By Sean Slavin, Visual Designer

Data scientists and visual designers from across the globe gathered at Visualized in New York City on February 6th and 7th. Among the 25+ keynote speakers were artists, musicians, mapmakers, engineers, and even live drone operators who joined forces to discuss and to display innovative techniques and perspectives on data visualization. Here are our four main takeaways:


Produce pieces that are easily remembered.

When working with large or complex data sets, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s important to remember the reason why infographics exist – for data to be presented in an appealing and, more importantly, a digestible way. Moreover, Giorgia Lupi, Italian information designer and PhD candidate, proclaimed that infographics should be easy for anyone to recall, citing a cute anecdote about her grandmother who loves her “artwork with candlesticks.”

It is possible to design before getting any data.

A common theme among information designers is an appreciation for art and for creative development. But, part of what makes data visualization an actual commodity is the ability to really push creative limits and make something that just provides information look truly remarkable. Sebastian Pierre of FFunction, a visualization studio based in Montreal, commended the notion of creating visually appealing work even before considering the data. Illustrating striking imagery as an anticipatory measure can help shape the visualization and, in turn, help tell the appropriate story.

Sometimes a bar graph is just a bar graph.

Kim Rees of Periscopic shocked the room when she proclaimed “I hate storytelling” and stressed that data presentation isn’t always about delivering a story. For her, a bar graph is sometimes simply a bar graph, with numbers and data that can be compelling enough on their own. Periscopic hit mainstream when they released their interactive visualization on U.S. gun deaths – clearly a powerful enough project in which the data speaks for itself. But, it was a nice reminder from Rees to, when necessary, take a step back and not try to force a story.

Provide the insight, THEN dig into the data.

What is actually capable in the realm of data visualization and information design is truly amazing. (Case in point: Alexander Chen.) However, it’s easy for the viewing audience to be overwhelmed with the density and the complexity of an infographic. Mike Pell of Microsoft reinforced the importance of knowing the difference between telling a story and clarifying a story, and noted that we must always be cognizant of the “moment of clarity.” Pell suggests starting small – provide the insight at a glance and then gradually show more; like a Transformer, be elegant at rest yet powerful when deployed.