that feasible for larger sets of data, or frequent graph creation. Or is there some kind of graphing feature built into AI?
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2005

Nope, using the 'table' tool in each program, input your numbers and headings, choose a graph type and voila.
posted by signal at 12:39 PM on December 30, 2005

Ah, didn't know about that.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:40 PM on December 30, 2005

A good graphing package can do this easily. Two of the most popular are Origin and SigmaPlot. Both are easier to use than gnuplot (bless its free soul). As you've discovered, the kindest thing to say about Excel's charting abilities is that they are very, very limited.
posted by bonehead at 12:41 PM on December 30, 2005

Also, the makers of SigmaPlot used to sell the program without a client head, just as an API library for applications such as this. I don't know if they still do however. The company has changed hands since then.
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on December 30, 2005

Best answer: I don't know for sure how Google produces the Zeitgeist charts, but my guess is signal is right about it being Illustrator. Sure looks like it.

My favourite software for attractive charts right now is matplotlib. It's a bit tricky to use and you have to write Python code, but the results are beautiful thanks to the antigrain and Cairo backends. Other options that aren't entirely ugly are JFreeChart and the venerable-but-useful jgraph.

PS: I think this question is an aesthetic question, not "how do I draw charts". gnuplot and Excel ain't going to cut it.
posted by Nelson at 1:01 PM on December 30, 2005

RustyBrooks: You just output the chart to postscript then everything will scale magically without incident, then you just save it to the format you want at the size you want.
posted by singingfish at 1:23 PM on December 30, 2005

Response by poster: Nelson and sachinag have hit the nail on the head pretty much. "I think this question is an aesthetic question" is exactly where I was headed. Something about those zeitgeist graphs is rather endearing - the antialiasing of the lines and the sheer simplicity of them. Props to sachinag for getting closest using Excel so far.
posted by xvs22 at 1:36 PM on December 30, 2005

Recent related question
posted by Sharcho at 4:18 PM on December 30, 2005

To me, it looks quite a bit like graphs I made using GD::Graph in Perl. Not too hard to photoshop/illustrator them from there. It would make sense from a parsing viewpoint too.
posted by arrhn at 8:05 PM on December 30, 2005

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