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!).

it depends...

“It depends.” These two simple words can answer a number of questions raised when it comes to visualizing data and communicating with it effectively. In this session, Cole discusses 10 common data visualization questions where the answer is “it depends” and discusses what it depends on and the critical thought process required for success. Cole also answers reader questions on considerations between lower and upper case in data visualization related text and Excel resources.

    Listening time: 45:00. Links mentioned during the podcast:

    Subscribe in your favorite podcast platform to be updated when new episodes are available. If you like what you hear, please rate or review the SWD podcast. You can find past episodes on the podcast page, including sessions focusing on how I've built storytelling with data, feedback in data visualization and discussion of what is story?