Notes and resources: designing effective data visualizations

It was great to hear Noah Iliinsky talk about how to apply a design process to data visualisation. He spent three hours with us, starting off with a short talk, and then guiding the audience through applying this design process to their data in a meaningful way.

Noah Iliinsky sharing ideas during his workshop for EBI Interfaces

A fuzzy iPhone photo of Noah Iliinsky sharing ideas during his workshop for EBI Interfaces

Anyone whom I work with will know that I’m often asking “What problem are you trying to solve?“, and this of course applies as well to data visualisation as it does system or interaction design. So it’s no surprise that I find Noah’s work really engaging and inspiring. He talks about understanding your reader (the audience… the “user” – their drivers and needs); understanding your data (its characteristics and dimensions, and the message within that you wish to convey); understanding the choices that you can make as you apply a design process to visualisation, choosing how to convey knowledge and enable action.

Triangulating these gets you most of the way to good data visualisation.

Cut out & keep

As promised, here are a range of notes and resources to follow up on the great talk and workshop that Noah Iliinsky gave at the Genome Campus. I’m very grateful for him having taken the time to come up to Cambridge and share some of his expertise.

Thanks to Benedetta and Holly from the EBI, for helping me get things organised on the day and for arranging Noah’s travel and accommodation respectively.

Overview of Designing Effective Data Visualizations

What to visualise (audience, data dimensions, message/content) and how to visualise it (axes, position, appropriate encodings).

Download Noah’s visual design process notes (PDF)

Designing Data Visualizations – Lecture & Lab

The slides for Noah’s lecture (PDF – 11.6MB) and for the hands-on “lab” part of the session (PDF – 7.6MB), where people had a chance to thinking about how to apply design principles to their data.

Visual properties – which data encodings and when?

Open this image in another browser tab, print it out, stick next to your screen!

Noah Iliinsky's table of visual properties and data encodings

Noah’s table of visual properties and data encodings

Visual notes from Noah’s talk and workshop

The sketchnotes I took during Noah’s session.

Click on the image to see the sketchnotes in Flickr. Full-size versions are available there (a bit easier to read!)

User experience design for data visualisation

There are all sorts of aspects of user experience design that I’m interested in applying in the data visualisation space, for example, exploring the use of personas to help keep a focus on the reader and using various brainstorming “tricks” to help find the most appropriate visualisation for a dataset. I’ll be following Noah’s lead here, given how much experience he has already built up!

As my colleague, Antony Quinn, pointed out, Noah’s process (unsurprisingly, I suppose) echoes the classic “double diamond” representation of the design process, where one has a vague “problem”, one goes through a exploratory process to better define that problem; then comes an iterative and exploratory design phase, ultimately homing in (hopefully!) on a solution.

Design Council double diamond - discover, define, develop, deliver

Design Council double diamond – discover, define, develop, deliver

What are you going to visualise, who is it for and what purpose should it serve? Important questions to answer before your open up your favourite Javascript library, right?

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