Information Design


Print Design

Presenting Data Better

Far too many data graphics are cluttered and unclear, dictated by the default settings of statistical and graphing software. One solution is to go back to first principles: what is the story this graph is telling? How much actual data can I show in it? How much surplus ink can I eliminate? Another is by changing our workflow: graphics were once all hand-crafted, not generated by computers. Finally, we can use basic graphic design principles of colour, contrast, and minimising the work the reader needs to do.

Better data graphics make presentations easier to follow, papers more understandable, grant proposals more convincing, and journal editors happier.


  1. Why make a data graphic?
    What is the story being told? Who to? What’s the best tool? Explanatory or exploratory?
  2. Workflow
    Beginning on paper. Setting better templates and defaults. Picking a drawing program for editing. File formats and resolution. Meeting a journal’s requirements.
  3. Dumping furniture
    How to maximise the ink and pixels devoted to data, not explanation.
  4. Conveying difference
    The repertoire of tools available: size, orientation, shape, line type, thickness, pattern, gradient, shade.
  5. Human-readable
    Redesigning and translating each axis, caption, and legend to minimise the number of interpretive steps for the reader.
  6. Direct labels
    Moving explanations out of the text to “active captions” to the graph itself: the data can even become its own label.
  7. Show the data
  8. Colour should be our last choice
    Colours don’t looks the same to everyone, and doesn’t survive printing and copying.
  9. Intuitive colour scales
    If colour is used, picking a good palette and avoiding the “scientist’s rainbow”.
  10. Small multiples
    Breaking one complex layered graph into multiple comparisons.

Who is this for?

Researchers and academics who want to prepare their own data graphics for print or the Web, and have some experience with statistical software, but no formal design training.

Time (two options)

A. Presentation: 60 min presentation, with optional 30 min practical (ideally, using graphics submitted in advance by attendees). [Starts at NZ$350+GST]

B. Workshop: 3 hour practical workshop with tea break, combining a presentation and makeover exercises. [Contact me to discuss rates]