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Data Visualization 101: Basic Guidance

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In my previous Visualization: Understated or Overrated? post I mentioned that sometimes people pass on the tremendous benefits of using data visualizations because they lack education in this subject.  It might seem too heavy to get yourself know more about data visuals. You might think: I need to attend a conference, or a training, pay $$$ for that, etc. Not at all. A unique individual research and self-training can yield far better results, than taking a formal stance and attending one conference, sitting in for a couple of days, and then going back home.

I can suggest 3 reliable options to learn the basics of data visualization, depending on how much time you are ready to invest into those studies. The more, the better, of course. Remember, you don’t need to sign up for classes, nor get loans for studies, nor pay for a training or a conference. There’s no time-boxing. All you need is the real desire to learn, and some chunks of your free time.

We have a number of posts about visualization in our blog, scattered here and there, and I aggregated them into a learning framework. You can consider this a FREE intro to data visualization powered by Targetprocess.

Option #1. Over Medium

Study the books from this list of 12 books on data visualization, compiled and annotated by Michael Dubakov. Take notes and read them thoughtfully. This approach is called “over medium” because you will not only get hold of the dataviz concepts and principles, but see why these principles have evolved like that.

Option #2. Over Easy

The second option would be to study only the 3 books  (shortlisted by Michael). These books are included to the 12 books list, and you can find their descriptions there as well. Why these 3 books have been singled out? They are fundamental as they cover some key principles and concepts, and if you understand those core principles, you will be able to look at data visuals with confidence. They will start making sense to you. Sometimes we spend a lot of time poking around and looking for a good bottomline book on some subject. You don’t need to spend time poking around. This has already been done by experts, and all you need to do is pick up this condensed knowledge.

These are the 3 books:

1. Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps by Jacques Bertin

semiology of graphics
2. Visualizing Data by William S. Cleveland

visualizing data
3. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative by Edward R. Tufte

visual explanations

Option #3. Easy

Study just 2 articles. You can even print them out on a color printer, and put on a wall as posters. These articles are good not only for their content, but for the visuals. If you see the prints all the time, you’ll get used to such charts, and you will be more likely to use them in your work.

These are the 2 articles:

1. Patterns for Information Visualization. This image can be regarded as a mindmap:

information tells stories

2. Visual Encoding

There are soo many nice visuals in this article. It provides an engaging introduction to visual encoding, showing how it helps to present data in a meaningful way.

Practice Watching

To train your eye, and develop a taste for good data visualizations, it’s worth to take a look at the infographics by New York Times Visualization lab. They are amazing. Speaking of paying for studies, you can check out this interesting visualization about the dynamics of Student Debt of Colleges and Universities Across the Nation.

One of these 3 options would be enough to get you started. In future posts, I will show how data visuals can be used in agile project management.

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Published at DZone with permission of Olga Kouzina, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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