Thursday, January 12, 2023

A sneak peek of 'The Art of Insight'

I've just finished the first draft of 2/5 of The Art of Insight. This week I'll be sending it to some friends to get some feedback. I printed it out to edit it myself. The book will be launched late in November this year.

Here's a short video:

Friday, December 30, 2022

Quotes in 'The Art of Insight'

All my books contain quotes prefacing sections and chapters. These quotes are deliberately chosen to be connected to the themes I write about, or to subtly hint things without saying them explicitly. Below I've collected the quotes in the first third of The Art of Insight, which I'm finishing these days:

Take advice to ditch all adverbs lightly. —Ursula K. Le Guin

Enjoy and have others enjoy, without doing harm to yourself or anyone else; that is all there is to morality. —Nicolas Chamfort

I have sought only reasons to transcend our darkest nihilism. Not, I would add,  through virtue, nor because of some rare elevation of the spirit, but from an instinctive fidelity to a light in which I was born, and in which for thousands of years men have learned to welcome life even in suffering. —Albert Camus

Being a person is not a goal that can be achieved but a purpose to be sustained. —Martin Hägglund

It is not doctrines that console us in the end, but people: their example, their singularity, their courage and steadfastness, their being with us when we need them the most. In dark times, nothing so abstract as faith in History, Progress, Salvation, or Revolution will do us much good. These are doctrines. It is people we need, people whose examples show us what it means to go on, to keep going, despite everything. —Michael Ignatieff

The lover of life’s not a sinner. —Black Sabbath

To live well is to cope with the ways in which life is hard while finding enough in one’s life worth wanting. —Kieran Setiya

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. —Popularly, and probably posthumously attributed to Somerset Maugham

There are no absolute truths, there is nothing Good, Bad, True, Beautiful, or Just in itself, but only relatively, evaluated according to a clear and distinct plan [...] Think in terms of action, and base your actions on the effects they will have. —Michel Onfray

The word [normal] uses a power as old as Aristotle to bridge the fact/value distinction, whispering in your ear that what is normal is also right. —Ian Hacking

[There’s a] difference between defining beauty and defining what beauty does in the body. The latter question belongs to the realm of aesthetics, the study of bodies in proximity to beauty. —Chloé Cooper Jones

To cultivate [the] diverse elements of our existence means to nurture them as we would a garden. Just as a garden needs to be protected, tended, and cared for, so do ethical integrity, focused awareness, and understanding [...] There is no room for complacency, for they all bear a tag that declares: “Cultivate Me.” —Stephen Batchelor

Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible. —Richard Powers

We are ready to question the impersonality of a merely technical approach to data and to begin designing ways to connect numbers to what they really stand for: knowledge, behaviors, people. —Giorgia Lupi

I think of the wood warbler, a small citrus-colored bird fast disappearing from British forests. It is one thing to show the statistical facts about this species’ decline. It is another thing to communicate to people what experience of a wood that is made of light and leaves and song becomes something less complex, less magical, just less, once the warblers are gone. —Helen MacDonald

Objectivity of whatever kind is not the test of reality. It is just one way of understanding reality [...] Sometimes, in the philosophy of mind but also elsewhere, the truth is not to be found by travelling as far away from one persona perspective as possible. —Thomas Nagel

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Revisiting Robert Grudin for 'The Art of Insight'

In preparation to write a few chapters of The Art of Insight this coming week, I've been re-reading a couple of books by Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things and Design and Truth. Grudin's takes are a bit too Platonist for my taste, but his writings are consistently brilliant. Here are some passages from The Grace of Great Things that I underlined the first time I read it:

On insight:

Of all the kinds of joy, none perhaps is so pure as that occasioned by sudden insight. To come to terms independently with a new idea is to celebrate, in the broadest sense of the word, the reality of nature and to appreciate fully one's own human presence. But creativity does not confine itself to happy subjects, or always bring happy results. Too many examples of tragic vision, or of genius in the service of malice, argue the contrary. Moreover, though creative insight may be delightful in itself, it normally is predicated on training, prolonged concentration, and exhausting practice that are not pleasant in the same sense.

On our sense of beauty:

Our sense of beauty is generally restricted to those categories (art, music, love, nature) to which aesthetic language is applied by our culture. But independent insight in all fields involves in some way the experience of beauty. In fact, the thrill conveyed by inspiration in any field is perhaps best described as coming from a sense of participation in beauty, a momentary unity between a perceived beauty of experience and a perceiving beauty of mind.

Much later in the book:

Beauty oddly resembles gravity: like gravity, beauty is a force whose existence is inferred from its apparent effects.

A page later:

Joyce sees beauty not as simple quality but as a function of the relation between subject and object. When a given object is properly understood (exquisite, adjusted), its beauty leaps out to the person who understands it. Beauty, therefore, is not a wholly independent force; neither, however, is it an illusion or social convention or mere “effect” of object upon subject. It is rather the natural and necessary consequence of the proper interaction between subject and object or, if you will, between mind and reality. 

About innovation and inspiration:

It is striking how many noted revolutionaries and innovators insist that they are maintaining continuity with the past or restoring old ideas that have been corrupted or forgotten [...] Inspiration may be the revelation of something completely new, but it is also the rediscovery of something always true.

About the burden of the past:

Preconceptions can militate against valid insight; investigators who insist on building exclusively upon past findings equip themselves for defeat.

One of my favorites, about the relationship between humor and insight:

Humorless people are unlikely to discover much. They are usually more concerned with their own dignity and rectitude than with anything going on around them. Unavailable to the sudden analogies and anomalies that cause laughter, they are apt to be dull toward other analogies and anomalies as well. Blind to their own humanity, they respond sluggishly to all other experience.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The joy of infographics and the value of subjectivity

Nigel Holmes's Joyful Infographics is the first book I've edited for CRC Press's AK Peters Visualization Series, that I co-lead with Tamara Munzner. The second is Jen Christiansen's Building Science Graphics. Both begin shipping tomorrow, December 20th.

I met Jen and Nigel nearly two decades ago at the Malofiej conference —which, by the way, will return sooner than you think. There they were, two people whose work I had admired and tried to emulate for years, willing to talk to nobodies like me, offering feedback, advice, and encouragement.

As a beginner at the time, I was surprised by their friendliness and kindness, virtues that also permeate their writing. Reading these books is akin to sharing time with two patient, serious, but humorous mentors who have distilled lessons from their long careers for the rest of us to learn and enjoy.

I'm a bit tired of books that adopt a view from nowhereor that claim to lay out overarching principles of visualization design. This includes some of my own. I'm much more interested in individual authors, in their personal but well reasoned opinions, and in how they tackle the challenges we all face when designing visualizations.

Jen's and Nigel's books are like that. They don't pretend to be the book about joy in visualization or the book about science graphics. They are Nigel's take on gentle humor and joy in visualization and Jen's take on how to build science graphics. There's value in such subjectivity, I believe.

(If you have an idea for a book about anything related to information design or data visualization, let me or Tamara know. We're happy to chat.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

'The Art of Insight': Publication date and designers who appear in the book

Simulated Dendrochronology of
U.S. Immigration, by Pedro Cruz

The Art of Insight
has a publication date:
November 14, 2023. I've been writing at a very good pace for the past few months, and the book should be finished by mid-2023. After that, it'll be sent to production and printing.

Here are the people I spoke with, in rough order of appearance: Shirley Wu, Ed Hawkins, Jaime Serra, Nadieh Bremer, Pedro Cruz, Sonja Kuijpers, Federica Fragapane, Mohammad Waked, Aaron Williams, Alli Torban, Amanda Makulec, Qian Ma, Deniz Cem Önduygu, Allen Hillery, Anatoly Bondarenko, Attila Bátorfy, Harkanwal SinghAlyssa Fowers, Simon DuCroquet, Will Chase, Jacque Schrag, Gurman Bhatia, Lena Groeger, Jane Pong, Pablo Loscri, and Rosamund Pearce.

If I could write a longer book, I'd have talked to many more. These conversations were delightful.

(Note: As I wrote a month ago, I'm prioritizing other platforms other than Twitter for updates: follow me on Mastodon or Linkedin.)

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Handcrafted infographics, flow, and meditation

While editing chapters from The Art of Insight that are already finished —more than one third of the book— I realized how many of the designers I talked to favor hand-crafted techniques versus automated or programmatic ones: Sonja Kuijpers, Federica Fragapane, even several journalists and old-timers, such as Jaime Serra.

Many of them said that they experience flow while painstakingly moving, tweaking, and adjusting objects —either physical or virtual— for hours, corroborating my hunch that, as visualization is a craft before it is a profession or a science, it can also be meditative and therapeutic.

On the right you can see Jaime's most famous creation, a 1996 infographic about the Southern right whale's anatomy and behavior, followed by one of his beautiful drafts brimming with notes. I began my career in 1997, and seeing this graphic for the first time as a beginner was eye-opening: “Wait, you can draw things for news graphics by hand?” Good times.

In the past 25 years I haven't made many manual illustrations for my graphics. Perhaps because I was educated in the strictures and tight deadlines of newspapers, I've always preferred to use 3D software or vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator.

Still, I do draw. I draw during virtual meetings, as it helps me concentrate. Some evenings, after all daily chores have been taken care of, I sit at the drafting table in my office and draw historically and archeologically accurate scenes, diagrams, and maps of the Late Antiquity Mediterranean world while listening to podcasts about history or tabletop games. It's a way to quiet thoughts, to instead be fully aware of the present moment and, as a consequence, to bring the mind to a peaceful state:

Monday, November 28, 2022

Idealism and pragmatism in visualization

Some reactions to the Washington Post chart on the right, designed by my former student Luís Melgar, reminded me of a passage from The Art of Insight that I shared the other day. This morning, a few readers of this chart asked in social media: “Why isn't time on the X-axis?” implying that there's something wrong with that, as it breaks some convention or rule.

A better question might be: “Can you understand the chart anyway?” I bet you can. It may take a few more seconds than usual, but does that make a significant difference when you might gain something else? What makes a graphic good isn't whether it tries to approximate an ideal of truth, beauty, goodness, or excellence; rather, it's whether actual people can make sense of it, learn from it, or enjoy it.

A follow-up question could be: “Do you think that sometimes there are good reasons to flip the axes of a time-series chart?” There might be. In this case, I believe, the reason is rhetorical: to emphasize the left-right partisan divergence. We may agree or not with the choice of flipping the axes, but it's a choice that can be justified, discussed and eventually tested.

The following is a section of The Art of Insight where I talk about the difference between idealist and pragmatist discourses in visualization. I've shared this very early draft on Mastodon, so let me know what you think there, if you wish:

My conversation with Ed Hawkins made me reflect on the ways that visualization professionals and scholars talk about what we do and why we do it. I also remembered a question that I’m asked often: What are the rules of data visualization?

I was born in Galicia, Spain. We Galicians are known for replying to questions with even more questions, so I often ask in return: What are the rules of writing?

I find such questions puzzling. I think of visualization as a technology that humans have devised to engage with the world. It’s a form of speech whose syntax consists of mapping data onto symbols. In this sense it isn’t that different to writing. In writing, beyond a loose observance of the vocabulary and grammar of the language we employ, there are no universal rules that are applicable to all its varieties regardless of purpose or audience.

This misconception about the existence of universal rules in visualization is in part due to the inheritance —and also to a slight misreading, I’d say— of what I call “the Tuftean consensus,” after Edward Tufte, author of several influential books, the best among them being The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983).

In The Infographic: A History of Data Graphics in News and Communications (2020), Murray Dick, a journalism professor at Newcastle University, describes various discourses in visualization, which are ways to think and talk about the craft. The first is the functionalist-idealist discourse. Tufte is the most popular exponent of it, although Murray cites several other statisticians and cartographers, such as Jacques Bertin, author of the foundational Semiology of Graphics (Sémiologie Graphique. Les diagrammes, les réseaux, les cartes, 1967.)

The functionalist-idealist discourse, Dick explains, has been dominant for decades. It conceives of visualizations “first and foremost as a scientific methodology” and as form of “visual logic [based on] the rigorous application of a monosemic system that depends on a priori rules (present in standards, and in conventions, such as the use of grid lines, legends, labels, etc.) These provide a means by which signs may be used to connect propositions in a logical sequence.”

According to Dick, to someone who favors the functionalist-idealist discourse “graphics necessarily deal in complex, multivariate ideas and they must explain clearly and efficiently, telling the truth about the data.” Then he adds a key sentence: “The notion that designer and audience may not share a common and irreducible understanding of what “the truth” means is not countenanced.” To the functionalist-idealist discourse, the quality of a graphic depends exclusively on the nature of the information presented and on the decisions that its designer makes about it within existing norms.

That’s why Tufte has written that “if your statistics are boring, you’ve got the wrong numbers” or “the only worse design than a pie chart is several pie charts.” However, being boring —or clear, or efficient— isn’t a property of things, but of the relationship between those things and the people who experience them. The best statistics can be boring, and the clearest and most efficient graphic to you can be confusing and inefficient to others. Pie charts are often misused, but this is also true of any other chart type. No chart type is good or bad in essence.

Designers who favor a functionalist-idealist discourse often come up with comprehensive and coherent systems of thought and action —sometimes involving transcendentals such as Truth, Good, or Beauty,— derive rules from them, and use them to judge whatever they see. Tufte doesn’t employ the term “rules” in his books, but he has defined a series of uppercase “Principles of Graphical Excellence.”

I’ve seen people try to apply these principles to their work too strictly—and fail. The reason is that they should be taken instead as sensible guidance whose pertinence depends on many considerations. Tufte himself is subtler than his most devoted fans, as he usually adds the caveat “within reason” to soften his otherwise strongly worded recommendations. For instance, he suggests maximizing “the share of a graphic’s ink devoted to data [...] within reason.” These last two words shall remain undefined.

Murray Dick’s discourses aren’t mutually exclusive; their boundaries are porous, and the same person can use different ones. I’ve employed a functionalist-idealist discourse myself, but The infographic says that my predominant discourse is pragmatist. 

Such a label encapsulates my ideas well. I respect the functionalist-idealist discourse, as I’ve learned a great deal from those who favor it. However, I’ve come to think, teach, and talk about visualization not as a series of allegedly universal principles, but in terms of ad hoc reasoning. This reasoning is informed by aims, constraints, conventions, trade-offs, likely outcomes, personal experience and taste, and by an ever-imperfect but ever-evolving body of scientific knowledge.

I don’t deny the possibility of norms, but I don’t understand them as rules or principles that can be given, top-down, by “leaders” in the field. Instead, norms are tacit patterns of behavior that emerge, bottom-up, from the ongoing historical dialogue between those who practice the craft. Because of this, norms can and should always be subject to examination.

It’s for this reason that, instead of a hierarchical professional landscape where authoritative figures assemble lists of principles, I prefer to foster a level field where conversations among kind peers flourish. Kind not in the sense of being nice, but of being welcoming, helpful, and constructive. My most cherished critics, mentors, and colleagues were and are kind, but not all mince their words.

Finally, I also believe that a central goal of visualization is to benefit an audience somehow —and that this audience could be the designer alone. “Benefitting,” by the way, doesn’t always mean “getting the most information in as little time as possible.” That’s just one of the many purposes that a visualization may have.

To be concise, I’d argue that my discourse isn’t just pragmatic. It’s also pluralistic —if visualization is a language, many dialects are possible— and even a tad hedonistic*.

* I’ll break my self-imposed goal of avoiding footnotes to clarify what I mean by “hedonistic”. Hedonism has nothing to do with the contemporary vulgarization of the term, meaning sensory excess. Hedonism is a set of philosophical schools with ancient roots that, in broad terms, agree that pleasure —roughly equivalent to welfare and the diminishing of suffering— is a moral good (for some schools it’s the key moral good.) Whatever contributes to pleasant lives is generally considered more desirable than what doesn’t.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The training wheel approach to teaching visualization

Every semester I teach my regular introduction to information design and data visualization class (syllabus here.) Most students are data scientists, statisticians, engineers, interaction designers, plus a few communication and journalism majors.

At the beginning of the semester, many students are wary about their lack of visual design and narrative skills, and they are often surprised at how fast they can improve if they are willing to engage in intense practice and constant feedback. I'm not exaggerating when writing “intense”: an anonymous former student perfectly described the experience of taking my class in RateMyProfessors: “SO. MUCH. WORK”.

Indeed. The only way to learn a craft is to practice the craft nonstop.

My classes consist of three parts:

First month: lectures, readings, discussions, and exercises to master concepts, reasoning, and software tools. I don't grade these exercises, I simply give credit for completion, but I hint what grades students would receive if I did grade them.

Second month: Project 1. I give students a general theme and a client. This semester I chose The Economist magazine's Graphic Detail section, so a requirement for the project was that students tried to mimic its style. Once a week during this second month I give each student individualized advice on their progress prior to the deadline. I don't give most feedback after they turn their project in, but before.

Third month: Project 2. I give students complete freedom to choose a topic and a style. I also provide weekly feedback, but it's briefer and more general than on Project 1.

I sometimes think that my classes are similar to how we, people from older generations, learned to ride a bike. You can certainly try to do it without training wheels; it's faster, but it might also lead to crashes. Or you can begin with two training wheels —month one, where I guide students by the hand,— then one wheel —month two, although I still give tons of feedback,— and then no training wheels —month three, where students are almost on their own.

Below you can see some examples of what students can accomplish in just a couple of months of hard work. None of these are perfect, but I'm happy with the results. 

Note: I'm scaling down my presence on Twitter. You can add this blog to your RSS reader (let's go back to the good old days!) or follow me on Mastodon. If you don't have a Mastodon account, here's a guide to get started.

Read some updates on my work here.

Graphic by Runyu Da

Graphic by Luís Ángeles

Graphic by James McKenney

Graphic by Livia Brodie

Graphic by Luisa Gómez

Graphic by Nia James

Saturday, November 12, 2022

A few key paragraphs from 'The Art of Insight'

Here's the rough draft of a few key paragraphs from The Art of Insight:

I respect but also disagree with the Tuftean and Bertinian functionalist-realist discourse in visualization. In The infographic, Murray Dick says that the discourse I employ in all my writings—this book isn’t an exception— is pragmatist. He is correct; in fact, such label encapsulates the essence of my ideas beautifully.

Instead of a hierarchical, top-down professional landscape where self-proclaimed “thought leaders” cast their wisdom on the masses, I favor a horizontal world driven by conversations among kind and collegial peers—friends in the ancient philosopher’s sense of such term. I also believe that we must stop thinking about and teaching visualization in terms of “rules”, and more in terms of justification and reasoning.

This reasoning is driven by goals, constraints, trade-offs, and outcomes, informed by ever-imperfect and ever-evolving empirical evidence, conventions, and even personal experience and taste, and aimed at benefitting an intended audience.

I call this the hedonistic shift.

 If you want to read a bit more, I've also shared the draft of the first page of the book exclusively on Mastodon.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Bloomberg visualizes the shrinking Mississippi river

Chloe Whiteaker
shares the latest project by Bloomberg Visual Data, which explains what's happening to the Mississippi river:

“The Mississippi River — the immense, quiet highway that courses down the middle of America, moving critical food, wood, coal and steel supplies to global markets — is shrinking from drought, forcing traffic to a crawl at the worst possible time.”

The story contains several intricate visualizations, such as this “arterial sankey” —that's the term Chloe used— diagram. Three of these visualizations resemble rivers, which I guess is appropriate for the theme.

The most striking graphics in the story to me are also the simplest and most straightforward: a line graph of the increasing cost of shipping grain down the river, and a map of drought in the United States that also locates the Mississippi basin. Take a look at them.

UPDATE: Justin McCarty says that the main graphic in the story reminds him of an amazing 1960 visualization.

Note: I'm scaling down my presence on Twitter. You can add this blog to your RSS reader (let's go back to the good old days!) or follow me on Mastodon. If you don't have a Mastodon account, here's a guide to get started.

Read some updates on my work here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Who's the audience for our graphics? Not the people who need them the most

Disinformation in the United States is an asymmetrical phenomenon: prevalent and central to the political right, and peripheral elsewhere. Liberal and left-wing disinformation exists, but it's not as dominant, virulent, or violent.

It you are a conservative, the previous paragraph might make you cringe and stop reading; you might feel prompted to call me a left-wing partisan and ignore anything else I have to say—even if I'm hardly on “the left” on several matters.

You'll also ignore the multiple studies and books that warn against this phenomenon, calling them “biased”. This includes my own How Charts Lie.

That's the problem with stories such as this investigation by The New York Times. It describes how conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi spread on the right-wing alternative reality, fueled by politicians, online influencers, media personalities, and even the thin-skinned new owner of Twitter.

Who's the audience for this type of investigative reporting? Who will read it and explore its beautiful graphics, such as the long beeswarm plot that reveals the ebb and flow of conspiratorial narratives?

I bet it won't be the audiences who need to read it the most. They'll dismiss it before even taking a look at it—precisely because it was published by The New York Times.

Instead, the audience for stories like this is me —and most of you, I guess. But we aren't the ones who need to be told that it's scary that half of the U.S. population is being fed a systematic diet of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We know that already. Just yesterday I saw the famous podcaster Joe Rogan offering his massive platform to a white supremacist who is also one of the main superspreaders of disinformation against LGBTQ people in this country. Shame on Rogan; he ought to know better.

None of this is a reason to stop doing research, writing, denouncing, and visualizing relevant subjects such as disinformation. But it is a reason to think about how to reach seemingly unreachable or unpersuadable audiences. Maybe through education, new platforms, and new voices, but I'm hardly optimistic.

Note: I'm scaling down my presence on Twitter. You can add this blog to your RSS reader (let's go back to the good old days!) or follow me on Mastodon. If you don't have a Mastodon account, here's a guide to get started.

Read some updates on my work here.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Beauty as experience

There's a lot that I consider beautiful in The Art of Insight. Not the writing, which is casual, almost pedestrian, as in all my previous books, but the people I talked with and the work I'm showcasing.

My current understanding of beauty isn't classical, Platonic or Aristotelian —uppercase Beauty as a property of things,— but down-to-earth, pragmatic, relational, pluralistic —lowercase beauty as individual experience. I've read books that challenge such assumption. Among the best is Chloé Cooper Jones's Easy Beauty, a breathtaking memoir that I strongly recommend. Get it. You can thank me later.

Here's a dialogue:

“Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?”

“I don’t think anyone who says this knows what it means.”


“Or rather, it has a meaning no one believes. It’s a silencing sentence, one that reduces rather than explores one of the most exhilarating human experiences. The experience of beauty. What a shame”

And a reflection:

“[There's a] difference between defining beauty and defining what beauty does in the body. The latter question belongs to the realm of aesthetics, the study of bodies in proximity to beauty.”

(To me there isn't such a difference.)

Note: I'm scaling down my presence on Twitter. You can add this blog to your RSS reader (let's go back to the good old days!) or follow me on Mastodon. If you don't have a Mastodon account, here's a guide to get started.

Read some updates on my work here.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Back to blogging—with some updates

Hi everyone, it's been a while.

I'm back to blogging. How often? I don't know. We'll see how things go. What I know is that I'm going to prioritize this blog and my accounts on Mastodon and Linkedin, while making my Twitter presence fade away. There are way too many Nazis, homophobes, and transphobes on that platform.

A few updates:


I was supposed to finish writing The Art of Insight more than a year ago. My editors at Wiley have been extremely patient while I dealt with some serious personal matters.

I recently joked that The Art of Insight is my own The Winds of Winter: it's not just that it's delayed, or that it'll be finished after multiple delays; it's also that the more I write, the more I think it'll defy expectations. I like that. To give you an idea, a key section is titled 'Hedonism'.

The good news is that I've conducted nearly all interviews I had planned, and I'm writing at a fast pace. The book will be out in the Winter of 2023.


I feel that the The Art of Insight will be my last book dealing exclusively with visualization. I'll probably write more books in years to come, but they'll be about adjacent subjects. I want to write about probability and uncertainty, about notions of normality and normativity, and about amalgamation paradoxes and ecological fallacies —yes, I believe that there's an entire book waiting to be written about those.

Instead of writing about visualization myself, I'll keep encouraging other much more interesting voices to do so, coaching them, and even editing their work if they decide to publish it in CRC's AK Peters Visualization Series. I co-edit that series with Tamara Munzner.

If you have an idea for a book, let us know. We're here to help. You'll be in excellent company, sharing shelves with the likes of Neil Richards, Jen Christiansen, Nigel Holmes, Bongshin Lee et al., Samuel Huron et al., and many others.


Simon and I are releasing an episode of The Data Journalism Podcast roughly every three weeks. It's fun.


I've decided to stop traveling for work as much as I used to. If you want me to present at your conference or workshop, by all means contact me; just be aware that I'm being extremely selective with what I accept. If I can't make it, I promise I'll recommend someone better than me for you to invite.

I'm also working on bringing back some my own conferences, such as the Digital Humanities+Data Journalism Symposium. For those of you who miss the Malofiej Infographics conference, there might be news about that soon.


Once The Art of Insight is finished, my next project will likely be a tabletop game that I began developing a few years ago.

See you soon.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Announcing the Data Journalism Podcast

Simon Rogers and I have been working together for years, collaborating with data designers from all over the world in a long series of visualizations (see here and here;) we created that initiative because we share an interest in both data and in journalism.

It was only natural that this interest would eventually lead to the Data Journalism Podcast, which we've just launched. The teaser for the first episode is already available, and the podcast will be soon downloadable through Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, and other platforms.

As I say in this first program, this is an informal experiment we'll do every now and then in our spare time as an excuse to chat with people whom we admire. We're both amateur radio hosts, so the podcast will also be a learning experience for both of us.

In other words, forgive the glitches in this first episode. I hope you'll enjoy it!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Talking about data visualization in Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera's Tariq Nafi interviewed Mona Chalabi (who appears making one of her paintings!), myself, and some other people about how data visualization affects our perception of reality. Watch it below; the segment begins at around 14':

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Data Citizens, a new lecture series

I think I should apologize for not updating this blog more often. The semester has been extremely challenging and, on top of that, I'm at last working on my next visualization book—more news about that soon. I also keep drawing while-in-Zoom-meeting sketcheswhich are part of a semi-secret long-term side project not related to visualization—although it contains plenty of charts, timelines, maps, and illustrations.

Anyway, the topic of this post: the University of Miami's Institute for Data Science and Computingwhere I'm director of visualization, data communication, and information designhas just launched a new free distinguished lecture series with the title Data Citizens, which I co-organize. As some of my previous conferences (Data Intersections, for instance,) its goal is to be a multidisciplinary gathering that invites people from many different realms and disciplines.

The next virtual lecture is on Thursday, December 10th , and it's by Deborah Stone, author of the recent book Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters; I read it when it was just a draft and mentioned it in an earlier post. Deborah's talk is titled 'There’s No Such Thing as a Raw Number' and it's open to the public. See more details here and register for free.

Friday, September 25, 2020

'How Charts Lie': a few clarifications and edits

(Update 01/08/2020: you can now DOWNLOAD most figures from the book in high resolution and in two different color schemes.)


Page 44: where it says “people became richer or poorer” or “people in those countries contaminated more or less,” I think I'd add a qualifier such as “on average” just in case, as these are per capita numbers.

Page 73: the Richter scale is based on tenfold increments of wave amplitude. That's what I mean by “stronger”; in other words: it's not the possible energy released, which increases at higher rates.

Page 74: in the fictional example about gerbil population growth, I assumed that the parents die shortly after giving birth; otherwise, by the second generation we wouldn't have double the gerbils (8 children) but triple, a total of 12: 8 children and their 4 parents.

In general: whenever you see Kaplan-Meier charts in the book, assume that lines have been smoothed; actual Kaplan-Meier estimators create lines that look like staircases.

Page 129: where it reads “ex-Soviet” countries it should be “ex-communist” countries, which is more accurate.


If you read the first print edition of How Charts Lie you may notice a few printing and layout errors. These should have been corrected in the e-book already, and also for the paperback version, to be released in October of 2020. If you detect anything that looks strange other than these, please let me know.

On page 24 the transparency effects that should emphasize or hide parts of the charts disappeared between the galleys—where the graphic was perfect—and the final printing. Mysteries. Here's what that graphic should look like:

On page 45 the line corresponding to the United States didn't show when printed. Here's the graphic:

There's a minor issue with the gradient on the second bar of the chart on page 142: it doesn't fade to white. It should look like this:

A chart on page 116 is slightly misplaced.

On page 49, the second paragraph should read: “Imagine that a district's circle sits on the +20 line above the baseline. This means that Republicans lost 10 percentage points, which went to Democrats, for a total of +20 percentage point change in their favor (there weren't third-party candidates, I guess.)”

On page 92 there's a needless “is” in a sentence that should read “Unless a crime is premeditated...”

On page 104 there's an “s” missing at the end of “assess” (this one made me giggle.)

At the bottom of page 128 there's an “as” missing before “Assange”.

On page 157 there's a tiny label that should read MS instead of MI.

The last label on the Y-scale of the chart on page 172 should read “600” instead of “490”.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

U.S. version of the 'What if all COVID-19 victims where your neighbors?' project

The Washington Post has just published the U.S. version of the project I mentioned in the previous post: what if all victims of COVID-19 lived around you? Working with The Washington Post graphics folks was an honor and a pleasure. Here are all people involved (I copied this from the project page itself):

This is the U.S. version of a project originally created in Brazil, as a partnership by Agência Lupa and Google News Initiative.

Art direction by Alberto Cairo. Data and storytelling by Rodrigo Menegat. Design by Vinicius Sueiro and Vallery Nascimento. Development by Tiago Maranhão and Vinicius Sueiro. Distribution strategy by Gilberto Scofield Jr. Editing by Natália Leal. Google News Initiative: Simon Rogers and Marco Túlio Pires.

Additional editing by Ann Gerhart. Copy editing by Anne Kenderdine. Additional data support by Dan Keating. Additional design and development by Lucio Villa, Matt Callahan, Simon Glenn-Gregg and Armand Emamdjomeh.

Friday, July 24, 2020

New project: What if all COVID-19 victims were your neighbors?

The latest project I've art-directed for the Google News Initiative is titled No Epicentro (“At the Epicenter.”) It asks: what if all confirmed COVID-19 victims in Brazil were your neighbors?

No Epicentro has just been published by our media partner, Agência Lupa, and was developed by data journalists Tiago Maranhão, Rodrigo Menegat, and Vinicius Sueiro, with advice from Marco Túlio Pires.

No Epicentro is available just in Portuguese for now—there'll be an English version soon,—but you can run it through an automated translator, and it's very easy to understand anyway (Update August 3: the project now has an English version.). Learn more about the project in this article and in the making-of; the data and code are free to download.

Our goal was to make data feel a bit more personal: 93,000 people, the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Brazil at the moment of this writing, is a cold figure, something that makes the scope of the tragedy hard to grasp—please read Numbers and Nerves to learn about “statistical numbing”. But what if we force you, the reader, to imagine those 93,000 as people you know, see every day, or interact with?

Begin by typing any address in Brazil. This was mine when I lived in São Paulo:

No Epicentro then reveals more than 93,000 white dots—again, the number of COVID-19 deaths at the moment—inside a circle with your address as the center. The visualization uses census track data, so every white dot represents a person living around you; therefore, if you are in a densely populated area, the circle will be small, and if you are in the countryside, it'll be larger:

At any point you can generate a customized infographic with the map of the region where you live to share in social media:

Next, the visualization compares the number of COVID-19 deaths to the population of a city that is near you. In my case, it's Rio Grande da Serra. If all deaths had happened there, this city and some of its surrounding areas would have been wiped out:

No Epicentro ends with other comparisons, and it shows where COVID-19 deaths have actually been registered in Brazil:

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Visualizing police killings in Kenya

Missing Voices is a collaboration between numerous NGOs that tracks police killings, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions in Kenya.

The visualization firm OdipoDev, founded by designers Odanga Madung and Samer Costello, has created a data-driven story that displays their main figures (methodology page here). Missing Voices also contains a gallery of obituaries of every individual who's died at the hands of the police.

This is important work.