Day 23 — Data visualization tools

As a reminder, the goal of this project is to use numbers to tell a story. Your data visualization should have 3+ sections of information and present this information visually to tell a news story. Earlier we looked at where to find data; today, we’ll look at how to assemble it.

Design principles

If you remember only these four principles, your work will be much stronger than the average slapdash visual design. And the best part is that they form a memorable acronym: C.R.A.P. Follow these principles to avoid crappy design.

Contrast

If you’re going to make something different, make it really different. Not 12 point font in one place and 14 in another; make it 24 pt. Don’t use three shades of blue, use two: one light, one dark. Better yet, use blue and something not blue.

Repetition

The same principle applies for repetition: If you’re going to make something the same, make it exactly the same. It’s good to pick only two or three colors to use in a design; no more than two, maybe three fonts; a single graphical element like lines, or dots. If you use something once, make sure it is repeated somewhere else in the design. If you don’t, that thing will really stand out (which sometimes is useful for a headline or name).

Alignment

Everything in your design should align with something else. Use a grid if you have to, and make sure things line up. What you want to avoid is something looking like it’s “floating” because it’s not visually connected (aligned) with anything else.

Proximity

People make associations among things when they are near each other. Group things that belong together. A name and a title. A photo and its caption. If two things aren’t related somehow, add some space between them.

Related to the idea of proximity, don’t trap space. It’s like having an air bubble in your screen protector. If there is blank space anywhere in your design, you want it to be around the edges if possible.

Inspiration for data visualizations

Have a look at these sites to get ideas and see how infographics might be done well.

Tools for infographic design

Once you have data, you have to find out what story it tells. Once you know what story it tells, you have to decide how to present that story visually. You might use:

  • A timeline
  • A map
  • A chart (pie, bar, scatter, line, etc.)
  • A diagram
  • A graphic (such as the headstones to represent deaths)

You have the most control if you design your own infographic from the ground up using something like Illustrator or Photoshop. But it’s also possible to get something nice using one of these tools.