Great Graphs

Is your data sitting around in spreadsheets, dusty, unused, and forgotten about? Your data deserves to be out in the world: utilized, actionable, talked about. Visualizing data through charts, tables, and diagrams helps you deliver bite-sized information that viewers can understand at a glance and retain for the long run.

During this session, we’ll walk through a step-by-step design process that you can apply to your own projects. You’ll learn how to customize your visualization for your audience; choose the right chart for your message; declutter your visuals so that viewers’ attention is focused on the data; reinforce your branding with custom color palettes and typography; and increase accessibility by ensuring that your visuals are legible for people with color vision deficiencies. Finally, you’ll learn to tell a story through dark colors (saturation), explicit titles, and call-out boxes (annotation).

Target Audience

This session is designed for anyone who needs to communicate something to someone. In particular, this session is designed for social scientists with an interest in presenting findings more effectively through charts, graphs, tables, and diagrams. No computer programming experience or graphic design skills needed.

Learning Objectives

After the workshop, participants will be able to:
  • weigh the pros and cons of presenting data through various chart types (e.g., clustered bar charts versus dot plots);
  • remove or mute borders, grid lines, and tick marks so that viewers’ attention is focused on the data;
  • emphasize key findings with color; and
  • write titles, subtitles, and annotations that summarize desired takeaway messages.

Hands-On Activities

Rather than bore you with lecture after lecture, we pause frequently for hands-on activities so that attendees have opportunities to practice their new skills immediately.I offer three versions of the Great Graphs workshop: 1) the best practices version (where we hand-sketch makeovers with markers), 2) the Excel version, and 3) the Tableau version.

Materials Provided

Attendees will receive:
  • Excel or Tableau files with practice datasets (for the laptop workshops);
  • a detailed handout that illustrates the key points; and
  • a license for the Great Graphs ebook.

Sample Workshop Agenda

Here’s a sample workshop agenda so you can get a sense of which topics and activities we might cover in your session. Every workshop is customized. Your agenda might look a little different. Analyze Your Audience:
We begin by analyzing the graph’s audience. Who will be using this graph? Their interests will drive every aspect of the design. We cover eight critical questions.
  • Discuss thought-starter questions with a partner, like whether your viewers are expecting an as-is approach or a story.
  • Complete the Audience Crosswalk and Communications Plan worksheets to describe the tone of each publication.

Choose the Right Chart:
Chart-choosing is both an art and a science. Staff learn guidelines for common chart types like pies, bars, and lines and practice applying those guidelines to their own graphs.
  • Critique pie charts, clustered bar charts, and spaghetti line graphs and identify more effective choices.
  • Critique before graphs from your own projects and sketch after options on paper.

Select a Software Program:
Once you have selected the chart type that matches your viewers’ preferences, you can select the software program that is best at creating that chart.
  • Learn pros, cons, and tips for getting started with common software tools (Carto, Datawrapper, Excel, PowerBI, Tableau, R, and more).

We teach attendees a three-step
storytelling process: declutter, clarity the message with color, and
clarify the message with text.
  • Remove unnecessary ink and focus viewers’ attention on the data.
  • Condense redundant text.
  • Remove legends and label data directly.
  • Remove decorative clip-art and add icons to aid understanding.

Clarify with Color:
Adding color to graphs is simultaneously the easiest and hardest technique to nail. Color is about much, much more than making your graphs look pretty. When used well, color can enhance branding, guide viewers’ eyes to the most important pieces of the graph, and reinforce the underlying nature of the variables, all while being legible when photocopied in black and white and for people with colorblindness.
  • Locate your organization’s custom color codes in your style guide or with eyedropper tools.
  • Apply custom color codes to your graphs to enhance branding and look professional.
  • Color-code your graphs by category.
  • Highlight important points by guiding viewers’ eyes with saturation.
  • Upload drafts into color blindness simulation tools to ensure that
    the colors are accessible for people with color vision deficiencies.

Clarify with Text:
Staff learn to write titles and subtitles that state the graph’s takeaway message; to add contextual clues with call-out boxes; and to label their graph with techniques that are legible for viewers with colorblindness.
  • Write titles and subtitles that describe the graph’s key takeaway message.
  • Annotate with call-out boxes.
  • Ensure that all text is horizontal.
  • Match fonts to branding guidelines.
  • Establish a font hierarchy.
  • Assess the reading level of your graph and of your publication. Practice translating technical terms for non-technical audiences.

Before/After Makeovers:
Let’s put these techniques together and completely overhaul your own visualizations.
  • Critique before graphs from your own projects and sketch after options on paper.

Next Steps & Recommended Resources:
You’ve learned a lot! Where do you go from here?
  • Learn the three most important ways to take action after today’s workshop.
  • View sample data visualization style guides.
  • Receive a list of recommended resources.