What to Read, Watch, and Listen to During Social Distancing

Nightingale’s recommendations for data-visualization-related books, TV shows, and podcasts to get you through quarantine

The safest and most helpful thing we can do to limit the spread of COVID-19 is stay home and social-distance. Days in quarantine can feel long and lonely, so Nightingale has put together a list of some of our favorite data-visualization-related TV shows, books, podcasts, and more to help pass the time.

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Visions Magazine

I mean, not everything is dataviz, and sometimes you just want to read about some post-apocalyptic scenarios where humanity is ravaged by forces out of their control. Enter Visions, a wonderfully curated “magazine” (in book form) of science fiction stories from past and present. It has a decidedly “AI” focus, with some generative responses to the stories peppered through the issues. Issue 2 features the story “1001Time Equivalent Units,” set in a “utopian, post-scarcity, nearly mathematically optimal society” as a sort of algorithmically inspired interpretation of “1001 Nights” with quite the twist ending.

The stories are very enjoyable and a bit artsier than your traditional approach to sci-fi. For example, a very normal person from today finds themselves in the distant future where the entire population sculpts their bodies to fantastic perfection via nanotechnology. There’s a story about an astronaut marooned on a planet that orbits a sun without the wavelength for green which ultimately drives him crazy. There’s a story that has what I think is the best first sentence that I can remember (“It’s been a couple of years now, since they made skeletons illegal”). The first two issues also feature the first-ever English translation (in two parts) of the novel “Quinzinzinzany.” Written in 1935 by Regis Messac, this incredible end-of-the-world tale forecasts the march of the war machine into WW2 and beyond. It’s highly entertaining in a way that still activates your intellect. It’s great, pretty inexpensive, and just shows up in your mailbox like a little treat you forgot about. — Jason Forrest

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Data Stories Podcast

The great Data Stories podcast is hosted by NYU data visualization professor Enrico Bertini and award-winning independent designer Moritz Stefaner (creator of the “Truth & Beauty Operator” visualization). Most episodes take the form of interviews with one or more guests — many very famous in the field of data viz — covering practices, projects, tools, trends, and more. Eric Johnson

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‘Design is Storytelling,’ by Ellen Lupton

If you are a data designer looking to learn how to tell a story, a storyteller looking to amplify the power of their narrative, or a data scientist looking for ways to make your business presentations stick, read this. In short — everyone, read this! Design is Storytelling is a playbook for creative thinking and storytelling for graphics, products, services, and experiences. This book explores the psychology of visual perception from a narrative point of view. Award-winning author and MICA graphic design professor Ellen Lupton presents tools and concepts in a lively, visual manner. This book will inspire you, help you to build empathy, articulate values, and conceptualize a process so that you can build strong narratives and connections between concepts, data, and people. Sarah Fawson

‘Explained’

Video is an increasingly popular medium for data stories and visual essays. See recent work by The Pudding, ‘Talkies’ from Flourish, and this award-winning project from Reuters. Some of the best work in the video realm comes from Vox, who pioneered the modern video explainer on their YouTube channel starting in 2014. Now, Vox has partnered with Netflix to release Explained. Similar in format to their popular YouTube series, each episode tackles a question or issue like “K-pop,” “Designer DNA,” or “Why Women are Paid Less?,” and explains it through a combination of history, expert analysis, and charts and graphics. These videos are a master class in visual storytelling: They’re fast paced and engaging without sacrificing clarity. I learn a lot from the way Vox takes a complex subject, sets up a narrative, and then uses expert pacing and graphics to keep the viewer engaged and excited while carefully and succinctly explaining the topic. — Will Chase

‘Unflattening’

I bought Unflattening after hearing RJ Andrews recommend it on the Storytelling with Data podcast. Once I started reading it, I was struck by the power that its graphic novel format has in conveying so much information and engaging the reader. While it is not specifically about data visualization, its message on how changing our perspective about the reality we know, and how using words AND images to explore/explain phenomena should strike any data-viz practitioner. It is also the only book on the topic that my 4-year-old daughter has wanted me to read her! —Charles Saulnier

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‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’

Ok, maybe not data visualization, but this low stress and quaint show involves thinking about design, form, and color. Produced by the BBC but available on Youtube, there are some great data visualization and ceramic projects like My Life in Clay — or even my DayDohViz project — that are pottery-inspired. — Amy Cesal

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‘101 Things I Learned in Architecture School,’ by Matthew Frederick

This is a book about the rules of architecture, but this is also a book about designing for information. It is a short, powerful read that you can use for inspiration, general education of the rules of design for data, or as an editorial tool to reference during your design or coding process. With 101 rules like, “If you can’t explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms she understands, you don’t know your subject well enough,” you’re sure to have a lot to think about in terms of how you apply principles to your own work or how you can define them for the future. Sarah Fawson

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Gary Hustwit documentaries: Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized

Helvetica is the epitome of nerdy font movies. Objectified and Urbanized have the same in-depth but interesting and upbeat sort of attitude. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, Hustwit is making all three available to stream for free; they’re being posted one by one each week here. — Amy Cesal

‘Storytelling With Data’

Storytelling with Data is a podcast by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, author of the book by the same name. Conversations with practitioners plus tips, advice, and answers to listener questions on why we visualize data and what makes data visualization good. Eric Johnson

“Joy of Stats,” by Hans Rosling

Though just five minutes long, Hans Rosling’s video is incredibly instructive on storytelling in data visualization. Duncan Geere

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‘Observe, Collect, Draw,’ by Stephanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi

Girogia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec’s fantastic data viz journal teaches you to collect and visualize personal data by hand. It’s a great way to spend a little while away from a screen! Duncan Geere

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‘W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America’

This volume, published in 2018 by Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMASS, is the first complete publication of the charts, graphs, and maps that the famed writer/sociologist/activist contributed to the 1900 Paris Exposition. The visualizations showcase many elements of black life at the turn of the century as well as Du Bois’s extraordinary eye for design, which my colleague Jason Forrest has written about extensively. Introductory essays contextualize Du Bois’s work and annotations explain the background and design components of each visualization. Visually stunning and forever relevant, this book serves as both A+ coffee-table material and a call to action. Isaac Levy-Rubinett

‘Abstract: The Art of Design’

Each episode of this documentary series from Netflix profiles a luminary in some field of design and explores what it means to be a designer in that field. Subjects range from photography to architecture to interior design. All of the episodes are wonderful and contain useful ruminations on design, but the most applicable to dataviz are illustration, graphic design, digital product design, and typeface design. — Will Chase

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Territory

Information designers and data viz practitioners are often concerned with The Map — how it’s made, what it shows, its design. The literary project Territory is, as the name might suggest, concerned with The Territory — the people, stories, and intimate details concealed by those very maps. If data visualization is about boiling complex ideas and vast corpora of information into something digestible, the writings and illustrations in Territory are about the bits of place and humanity that are squeezed out of those representations. As so much of our world grinds to a halt around us, slow down with it; lean into your philosophical and literary leanings. Isaac Levy-Rubinett

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Isaac Levy-Rubinett

Written by

managing editor for Nightingale

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

Isaac Levy-Rubinett

Written by

managing editor for Nightingale

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

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