005  |  How To Learn Data Visualization (with Andy Kirk)

Hi Folks! We love Andy so much that we decided to keep him with us for another episode (well, actually we hope somebody will eventually pay the ransom). This time we talk about “learning visualization”, which is the perfect topic for him given his experience with his training visualization courses.

We received many requests from people who wanted to know how to learn visualization in the past. So, here we are with a more than one hour long podcast with the three of us talking about it. We just hope you’ll find the time to listen to the entire episode. If not, the breakdown below can help you chunking it into a few sessions. Have fun!

Breakdown of the episode

Introductory thoughts
00:00:00 Intro, Andy Kirk (http://visualisingdata.com) is again our guest
00:01:15 Topic: How to learn visualization
00:01:56 Multidisciplinarity
00:06:31 Reports from teaching practice
00:09:21 Theory and practice – rules vs, free exploration
00:12:24 Do you need to start with a question?

Basic skills
00:15:43 What is the basic skill set to learn?
00:16:15 Visual variables
00:18:53 Statistics and data analytics
00:19:32 Gestalt laws
00:20:32 The journalistic sense – what is an interesting angle?
00:22:19 Position is everything
00:23:38 Color is difficult

Process and tools
00:25:05 Tools
00:26:18 Data types and repertoire
00:27:15 Metaphors
00:28:52 Interaction
00:31:27 The role of design
00:32:57 How to get started?

Learning options and books
00:39:46 Everybody should have a datavis course!
00:41:32 How to learn it yourself? Books, lectures, …
00:42:39 Stephen Few: Show me the numbers
00:43:20 Andy’s first book, and mo is the cinderella of datavis
00:43:52 Readings in Information Visualization: Using vision to think
00:45:09 Edward Tufte: Visual display of quantitative information
00:46:05 Ware: Information Visualization – Perception for Design
00:47:42 Misc.
00:49:23 Our scoop!
00:52:03 Google for “information visualization lecture pdf”

The craft of visualization design
00:53:43 Now that you know everything – how to do it in practice?
00:55:01 DIY vs. template-based tools
00:57:01 Do you need to learn how to program? Yes, yep, yes, yeah. Me too.
00:58:36 Tools
01:00:17 Finding data
01:02:28 Put it out there
01:04:08 The pathetic misery that is creating data visualizations

01:05:52 Trying to wrap it up
01:07:13 see conference – and see+
01:08:44 Trying to wrap it up – again!

Resources and Links

That’s all folks. Let us know how you like it and feel free to ask more questions if you have.


  1. Saakshita says:

    FIrst of all thank you so much for these podcasts. They are so light and informational that I can just hear them while running, in a flight or sometimes like a lullaby :O. For someone in India, where the field is just a new topic (not a professional field yet) your inputs in episode# 5 were like an encyclopedia really!

    I have a question about the terms used in the field of information design. First there is information design itself, then there is data visualization, then info graphics. Do these terms sort of define their respective individual specializations. How different are they in practice and theory from each other? Is data visualization something we should relate to digital world and coding more than print and vice versa for info graphics. Do both these fields come under the broader umbrella of information design?? How does the hierarchy (if there is any) work?

    For a visual communication designer, who doesn’t know coding very well, which basket will he or she be in and info graphics person (nothing like that though) or a data visualisaer? Basically, does being good at one eliminate the other? I see this sort of trend in the work on the internet these days. Information and visualization lean a lot to new media and digital frontier, whereas info graphics are the more print associated classics. For e.g.: the Feltron reports what category do they belong to? Can there be a cross between them and if there is then what is it ideally?

    Also, lastly I see myself learning so many tools like illustrator, photoshop, excel, flash, processing (trying to atleast) and many other infinite tools out there. Well I see myself becoming a ‘jack of all trades’ which means sometimes solutions are print based and sometimes digital: is that a risky place to be in? Should I just accept that I might not be superb in coding and find ways around it to be master of one.

    Sorry for rambling :O will keep listening to more podcasts for inspiration. All the best

    Saakshita (she btw 😉 from India

  2. Geek On Acid says:

    Thank you very much for a great podcast with lots of useful resources, commentaries and fun format! I am PhD student (cognitive psychology) but with some past experience in visual communication (mostly advertising related). One thing that really strikes me is the quality of scientific posters – what a riot! I’ve found that on the typical scientific conference (well, in my field at least), only 5-10% of posters communicate the message effectively (I’ve been kind here). The visual side of those posters is typically a total mess – overloaded with text, poor quality bitmap graphics and bad layout. I know that many people use Powerpoint to create their posters. I would appreciate if you could comment on that and highlight some best practices and techniques that you advise for scientific poster creation. Cheers!

  3. Darshan Pai says:

    That was a very informative talk . I have mostly been a scientific visualization guy , working with medical images.
    Lately I have been very interested in information visualization and about applying these techniques in the medical field . This was a very informative talk and I am really looking forward to more podcast’s regarding these.

  4. Anne says:

    For some reason this recording keeps cutting out at 12:36 for me. I have a good internet connection so I’m not sure what the issue is…hope to access it!

    • Hi, let us know if you still have this problem. Can you provide more details about how you are accessing it (iphone/itunes)? I hope we can solve it.

  5. jordan says:

    Hello, around the 1 hour mark it was mentioned the possibility of mining data from your computer hard drive. could you recommend any software or ways to access this information? Thanks for the podcasts, they are informative and inspiring!

  6. Found this episode really informative and motivating. As a psychology grad in a country where data viz is still at its conception stage – Nigeria – your talk helped to shape my focus about changing society through data visualization. Great job you doing here, guys.

  7. Andrew Saul says:

    Thanks for another great podcast episode. I loved it. Thanks also for taking the time to do the show notes for it too. Not all podcasts go to this trouble, but all the great ones always do.

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