A colleague recently asked me for any publicly available, free resources they might use to up their data visualization game. There’s obviously a great big world out there of great resources to help you on your way to being an effective data communicator. Personally, there are certain blogs, tools, and resources that bubble to the top and which I regularly suggest to people. I also regularly check out certain news organizations for their data visualization work—I’ll publish a follow-up post soon with those I follow most closely.
I haven’t included a list of books here because, with some exceptions, you need to purchase them. That being said, there are a number of excellent books on data collection, analysis, and communication. You can check out the list I have on PolicyViz or, if you want to make it faster and just do some shopping on Amazon, you can check out my Amazon collection.
I know I’ve left some people off these lists. Those omissions are not intended as a slight or insult, or to say their work is not valuable, it’s just that these are the ones I use the most and that I recommend to others. If you’d like to add to the list, feel free to use the comment area below. Everything here is sorted alphabetically.
One of the best, cheapest ways to get better at visualizing and communicating your data is blogs. The first five blogs I’ve listed here publish more regularly than some of the others I include at the end of the list. There are a few tools-specific blogs listed at the end as well (of which there are so many, it’s hard to know where to start). These are just the blogs that I regularly try to keep up with; there are many others that you might find useful as well.
- Depict Data Studio. Ann Emery’s stuff is great, especially if you want to learn how to create better, more effective reports.
- Datawrapper. Lisa Charlotte Muth is the primary blogger here and the content is always amazing. The content is not specific to the Datawrapper tool.
- Flowing Data. Nathan Yau sends out a daily example of a data visualization. I’m also a member of Flowing Data ($100 for the year), which gives me access to additional written content plus tutorials in D3, R, and Excel (often written by others).
- Nightingale (from the Data Visualization Society). Collaborative effort from a variety of folks in the data visualization field. If you’re interested in blogging about your data visualization journey but don’t want the hassle of hosting your own site, you might want to reach out to the editors here.
- Storytelling with Data. Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s site is one of the tops in the field and the recent addition of the SWD “challenges” and “community” (see below) are great community-based additions to the platform.
- Cedric Scherer (R)
- PeltierTech (Excel)
- VizWiz (Tableau)
I’ve noticed recently that the number and quality of data visualization and data-related newsletters has grown. Many of the blogs above have specific newsletters you can sign up for, there are a few others that I have found to be really terrific.
- A11y Weekly. “A weekly dose of web accessibility to help you bring it into your everyday work.” Great newsletter dealing with everything around digital accessibility. Some of the content–like stuff on backend web stuff–is beyond me, but there is at least one link every week that is definitely worth reading.
- Cool Infographics. Infographics are not dead (as much as some people may want them to be!). Randy Krum—author of the book Cool Infographics—has one of the longest-running blogs in the data visualization field and his newsletter includes great links to existing work, events, and his own write ups. I think it’s the only newsletter I have continually subscribed to since I got started in the field.
- Datawrapper. I mentioned the blog above and the tool below, but they also have a good weekly roundup of good data visualizations they see around the web.
- Data at Urban. I’m one of the editors of the always-awesome Data at Urban blog from researchers at the Urban Institute. The blog features a behind-the-scenes look at social science research and data visualization at Urban. If you sign up for the Data at Urban newsletter, you can also sign up for other great Urban content.
- Off the Charts. From the graphics team at the Economist magazine, they give a great behind-the-scenes look at their work and workflow. My favorite was one newsletter that argued that the R programming language was the best data visualization tool, which caused quite a stir until the next newsletter that argued Python was the best data visualization tool. Clever clever.
- Flowing Data. I mentioned Nathan Yau’s site above, but his newsletter is worth signing up for. He sends a daily email to highlight a visualization, book, or project plus, if you register for the paid version ($100/year), he sends an occasional longer post about his process, tools, and more.
- How to Read this Chart. Relatively new newsletter from Philip Bump at the Washington Post, this newsletter is packed with good links and, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at Bump’s process for writing and creating graphs.
- The Why Axis. Author, former Washington Post journalist, and Philip Bump foil (in a fun way), Chris Ingraham’s new (almost daily) newsletter is basically a version of his work on the Wonkblog from years ago. He finds an interesting story with interesting data and usually—though not always—has a good graph. There’s a free version and a paid version.
Maybe the best way you can get better at the craft of data visualization is to just create more data visualizations. Practice, get feedback, and practice some more. There are several projects and platforms that will either facilitate discussion and feedback on your own visualizations or provide you with data for you to use to create your own visualizations. You can also use social media to do something similar, but, as we all know, it can get a little mean out there.
- Back to Viz Basics. This is a new Tableau project being run by Eric Balash. I don’t think it’s intended to replace Makeover Monday, which is on a (permanent?) hiatus, but I’m doing the bi-weekly challenges to up my Tableau skills.
- Data Visualization Society Slack channel. The DVS Slack has a ‘practice’ channel where you can solicit advice and feedback. I’m not currently in the Slack (too many other channels!) but it’s worth checking out for advice. Keep in mind that there is a paid tier for DVS membership, but Slack access is included in the free version.
- HelpMeViz (Anything). I built this project a few years ago, but it never really took off. The idea was to enable people to solicit help and advice by posting a draft visualization and their data. I still maintain it and still hope to see folks use it.
- Makeover Monday (Tableau). On hiatus for a bit, I think the Makeover Monday project is a model for how to do this sort of community-based practice projects. It takes a lot of work to run, which is probably why several people have tried helping organize/run it and why it’s currently on hiatus. You can still view old challenges and try your hand.
- Storytelling with Data (Anything). The SWD site has a variety of community-based efforts in which you can practice and get feedback on your efforts.
- Tidy Tuesday (R). Similar to Makeover Monday but geared to the R community. There’s a Github repo where you can try new and old challenges.
One of the ways I try to grow and improve how I visualize data is to see what others are doing. Some of the entries in this list are data portals and have associated visualizations along with them; others are just collections that I think are worth regularly visiting. I’ll publish an entirely separate post on some of the media organizations I regularly pay attention to for ideas and inspiration.
- Census Bureau Infographics and Visualizations
- Data Visualization Catalogue
- ERS Charts of Note
- Information is Beautiful
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
- Our World in Data
- PolicyViz Data Visualization Catalog
- Pew Research Center
- Reddit (DataIsBeautiful)
- Tableau Public
- Visual Capitalist
- Visualising Data Quarterly Roundups
I published a list of data visualization tools last week that goes into more detail about these and other tools, but in case you just want a list, here you go. Again, there are many more tools out there, but these are the ones I suggest to folks.
- Datawrapper (some pricing for teams/pro options)
- Flourish (some pricing for teams/pro options)
- PowerBI (not free per se, but comes with the Microsoft 365 suite, which basically everyone has)
- Tableau Public (free version with limitations)
There are a lot of ways to practice and improve your data visualization skills. I’ve always maintained the way to get better at visualizing data is to just, well, visualize your data. No blog, book, or podcast is going to give you everything you need to be an expert in the field. They’ll of course help you learn best practices (and when to break the rules) or how to create visualizations in specific tools, but you can’t do any of that without creating something—and then getting feedback. Keep learning, keep trying, and you’ll succeed.