Data Visualization

Keeping it simple

I recently started reading a book on Data Visualization by O'Reilly called 'Beautiful Visualization' by Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky and it's got me really interested in the topic from the very first page.

The book doesn't really go in to specifics on how to visualize data using a programming language or framework, but rather, discusses common practices that make a visualization effective and compelling. There are several ways of telling a story form the same set of data, but making that narrative clear and communicative is a result of hard talent and wisdom.

Question + Visual Data + Context = Story

The first chapter of the book, looks into what exactly makes a good visualization of data. Key points are as follows:

  • Beauty is novel, informative, efficient and aesthetic

  • Subway maps are great examples of data visualization

  • Use axes, conventions and data slicing effectively

  • Tell a story

Data must be acquired, parsed, filtered, mined, represented, refined, and interacted with. You must also be able to convey it in a one-line narrative that anybody can understand. Effective use of color and visual hierarchy can really help.

This visualization shows what's on the other end on either side of the North and South American coasts -
Source: DataSketch by Nadieh from


I also found some websites like Information is Beautiful that have great examples of visualizations. I've found a lot of the references used very helpful in writing papers, communicating informatics to clients and even for classes at university.

I came across a YouTube Video the other day which was literally three data visualizers talking to each other about their work, using frameworks like D3.js, p5.js, and other cool projects. I especially liked Shirley's monthly visualization project- DataSketch!

Getting Started

I'm just about getting my feet wet with Python visualizations. I've found some helpful stuff in Processing, and I even made a graphic based on a small tutorial on Skillshare. For now I rely on Google Sheets and Adobe Illustrator to make my visualizations richer.

I've considered going into OpenFrameworks, but I'd like to leave that for later. Right now I'm quite intrigued by what's possible on the web with packages and environments like D3, Node, React, Angular and Vue. JavaScript frameworks like these are great because of their integration with HTML and CSS, which is great for interactivity, plus I'm quite familiar with front end.

For now I want to keep it simple and dive into D3 since that looks like what professionals are using. A friend also told me about Tableau today, so I might also get into that! Let me know if you have any recommendations. I'll be posting my projects here and elsewhere as and when I finish! Also, found this cool book by Daniel Shiffman:

Sequence, Sequence, Surprise

I started watching Netflix's the Fix series with Mona Chalabi as the data expert along with other comedians like Jimmy Carr, Katherine Ryan and DL Hughey. That took me to Mona's talk at the Adobe 99U conference where she showed how she converted data into humorous visualizations and puns. The illustrations were done by hand, but they still go the message across in a funny and interactive way.