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Summary:

The number of free tools available to novice graphic designers has grown in recent years. GigaOM’s editorial producer Rani Molla tries out the latest, Infogr.am.

infogr.am charts

Sites of all kinds are pushing to be more visual, and there are a growing number of tools that make that possible without exhausting huge amounts of money or time, from IBM’s Many Eyes, to other free programs like Tableau Public and Google Fusion Tables or Piktochart.

The problem with much of that software, however, is that it puts design into the hands of people who aren’t designers. The result: A lot of heinous color combinations and 3-D pie charts.

Infogr.am, which launched in beta this week, is aiming to fix that problem. Basically, Infogr.am’s designers design—and the rest of us just insert the information we want to visualize. The Latvia-based startup offers 20 free animated and embeddable infographic and chart templates. Much like Google’s Fusion Tables, Infogr.am provides templates complete with data showing a best-use scenario. But unlike Fusion Tables, Infogr.am provides an easy way to combine charts, video, maps and images into an overall cohesive design.

The founder of Infogr.am, Uldis Leiterts, admits Infogr.am has some kinks, and I noticed a few of them when I tried out the service: Switching between charts on an infographic can be cumbersome (but doing so can also be cumbersome on the markedly more expensive Adobe Illustrator); the rows and columns within spreadsheets aren’t as easy to move around as they are on Excel or even Google; and it’s difficult to see each separate graphic as you’re building it because all the graphics and media stack on top of each other

But despite these wrinkles, the resulting infographics are very attractive.

Part of Infogr.am’s charm is it doesn’t offer many opportunities to screw up. The program is highly customizable with the data and media one can add, but it limits design options to given themes and styles, which in my opinion prevents some serious design mishaps. For example, one can’t (as of now) change the font. While that might seem unfortunate to people who want to express themselves through typography, the fonts as they are match their design templates—so no garish, mismatched font families.

After all, the basic point of creating graphics is to be able to communicate information clearly and easily. While good fonts can improve the user experience, bad ones can hurt it—using the fonts that come with the templates is safe.

“It’s designed in a way that you can’t make anything ugly,” said Leiterts, a graphic designer who worked for 10 years at Latvian news organizations. “It’s built for simplicity so we are careful in adding features that can pollute the experience with too many options.”

Here’s how it works: You pick a template, insert or upload your data through a built-in spreadsheet, add extra charts and media where necessary, and type in the appropriate text. The infographic is instantly publishable on social media or on your own website with an embed code.

Using the stock data examples on Infogr.am, I made this in five minutes.

While the basic tools will remain free, to generate revenue, Leiterts plans to offer a “really affordable” premium subscription-based portion of Infogr.am targeted at online publishers. Hopefully the premium addition won’t add too many frills.

  1. This is awesome, especially with the growth of inforgraphics.

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  2. Thanks for info on what looks like a very user friendly and terrific resource.

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