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kottke.org posts about The Pudding

How to Make Data-Driven Visual Essays

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

Ilia Blinderman of The Pudding has written a pair of essays about how to make data-driven visual essays. Part 1 covers working with data.

It’s worth noting here that this first stage of data-work can be somewhat vexing: computers are great, but they’re also incredibly frustrating when they don’t do what you’d like them to do. That’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t need to worry — learning to program is exactly as infuriating and as dispiriting for you as it is for everyone else. I know this all too well: some people seem to be terrific at it without putting in all that much effort; then there was me, who first began writing code in 2014, and couldn’t understand the difference between a return statement and a print statement. The reason learning to code is so maddening is because it doesn’t merely involve learning a set number of commands, but a way of thinking. Remember that, and know that the little victories you amass when you finally run your loop correctly or manage to solve a particular data problem all combine to form that deeper understanding.

Part 2 is on the design process.

Before you begin visualizing your data, think through the most important points that you’re trying to communicate. Is the key message the growth of a variable over time? A disparity between quantities? The degree to which a particular value varies? A geographic pattern?

Once you have an idea of the essential takeaways you’d like your readers to understand, you can consider which type of visualization would be most effective at expressing it. During this step, I like to think of the pieces of work that I’ve got in my archive and see if any one of those is especially suitable for the task at hand.

Check out The Pudding for how they’ve applied these lessons to creating visual essays about skin tone on the cover of Vogue or how many top high school players make it to the NBA.