Tag Archives: design

Applying human centered design to data visualization

Jeff Knezovich over at On Think Tanks posted some great reflections from his recent trip to the Cartanga Data Festival, breaking down why data viz isn’t just a science but also an art. Data science alone, with its emphasis on statistics, code, and often technology, can’t develop the kind of simple yet artful visualizations that we find on feature blogs like Information is Beautiful or in reports to Ministries of Health that effectively advocate for new health facilities.

One of the highlights of his post was insight into how he approaches data visualization training and design as a discipline that requires expertise in research, technology, design, and communication.  Jeff unpacks (with some great resource links!) the importance of design from a visual and graphical sense, but I would argue that data viz design requires a certain level of understanding of the human experience of interacting with information. Who is your audience? How do they interact with information? What is their level of numeric literacy? How much do they care about the information you’re trying to communicate?

My team has been exploring human centered design (HCD) methods through our work on the Innovations for Maternal, Newborn,, and Child Health Initiative*. At the core, HCD focuses on developing an empathy with the beneficiaries of a program. In visualization design, identifying an audience for your visualization and keeping them at the center of your design process is key to creating something that makes information meaningful.

Applying these principles of design need not be onerous or feel intimidating for data visualization designers (though the facilitation guides and experts in this space can go deep in more involved program design). Next time you’re crafting something visual from a data set, think about these three things:

  1. Who am I creating this for? As yourself this question repeatedly throughout the design process, not just at the very beginning. Understand both what they say they need from your analysis, but also their latent needs and expectations. If you’re working on a more complex project, like developing a dashboard, creating personas for your different users could be very helpful.
  2. Prototype (sketch!), test, and iterate. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your users or at the very least your colleagues throughout the design process. And don’t be afraid to make changes!
  3. How will my audience use this product? How will your audience feel when they see your graph, chart, infographic, video, or dashboard? How they will interpret and use the data analysis you’ve presented? These considerations are key to ensuring your visualizations are used to promote evidence-led decision making.

Have you deliberately applied principles of human centered design in your data viz design? Share your experiences & learning in the comments!

*The Innovations Initiative is led by Concern Worldwide and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. JSI serves as the global research partner for the project.

Global Health Mini U Resource Round Up #2

For those who have been eagerly awaiting resources that we used in our session, here they are, along with a few bonuses!

From our activities:

To learn about how storyboarding can help you visualize data as a team, check out the this summary from Amanda Makulec (JSI). Participants in the session talked about how the process helped to underscore the importance of defining your audience up front in order to drive what you pick as your key messages, and that the exercise was a great way to collaborate with a team to create a common vision for a visualization product.

For more on simple data viz best practices, check out this Building Your Viz Checklist from Erica Nybro (DHS Program) that can help you evaluate your visualization. It’s amazing how much you can improve a graph or chart with a few simple tweaks like decluttering by deleting excess lines and tick marks or using color strategically.

Bonus! And in case you’re interested in more resources, check out our Love Your Data and Free Viz Tools handouts from earlier presentations. For a more detailed deep dive on viz, check out the Data+Design eBook.

Free design tools: Piktochart & Canva

One of the challenges I’ve seen teams face is not having graphics expertise readily available to assist with final design of a beautiful visualization, particularly when it’s an infographic that requires curating graphs, charts, text and icons together to make a meaningful visual.

Piktochart is a personal favorite for creating infographics from existing templates (see examples below)  or designing with their various frame features (plus, their $40 annual Pro subscription for non-profit users is a steal!).  Their templates can be great inspiration for different ways   layout your data story.


For punchy smaller images and a larger library of icons and photos, I’ve also started trying out Canva, an online design tool (in open Beta) that allows you to create professional-looking graphics and guides t you with various visual best practices as you work.  Giving the striking similarity between Piktochart & Canva, I suspect there may be some connection between the two…

Susan Kistler has a nice summary review of Canva over on TheSmartestOne and there are some notes, features, and examples of a few other web-based design tools (Easel.ly & Infogr.am) in this Infographic Tools Slidedeck.

Have you used any of these free web-based design tools before? Have great examples of what you created, or challenges you ran into in the process? Share in the comments below!

Designing the Women’s Resources Infographic

The recently released “Women’s Lives and Challenges” report from The DHS Program features 3 infographics summarizing the major findings in women’s empowerment, experience with violence, and control.  Each infographic focuses on women in a different part of the world.  All the visuals in the report are available on Pinterest.


Designing these infographics was a challenging process.  We needed to represent women from 3 regions (Latin America, Africa, and Asia), we needed to capture a lot of indicators over time, and we were dealing with very sensitive subject matter, such as domestic violence.

This project really proved that designing infographics takes a team:  the researchers who know the data and always want to accurately represent the numbers; the communicators who know how to pull a simpler story out of hundreds of tables; and designers who find creative ways to illustrate complex themes.

Development of these infographics also reminded us that data visualization for development poses some unique hurdles:  fantastic graphic designers in the U.S. may not have a feel for what homes in Africa look like, or what women in the developing world go shopping for; their visualization would not ring true in many DHS countries.

After several rounds of adjustments, the DHS team is pleased with the outcome.  What do you think? How would you visualize these data?