tapestry conference


At the end of November, I had the pleasure of attending the Tapestry Conference in Miami. I don’t attend a ton of conferences and this is actually the only one that exists where I’ve (two years in row!) been present for every single session (both physically and consciously) and found something useful or inspiring in each one. If you’re reading these words with slight envy for not having been there—I can’t recreate the great break-time chit chat with attendees, but I can share the presentations (huge thanks to organizers for making these available): here are the videos.

In particular, I’d recommend the keynotes. Mona Chalabi opened the conference with an entertaining session discussing a number of her hand-drawn graphs (a quick scroll through her Instagram will give you a sense of your work if you aren’t familiar; unfortunately her talk isn’t being shared). She described wanting to feel something about the data and marrying the subject and the visualization so that if you see the visual, even without labels someone can get some sense of what it is about. She also worked in good reminders on significant digits (too many conveys false sense of precision), designing with visual impairments in mind (using alt text or sound, like in this work), and how important the simple question “do you get it?” posed to people unfamiliar with your topic can help point out issues or help you to identify improvements.

Matt Kay’s keynote on Uncertainty (“A Biased Tour of the Uncertainty Visualization Zoo”) was fantastic—he made the point that it isn’t necessarily true that people aren’t good at understanding uncertainty (a claim often made) and that there are intuitive ways to communicate uncertainty that we should be using. I like the onus this puts on the designer of the information. Matt illustrated several specific methods—icon arrays, quantile dot plots, and animating—for better communicating uncertainty. I also learned a new term: subitizing, which describes how we can see a small number of something, for example three circles, and we recognize (without counting) that there are three. This is both useful to be aware of when designing graphs and also simply a word that I will enjoy adding to my vocabulary.

Elijah Meeks delivered the closing keynote on the “Third Wave of Data Visualization.” He describes wave one as Tufte-inspired with the goal of clarity and the second wave of systems following Wilkinson’s The Grammar of Graphics, leading into the third wave of today. Rather than tell you more about it, I encourage you to listen to Elijah tell you about it directly (plus more!) in Episode 12 of the storytelling with data podcast.

In addition to the keynotes, there were eight short stories (roughly 15 minutes each, standout ones for me were Jonni Walker’s and Alex Wein’s) and a number of short talks (about 5 minutes each). You can hear Jon Schwabish and me chat about more of the sessions in our Tapestry roundup. I highly recommend watching the videos of the Tapestry presentations.

Big thanks to organizers, speakers, and attendees for combining to make this an awesome event (and extra thanks to the organizers for recording and making the content widely available!).

animating data

When presenting live, you have a ton of opportunity to build a graph or a story piece by piece for your audience. Check out the 90-second video in this post illustrating an example of how we do this at storytelling with data.

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do you SEE it?

When communicating with data, creating visual contrast is key for directing your audience's attention. Check out the following video for a brief illustration of why contrast is important and an in-depth look at four real-world examples on how to achieve contrast through position, color, and added marks.

For more storytelling with data videos, check out my YouTube channel.

the cat in the hat knows a lot about data visualization

Check out this video of my recent Stanford MBA guest-lecture, where I discuss the importance of being sparing and intentional in your use of color and putting your thoughts into words when communicating visually with data.

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declutter your data visualizations

When I was a little girl, I used to get in trouble for cleaning my room. Check out the following video to find out why and learn why clutter in data visualization is a bad thing and how to avoid it. Specifically, I'll cover five tips and examples from my book, storytelling with data

  1. Leverage how people see
  2. Employ visual order
  3. Create clear contrast
  4. Don't over-complicate
  5. Strip down & build up

This is a slightly modified version of the talk I've been giving on my Bay Area book tour at companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Dropbox, Tesla, Airbnb, and Evernote. Post any related questions in the comment section and I will respond. I hope you enjoy!

being clever with color

Quick announcement: I'll be doing just one more public storytelling with data workshop in 2015, which will be in Chicago in mid-October and still has a few open spots. Details and registration can be found here.

I've recently given a short presentation covering considerations when it comes to the use of color in communicating with data (earlier this week, for Chartio, and last week at the Seattle DataVis meet up). In it, I cover 7 brief lessons:

  1. Color grabs attention
  2. Color can signal where to look
  3. Color should be used sparingly
  4. Color can carry quantitative value
  5. Color carries tone and meaning
  6. Not everyone sees color
  7. Color should be used consistently

For each of these lessons, I talk about some specific strategies and look at a number of real-world examples. In order to bring this content to a wider audience, I recorded it, and you can view it here:

Leave a comment to let me know if you're interested in seeing more video content like this in the future.

The lessons covered here and much, much more can also be found in my forthcoming book, storytelling with data: a data visualization guide for business professionals, available for pre-order on Amazon today.