Books about related but non-data visualisation subjects

Over the past couple of days I’ve been asking people in my corner of Twitter for suggestions for classic book titles from subject areas that are not data visualisation but that do hold many interesting related ideas, theories and concepts. Things that we can draw from and apply to our understanding of data visualisation.

This is a list of top 3’s based on responses on Twitter. I know that there is a good chance some purists or practitioners from these fields will likely sit their cringing at some of the choices, if that’s the case please help improve and refine via the comments section below!


The Universal Journalist, by David Randall


The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, by Bill Kovach, Tom Rosenstiel


Inside Reporting: A Practical Guide to the Craft of Journalism, by Tim Harrower


News/publication design

The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook, by Tim Harrower


The Best of News Design 34th Edition, by Society for News Design (Contributor)


The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Age, byJeremy Leslie



How to Read Buildings: A Crash Course in Architecture, by Carol Davidson Cragoe


Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, by Rem Koolhaas


Precedents in Architecture: Analytic Diagrams, Formative Ideas, and Partis, by Roger H. Clark, Michael Pause


Game Design

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy: Revised and Updated Edition, by James Paul Gee


The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses, by Jesse Schell


Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design, by Scott Rogers


Graphic Design

Graphic Design: A Concise History, by Richard Hollis


100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design, by Steven Heller


Graphic Design, by Milton Glaser


Advertising Design

Creative Advertising: An Introduction, by Miriam Sorrentino


The Advertising Concept Book: Think Now, Design Later, by Pete Barry


Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy


Product Design

The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman


Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal, Ryan Hoover


Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams, by Klaus Klemp, Keiko Ueki-Polet



How Maps Work: Representation, Visualization, and Design, by Alan M. MacEachren


You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, by Katharine Harmon


Cartography: Thematic Map Design, by Borden D Dent, Jeff Torguson, Thomas W. Hodler



How About never – is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons, by Bob Mankoff


The Naked Cartoonist: Exposing Your Creativity, Uncover Your Imagination, Bare Your Wit, by Robert Mankoff


Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Jeffrey Katzenberg, Marcos Mateu-Mestre



Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud


Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, by Scott McCloud


Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, by Will Eisner


Exhibition ‘Chicago: City of big data’

I’m currently in Chicago for a couple of days to deliver my public workshop. Thanks to the recommendation of Tom Schenk Jr. I had chance to quickly see a really nice free exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation called ‘Chicago: City of big data‘.

Through interactive displays, recreated sections of Chicago and views into your own personal data, Chicago: City of Big Data reveals the potential of urban data and offers a new perspective on Chicago and cities everywhere.


The exhibition aims to reveal how Chicago has been influenced by the concept of data as a 21st century design material through a range of displays:

Architects, planners, engineers and citizens increasingly use data to understand urban issues and spark design innovation. This explosion of digital information, known as “Big Data,” encompasses everything from data collected by environmental sensors to messages on social media. This new exhibition reveals the potential of urban data and offers a new perspective on Chicago and cities everywhere. Visitors can explore interactive displays, recreated sections of the city and get unique views into your own personal data.

The ‘Data Trail’ is an interactive touch screen installation that tracks and presents analysis on how individuals contribute to the volume of data generated every day.

The ‘Chicago Dashboard‘, created by IBM’s City Forward initiative provides real-time updates on a variety of indicators and aspects of big city life.


On the back wall of the exhibition is a huge display showing a colour-coded categorisation of the age of the city, something we’ve seen a lot of across the field in the last 18 months.




The main exhibit is the ‘Chicago Model’, apparently the only accurate and up-to-date depiction of Chicago’s downtown.



Sadly not displayed whilst I was there, the model is enhanced with a light installation that projects different coloured lights onto the model to visualise different sets of data. The installation was designed and developed buy DCBolt Productions.


This next image is taken from a really good in-depth write-up on Venture Beat.


The final item of note was an exhibit about the work of Sophonisba Breckinridge, Edith Abbott and Florence Kelley. They pioneered a technique using colour-coded maps to help better understand and demonstrate the poor housing and overcrowded conditions in parts of the city.




Transmogrifiers: On-the-fly graphic transformations

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Miguel Nacenta, University of St Andrews, was one of the people behind the development of the FatFonts technique. Whilst chatting with Miguel he showed me a short video of another tool he has co-worked on developing called Transmogrifiers. I remember seeing the website a few months ago but I’d not truly appreciated what it was about until seeing the video: it is amazing stuff.

I asked Miguel to articulate what Transmogrifiers is about as I’m sure the technique and capability it offers will resonate with a lot of people out there.

A Transmogrifier is a tool to transform the presentation layer of existing information visualisations and maps in a flexible, quick way. The main idea is that it should be trivial to transform any graphic from one shape into another shape. For example, you might want to transform twisted routes on a map to straight lines (to compare their length visually), or a bar chart into a radial graph (to present in an orientation-independent graph). Transmogrifiers allow you to do this through a multi-touch or cursor-based interface without having to program anything, and with any image that you can find in the web or in your hard-drive.


Due to its flexibility, Transmogrifiers is a useful tool to prototype and test variations of existing visualisations. For example, you can very quickly simulate how your own visualisation could look with a Perspective-Wall applied to it, or with Magnification lenses of different sorts and types. Among the existing visualisation techniques that we have been able to replicate with Transmogrifiers in a matter of minutes, and without having to code are Perspective Wall, Melange, Mag Lenses, and Spirals.


You can try out the (Windows) software by downloading and installing transmog.exe and reading this simple manual describing the basics of operating it. There is plenty more information and sample galleries through the website.

Additionally, a more detailed account of the work can be found in the research paper: “Transmogrification: casual manipulation of visualizations”. In ‘Proceedings of the 26th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology. ACM, pages 97-106, 2013’. Authored by John Brosz, Miguel A. Nacenta, Richard Pusch, Sheelagh Carpendale and Christophe Hurter.

The challenges of teaching data visualisation

People might seek teaching in data visualisation because they find themselves doing this…


So you’ve got to find an accessible way to communicate this…


Without overly reducing it to this…


You know that some people might be wanting to do this…


But they really need to appreciate how and when to do this…


Whilst you want to acknowledge the classics like this…


You’re also keen to give people a glimpse into this…


You have to be respectful of this…


But if you overly prescribe the rule book, everyone will end up like this…


When really you want to encourage flexibility to do this…


Ultimately, you want people to leave with the confidence, know-how and aspiration to create this…


Want to know how I balance these demands? Experiencing it for yourself

Data visualisation podcast recorded for NatureJobs

It is self-promotion day here on Visualising Data! Just published now is a podcast I did with Julie Gould from the NatureJobs blog, discussing various aspects of the data visualisation game.


Article on Harvard Business Review

If you were thinking that I’d thoroughly milked the ‘Design of Nothing‘ cow, you would be wrong.

I was recently asked to write about the subject in an article for the Harvard Business Review: ‘Visualizing Zero: How to Show Something with Nothing‘. This piece offers a brief overview of the content of my talk at OpenVisConf.

The article was published last Thursday 1st May but I wasn’t around at the time to share it further. Thank you for the many tweets I’ve read and nice bits of feedback. Mainly, thank you to Walter Frick for inviting me to write the piece!