Data + Design: A simple introduction to preparing and visualizing information

Open access book by By Trina Chiasson, Dyanna Gregory, and all of these people:(Foreword) Data are all around us and always have been. Everything throughout history has always had the potential to be quantified: theoretically, one could count every human who has ever lived, every heartbeat that has ever beaten, every step that was ever taken, every star that has ever shone, every word that has ever been uttered or written. Each of these collective things can be represented by a number. But only recently have we had the technology to efficiently surface these hidden numbers, leading to greater insight into our human condition.
But what does this mean, exactly? What are the cultural effects of having easy access to data? It means, for one thing, that we all need to be more data literate. It also means we have to be more design literate. As the old adage goes, statistics lie. Well, data visualizations lie, too. How can we learn how to first, effectively read data visualizations; and second, author them in such a way that is ethical and clearly communicates the data’s inherent story?

At the intersection of art and algorithm, data visualization schematically abstracts information to bring about a deeper understanding of the data, wrapping it in an element of awe.

Maria Popova, Stories for the Information Age, Businessweek

My favorite description of data visualization comes from the prolific blogger, Maria Popova, who said that data visualization is “at the intersection of art and algorithm.” To learn about the history of data visualization is to become an armchair cartographer, explorer, and statistician….”
Early visual explorations of data focused mostly on small snippets of data gleaned to expand humanity’s understanding of the geographical world, mainly through maps. Starting with the first recognized world maps of the 13th century, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and sailors used math to visualize the invisible. Stars and suns were plotted, coastlines and shipping routes charted. Data visualization, in its native essence, drew the lines, points, and coordinates that gave form to the physical world and our place in it. It answered questions like “Where am I?”, “How do I get there?”, and “How far is it?”