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How and Why We Sketch When Visualizing Data

Sketching helps us integrate different kinds of knowledge

An overhead photograph of a middle-school age boy drawing a model of earth’s orbit on a whiteboard with marker.
From Tyler et al. 2020: sketching to learn applies to more than just data science.
Bubbles containing the names of different visual literacy skills, broken up into “reading,” “writing,” and “other.”
From Kedra 2018: visual literacy isn’t just one skill, but a host of interrelated ones.

Sketching to overcome “visualizers’ block”

From Walny et al. 2015: a selection of dot plots and matrices produced by participants, making up one of the most populated categories of visualization in the study.
From Grammel et al. 2010: we tend to default to familiar forms when we’re confused, but there’s much more to data visualization than just bars and lines.

Building and bolstering data literacy

This screenshot from our WordCounter tool shows the frequency of different words in Bob Dylan’s lyrics.
A drawing of Bob Dylan thinking the word “I’m,” holding a guitar with other short words from the dataset written on it.
This sketch from one of our workshops shows a visualization of those lyrics.
More examples of sketches from our workshops — showing many different ways to visualize.




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Dee Williams

Dee Williams

Puzzle enthusiast and master's candidate in Experience Design at Northeastern University (‘22). Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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