Data visualisation can be an engaging and insightful way to present information, but getting it right requires careful thought and planning. There isn’t a single, perfect way to present or visualise data. The best approach depends very much on the context, the message you want to convey, your target audience and the data you have available. This is why it’s so important to think carefully about what you want to achieve right from the start. There are four main chapters to this online training:

  • This chapter introduces some key data visualisation concepts you will need;
  • Chapter 2 encourages you to really think about your audience;
  • Chapter 3 helps you to think clearly about your aims;
  • Chapter 4 explores how to visualise data in a way that really helps your audience

The content draws information from a number of sources in particular inspiration, illustration and examples from Andy Kirk and the data visualisation teams at ONS digital and the Financial Times

Consumers and Creators

For any given piece of information there are consumers and creators (i.e. readers and writers). In different circumstances you will switch roles but generally there are more consumers than there are creators. Importantly, though, in order to be a good creator you need to be a sophisticated consumer to design the best output and get the best results.

This learning will ask you to be more demanding both as a consumer and as a creator of data visualisation.

Along the way we'll show you 10 tips/thoughts/things to consider when you're designing your data visualisations.

These can also be found on the wrap up page.


We take in information in so many ways. Each of these ways was new once but we adapted and learned how to process them.

Matthew Strom gave a great example using Emojis. Emojis are the fastest growing language in the UK. The Emoji language has grown and evolved faster than hieroglyphics which took centuries to develop. Emojis are actually a form of visualisation which encodes a lot of information in a small space.

For example we all know what this means:


Smiley face

But if we click on the emoji to change it, you completely change the meaning.

A small change in visual tone makes a dramatic difference.

What is data visualisation?

There are many different definitions but in our eyes one of the best is Andy Kirk's. He says that visualisation from the point of the creator is to facilitate understanding, but to do this well we need to understand the process the consumer goes through...


What is there on the page or screen: what does it show?

What marks and attributes are there? All of these points, lines, colours, are things we ‘read’. What is big, medium or small? How do things compare?

Reading can apply to charts as well as text. For example, you can 'read' a line chart - is the line going up or down?


What does it mean?

  • If the line is going up is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it unusual or expected?
  • Is it meaningful or insignificant?

For example is it complaints over time or profits? Is there a target for these things?


  • What are the main messages?
  • What has that evidence confirmed or reinforced?
  • What does it mean for me?
  • Do I have to do anything about it?

This process is really important - there are different elements and we need the whole process in order to achieve our aim of understanding.

The rest of this training will show you tips and tricks to help you be a more empathetic creator and help your consumers.

End of Chapter One

We need to know who our consumers are.

Where, when and why are they using our product?

That's what we'll cover in Chapter 2: Context