When Co.Design first wrote about data visualization startup Visual.ly, CEO Stew Langille hinted that he was already planning the young company’s next move. "We’ll have to be nimble," he told Cliff Kuang in 2011. "As this market evolves, we’ll have to evolve with it."
And evolve they have. Today, the company unveiled a major redesign that adds social functionality, community features, and a slick new interface for browsing Visual.ly’s massive inventory of user-generated infographics. "It represents a step toward the future," Langille tells Co.Design over email, "making it possible for everyone to participate, communicate, and collaborate in the infographic creation process." Think of it as Visual.ly, repackaged for the Tumblr and Pinterest set.
If you haven’t visited Visual.ly before, let’s backtrack. After raising $2 million in venture funding last year, a team of Mint.com employees launched Visual.ly as a "visual marketplace" that connects designers with brands looking to hire talented data designers. The idea caught on quickly, and soon the site had amassed a community of more than 30,000 designers. At SXSW in March, Visual.ly introduced a groundbreaking new tool called Create, which lets users auto-generate infographics using data pulled from social media APIs. Here at Co.Design, we wondered if their free service could replace PowerPoint as the dominant tool for visual storytelling.
Today’s third generation of Visual.ly still lets you create and upload infographics. But it also invites you to explore what others are making on the site, and connect with friends, colleagues, and potential clients. On the newly reorganized homepage, 20-odd topic icons let you browse by subject. Click on one of the buttons, and you’re brought to a feed of visualizations about health, say, or even humor. It’s a much, much easier way to browse the site’s enormous archive of graphics. You can also "follow" each topic feed, or follow friends, designers, and brands—just as you would on Tumblr.
Sharing is easier, communicating is easier, and the best infographics are easier to find, thanks to analytics about likes and views. It’s a more robust, socialized site, aimed at generating interest—and jobs—in their community of 32,000 designers. Later this fall, the company has plans to unveil a newly redesigned e-comm marketplace that leverages its community functionality to connect designers and clients.
In reality, most infographics still come from the brands, agencies, and publications that can afford to commission them. By inviting casual users to try their hands at data viz—and now, to connect with a community focused on the medium—Visual.ly’s founders are capitalizing on the general public’s fascination with infographics. But they’re also cleverly positioning themselves as a "one-stop shop," in Langille’s words, for brands, designers, and casual users alike. Socializing the site certainly supports the company’s mission to democratize data viz in the age of Big Data, but it’s also a shrewd business move, helping them claim ownership of this burgeoning creative market.