Data Visualization: A Primer and Practical Application

Over the last several months I’ve been fascinated by the talk around Data Visualization. It’s one of those things that when you see it done properly, its brilliance immediately strikes you. Good Data Viz can illuminate and educate, inspire and entertain. I also understand that this is an area when I am a student and am happy to turn it over to the pros. So, with this post I want to share some of the smartest stuff I’ve seen, as well as provide you with some original commentary from Patricia McDonald, Planning Director at BBH Labs. I’ll also add some thoughts of my own on where I think DV can best touch the average person.

Here’s a quick run down of some must read material on Data Visualization:

Manuel Lima is a leading thinker in the area of Data Viz, and recently laid out his Information Visualization Manifesto. Make sure you read the comments as well.

Now, take a look at this video of a talk on the subject Manuel gave:

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 Those super-smart cats at Made by Many are all over this of course, so check out what they have to say as well.

I’ll wrap up this intro with a post by Jim Carroll, Chairman, of BBH London that was featured on the BBH Labs site, which also has a great follow-up on Lima’s Manifesto.

This is all pretty heady stuff, so I’ve turned to Michael Surtees of DesignNotes to put things in a bit of perspective. He also offers some handy resources on the subject.

And here’s where I found myself asking, “How can Data Visualization be most relevant to me?” Patricia McDonald was kind enough to offer the following:

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In today’s business landscape to stand out you need a game changer

It’s still tough out there. A lot of people competing for a limited amount of jobs. What can you do to stand out from the 57 other people who are vying for the same position? If you’re Michael Anderson you do this:


That’s a game changer. Or a Purple Cow for those of you who are Godin-inclined. Michael just changed the game for people in the graphic design industry. If you’ve sent out a traditional looking CV, hoping to get a gig at a magazine, you’re screwed. The rules are different now and you have to adapt to them if you want to have a chance. Here’s the thing for me, yes, clearly this guy has talent and some smarts, but he’s got something more important than that: guts. It’s pretty difficult to take a look at what everyone else is doing and say, “I think I’ll do it differently.”  

But look at the rewards for taking a chance. Michael originally posted this back in February of 2009, and I just saw it bumping around Twitter today. I’ve got to imagine this was seen by just about everyone in Michael’s target audience. The downside? No one sees it and he’s really no worse off than he would be if he hadn’t produced it. I hope more people take chances, do something different and change the game like Michael did.