Reference material

[last updated February 2019]

Visual journalism
A snapshot of a variety of current visual journalism

The New York Times’ most recent Year in Visual Stories and Graphics

Website of the annual Malofiej SND conference, in Spain, every Spring

Data visualisation
Two blogs that cover most events, work and developments:
Andy Kirk’s Visualising Data
Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data

Illustrated, up-to-date, sources of practical advice:
Working with charts from Datawrapper’s blog, Chartable
More working with charts, from the FT’s Chart Doctor
Taking good design decisions, by Andy Kirk

There’s a slight US bias given this was done for an event there, but still a great data vis who’s who if you want to know what’s happening at the forefront of data visualisation.

Listen to the lastest discussions of what’s happening in the field with the fabulous Data Stories regular podcasts.

And for any organisations just starting out in the field, take inspiration from National Records of Scotland. Read how they have done it themselves, building up a brilliant in-house datavis capability from scratch. Examples of their work here.

There’s also useful advice for charities starting out with datavis from NPC.

Data journalism
Free, online resource: Data journalism handbook
Blog of events, news, resources:
Data Journalism in action: The Guardian’s datablog

Working with numbers
Read or listen to case studies about how to handle numbers in the news – book, online, radio – from Andrew Dilnot, Michael Blastland, Tim Harford and Radio 4’s More or Less

An excellent (and free) series of exercises to walk you through the fundamentals of working with data from the School of Data.

And a blog post I wrote on how to present numbers with the appropriate amount of detail. Rounding, significant figures, decimal places, that sort of thing.

Another illustrated blog post of mine on whether there’s something more interesting you could use your numbers to show (levels of interpretation of data).

An analysis of the simple but very effective Economist chart style by JP Koning.

And if you’re writing with numbers look at the ONS’s style guide.

Popular, templated tools for charting and simple mapping include Tableau, Datawrapper, Infogram and Piktochart. You paste your data and text into their templates from which a finished graphic is created. In my opinion, Tableau and Datawrapper are more data-focused, Infogram and Piktochart more engagement-focused. However, I recommend going to look at their galleries to gauge if they output the kind of thing you are seeking to create. They all have active and supportive communities and resources to help you if you get stuck. They all are optimised for publishing online, though it is always possible to download print-ready versions of any graphics you create, though you can’t do this in the free version of some of them. They all come with a tiered pricing structure, the more you pay, the more control you have. Don’t forget to ask about special rates if you are a student or a charity.

See also the Google tools, demo’d on School of Data.

For more control over both design and layout – that is to say, non-templated tools, ones from which you start from a blank canvas – Inkscape is a free, open source vector illustration programme. If you know of Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape can do the same things. To see its potential have a look at National Record of Scotland’s work. And don’t forget PowerPoint, though my advice for the best results is to avoid using its slide and graphic templates: always start from a blank slide. With these tools you have to explore and shape your data first in a programme like Excel. You can then copy this into Inkscape or PowerPoint where you then have total control over how you layout and design the finished graphic, which includes you having to add in and design the titles, labels and any additional visual elements.

For easy-to-access, but templated, graphic design solutions have a look at Canva.

If you’re seeking a more innovative way of presenting numerical data, look no further than Andy Kirk’s Chartmaker Directory, brilliantly illustrated with examples of the types of charts that can be created in a range of different tools.

For newcomers to the field, have a look at

The Office of National Statistics have published their guidelines for creating infographics. More advice direct from organisations using datavis: National Records of Scotland and New Philanthropy Capital.

Style.ONS is worth mentioning again if you’re writing about statistics, also includes a section on data visualisation.

The Government Statistical Service have published lots of guidelines: see the ‘presenting statistics’ tab in particular.

The first thing to ask when you go to create a map is should it be a map? Read When Maps Shouldn’t Be Maps by NYT’s Matthew Ericson for guidance on this.

For creating UK maps, a useful resource is the ONS’s Open Geography Portal that allows you to download accurate geographical reference data.

Images and icons
Wherever you source your icons or images from you should find out if you need to credit the creator, and how. The advantage of getting the icons or images you use from online libraries is that they give clear instructions about if, how and when to credit the work. Often this is based on Creative Commons licensing.

Source of icons:
The Noun Project
A summary of good practice when using icons is here

Source of images:
There are many stock image libraries online, for example
Or have a look on wikimedia

Colour accessibility
You can download this useful colour blindness simulator to check your work as you go on your own computer.

Or test out different palettes before you start.

Designing research posters
While there’s a lot of advice out there, this captures the essentials well, from the British Science Association.

Other reference material and resources
Andy Kirk’s tools for visualising and communicating data, books too’s useful resource for data journalism
School of Data does what it says in the title!
Alberto Cairo’s main recommended reading list on infographics (search his site for updates).
GDS’s (Government Digital Service) digital and design principles are well worth a look.

Some of my favourite pieces of visual journalism you can find on this blog by searching under the tag example

Presentation visuals
The answer to improving your presentations isn’t to introduce infographics, one of Tim Harford’s three useful tips.
Useful, practical guidance from Jesse Desjardins here and here.
And a how-to guide from Nancy Duarte to present visual stories that transform audiences.

Reading visualisations
Seeing Data is a good resource aimed at non-experts, to help them make sense of data visualisations which covers key terms, how data visualisations are made, factors that influence our experience with them and a chance to rate a few yourself.

Have a go!
There’s no getting around the fact that the best way to learn to create data visualisations and infographics is to have a go. As useful forums for learning you can join in with initiatives like #makeovermonday or #SWDchallenge as an excuse to practice.

Think there’s something I should include that’s not here? Please let me know!

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