Data Visualization

From getting started to upping your game

@KaraDapena, @Eli_Mur, @Nat_Lash


Who we are

  • Kara Dapena – Data visualization editor @ Miami Herald
  • Nathaniel Lash – Data reporter @ Tampa Bay Times
  • Eli Murray – News apps developer @ Tampa Bay Times

Getting started with data visualization

What is a data visualization?

Why do we need data visualizations?

A good data visualization provides insights that are not immediately obvious from the data alone.

A good data visualization asks and answers a question or tells a story.

A good data visualization provides appropriate context for an audience.

Tools of the trade



Fusion Tables




Google Maps


Map Box


How to make a good data visualization

Kara Dapena

Visual story-telling tool

A good data visualization is a story-telling tool to deliver accurate information in a format that requires the least effort possible from the audience to gain insight

Creation process

  1. Be curious
  2. Define the punchline
  3. Sketch
  4. Test and revamp
  5. Publish

Principles of design

  • Variety
  • Unity
  • Heirarchy




Principles of design

Data-ink ratio

Be mindful of what to show and not to show

Parts that make the whole

Descriptive headline


Graphic component


Note (if needed)


Create a style guide

  • Streamline your workflow
  • Give your graphics a consistent look and feel, to create a sense of familiarity for your audience
  • Pick one or two typefaces and establish typography for common elements
  • Make a baseline color pallet


Decide on your format

  • What platform are you using and what constraints or possibilities does it have?
  • What structure is best suited to tell the story? Should it be a database, a map, a chart, a table, a timeline, etc...

Comparison precision scale

Most to least precise:

  1. Position along a common scale
  2. Positions along nonaligned scales
  3. Length, direction, angle
  4. Area
  5. Volume, curvature
  6. Shading, color saturation

Do's and dont's

3D charts

Do not distort your charts by making them look 3D

Start at zero

In a bar chart, the length of the bar indicates the value, so (almost) always start at 0

Apples to apples

Be sure that in addition to being accurate, your data is painting a fair picture

Don't fight your audience

Use the cultural conventions of your audience to make your visualization easier to read


Annotate to give your audience clues and insights

It's also OK to break the "rules"

The BIG question.

How do we build

something like this?

2 ways

1. Hire

2. Train

1. Hire.

Abundance of

cheap labor

Good programs

College newspapers

Look for what

sets it apart

More than just a pretty portfolio site

All about clips

"Why did you choose to

do that in particular?"


Easy to fake to an


Hard to fake to a programmer

2 data points

Day 1

Day 100


Find them work on the best reporters

Shorter is better

Start with the
reporting problems


Data visualization 

one of many steps

Data gathering

Data gathering


Data gathering


Data gathering


Know how to request electronic records

Data cleaning

Data cleaning

Data analysis

Data analysis

2. Train.

Anyone can code

Anyone can code

Code takes time


Start simple

Give them

time to be ambitious.

Give them support.

Give them support.

But edit relentlessly.

Choose the

big stuff carefully

Culture of




High expectations

This is all
about one thing:

Finding the nugget that makes the reader go,


Combined with

diligent editing...

... Great things will come.


Kara Dapena

Data visualization editor

Miami Herald


Eli Murray

News apps developer

Tampa Bay Times


Nathaniel Lash

Data reporter

Tampa Bay Times


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