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Designing Data Visualizations by Julie Steele, Noah Iliinsky

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Part II. How Should You Design It?

Now that we know how to think about why and what we design, both in terms of our purposes and the relationships that define visualizations, let’s talk about the process of designing visualizations.

Ultimately, the key to a successful visualization is making good design choices. Artists and designers of all kinds study their craft to learn how to do just that. So do programmers. While there is certainly room in these disciplines for creativity (yes, some programming languages are designed to have One Right Way to do things, but most allow for some flexibility and discernment on the part of the programmer), ultimately there is a process one follows to determine the optimal outcome for a given project.

Even the most whimsical creators—Jackson Pollock, for instance—use a process. Yes, there is room within that process for playfulness, beauty, and happenstance, but a series of decisions provides a structure that leads from point A to point B. Our aim in this section of the book is to lead you through the process of designing good data visualizations. This should get you 80% of the way to genius; that other 20% is the creative spark you’ll have to provide on your own.

In data visualization, the number one rule of thumb to bear is mind is: Function first, suave second. Your visualization may look really slick, but if it’s not communicating the information you’re encoding (and doing so efficiently), then it’s just so much visual noise—a pretty picture to ...

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