The New York Times’ process for data visualization

Friday afternoon Matt Ericson of The New York Times presented “Visualizing the News,” a session explaining how the graphics department approaches data visualization and information design.

Here are nine key takeaways from his talk.

1. Report and research

Ericson asked the audience to think about what information they have and what information they should have when they create graphics.

He encouraged designers to find necessary data sets on their own, instead of “just relying on a reporter for that information.”

“You develop interesting visual ideas as you realize what’s available,” Ericson said.

2. Sketch with data

Ericson said to make 500 charts and then pick the graphic that displays the education best.

3. Tell a story with the graphic

Data contains interesting information, and he encouraged designers to tell those stories. He recommended creating a storyboard to plan for the graphics.

4. Consider the graphic’s purpose.

He said graphics can give an overall impression or focus on the specifics, and it’s important to know their purposes before creating them.

5. Make the graphic as clear as possible.

Ericson said to simplify the graphic within reason. He encouraged designers to ask themselves if it’s possible to remove noise and clutter from the graphics.

6. Analyze possible forms.

He said when designers create data visualizations, they should think creatively and explain the information so that it resonates with readers. This way, the readers can “visually experience” the information.

7. Paint a clear picture.

Ericson said to consider how people will perceive the information. While you want to make the data interesting and engaging, he said it must be portrayed in an honest way.

8. Integrate with story.

Ericson said when people read through a story, visuals should appear at the corresponding time. He showed examples of projects that incorporated photography and multimedia to further tell the story.

“As you read through the story, you get this sense of being there than if you had to read the story first and then view the slideshow,” Ericson said.

9. Engage and delight.

To conclude, he challenged the audience to use interesting visual tools to engage readers.

“The world would be boring if there were just bar charts and scatterplots,” Ericson said.