Applying basic design principles, Part 7: Reviewing decisions on chart type and purpose

This article is part of a series that illustrates how basic design principles can improve information display. In the last installment, we thought through the purpose and context for a dashboard that we are redesigning. Up next, we will dive into revamping the content. Today, we’ll examine the charts themselves.

Before beginning a redesign, it’s good practice to take a moment to pause and look closely at the original chart choices to get a sense of what is (and isn’t) working well. We laid out some good, basic considerations for optimizing the styling of chart displays in a previous post


Applying basic design principles, Part 6: A look at how dashboard purpose and content intersect.

This article is part of a series that illustrates how basic design principles can improve information display. The previous installments focused on understanding the audience and context for your chart, and its core purpose. Here, we will take a look at how those considerations affect content decisions for the dashboard that we began redesigning in part 2.

A school district dashboard, showing performance statistics for various programs
A school district dashboard, showing performance statistics for various programs
A slightly cleaned up version of the dashboard from Part 2, showing performance statistics.

As a first step toward redesigning the charts and information display, today, we’re going to focus on understanding the audience and purpose for this dashboard. …


Applying basic design principles, Part 5: Defining what you want to accomplish with your visualization

This is the fifth in a series of articles that illustrate how basic design principles can improve information display. The previous article focused on how your audience can influence your chart design. Here, we’ll dig deeper into the chart as a method of communication, and the different purposes that it can serve.

Once you understand the audience and broader context for a visualization, it is time to dig deeper into the purpose of the visualization itself. What goals is it helping you to achieve? What are you trying to communicate? …


Applying basic design principles, Part 4: Defining the context and the audience for a data visualization

This is the fourth in a series of articles that illustrate how basic design principles can improve information display. The previous article focused on cleaning up the details of chart design. Here, we’ll talk about how to define the audience for your chart.

Black and white photo of a crowd of people
Black and white photo of a crowd of people
Start by defining the audience that you want to reach. Image source.

People often come to me wanting to know which visualization is the best one for their situation. Before you pick a chart type or visualization approach, it’s important to understand the context in which the chart will be used. …


Applying basic design principles, Part 2: Using clear formatting to support information display

This is the second in a series of articles that illustrate how basic design principles can improve information display. In the previous article, we looked at how whitespace can improve the overall clarity and readability of a restaurant menu. In the next installment, we will look at the details of chart design. Here, we’ll use small changes to whitespace and text hierarchy to improve the overall design of a data dashboard.

This example is an actual dashboard that I found online, redrawn and edited to anonymize the information:

This image shows a performance dashboard for an imaginary school district, with several charts and tables.
This image shows a performance dashboard for an imaginary school district, with several charts and tables.

This article focuses on the page layout and text hierarchy, to show…


Applying basic design principles, Part 1: Using the space between items to make clearer design

This is the first in a series of articles that illustrate how basic design principles can improve information display. The next installment will apply some of these same principles to a visualization dashboard.

Common punctuation marks. Image source.

“How do you use whitespace?”

This is one of the most frequent questions that I get as a designer, especially from people who need to create information-dense displays like a dashboard or interactive display. Whitespace is the blank area between items on the page, and it is very important in helping information feel clear, organized, and accessible.

Whitespace is the punctuation between visual elements. In the same way that a pause between…


Applying basic design principles, Part 3: Details of chart display

This is the third in a series of articles that illustrate how basic design principles can improve information display. Previous articles focused on whitespace and establishing page hierarchy, and the next will discuss different considerations for choosing between chart types. Here, we’ll get into the details of how to optimize a chart display.

“Good information design works like a tour guide, telling the user what matters most and where to go from here.”

Every design system is the result of competition between different constraints. You may need to adhere to specific space constraints or charting libraries, support a particular kind…


Charts and graphs have a job to do: the secret is knowing when they are (and aren’t) on the job

As a data vis designer living in both the art and data worlds, I sometimes hear that I should “just go wild” or “let my hair down” to produce more exciting, visually engaging graphics that feel more fun. On the other hand, I also hear that data visualization is a serious discipline with a purpose, where clarity and accurate interpretation trump all other concerns.

So, which is it? (Spoiler: maybe both!)

Some of my recent explorations in playful data encodings. Photo credit: Branden Gunn.

The difference between data vis and data art

To me, data vis is like a guide dog: staid, disciplined, and faithfully focused on the task at hand. Data vis has a job to do. Data art is…

Erica Gunn

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store