Monday, August 9, 2010

Not your grandma's Tufte

I really appreciate good data visualization because I think it's one of the best ways to communicate ideas. It's hard to know how to do it well, though, if you're not trained in design. For some reason I always stress over little details - fonts, colors, margins. But that happens when I cook, too, so maybe that's more a reflection of my personality than anything else.
Image from Understanding Graphics

I once met Ben Fry, who if you don't know is the co-creator of the Processing programming language, and (also) made a name for himself doing some gorgeous visualizations for SEED magazine. I had just seen a fantastic design of his, and asked him how he went about choosing its colors and fonts. He gave me some advice I still follow today: start with black helvetica and go from there.

As well as this advice has served me, I feel ready to move into serif fonts and at least dual-colored bar charts. So lately I've enjoyed reading the blog posts from Shawn Allen's Data Visualization Course. He starts with a history of data visualization (remember Florence Nightingale?) and builds up from there. It's excellent and I highly recommend checking it out.

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