Last week I spoke at a joint data visualization Meetup group to more than 200 people from around the world. Randy Krum from CoolInfographics was kind enough to set up a joint Meetup event with 11–yes, 11!!–different Meetup groups from around the United States. For this event, I developed a new talk about creating a data visualization style guides, a topic I commit an entire chapter to in my recent book, Better Data Visualizations.

Map showing the eleven cities participating in the April Meetup event.

I focused on three main themes in the talk:

  • Why have a style guide?
  • What should your style guide include?
  • How do you develop your style guide?

I then tied these themes together to talk about the original design and current redesign of the Urban Institute data visualization style guide.

I’ve written about these issues in the past (see, for example, here, here, and here), but one question caught my ear during the Q&A section of the evening:

How should an organization get started developing a data visualization style guide?

This is such an important question. You might strongly believe a data visualization style guide would help you and your organization be more effective and consistent, but how do you get started?

Like many other issues that come with introducing better data visualization practices to an organization, I think the best way to success is demonstrating how to move forward. In this case, if you can create a simple style guide–basic colors, font, standard placement, and maybe even create a template in your data visualization tool–you can show your colleagues, managers, and others how a style guide can be beneficial.

Demonstration is everything

I don’t think you need to go all the way and include all eight sections in your style guide that I talked about in my talk, as I show in the slide below, but at least setting up the core elements of a style guide can help you demonstrate its value. You could even borrow the styles in an existing style guide just to demonstrate how it might look at your organization. While culture change can be hard, in this case, I think these kind of style guides can have immediate and obvious positive effects on consistency and productivity.

PowerPoint slide showing the recommended eight parts of a data visualization style guide

If you’d like to learn more about how to create and iterate on your own style guide, you can download the PDF copy of my slides and you can watch my talk below, on my YouTube page, or over at the DFW Data Visualization Meetup YouTube page.

I’ve written more about this topic in this week’s PolicyViz newsletter. If you’d like to get more details on this and other topics, and behind-the-scenes peak into PolicyViz, please consider signing up. If you’d like me to speak at your group or organization about how to develop a data visualization style guide, please get in touch.