Mar 13, 2012
Oct 19, 2011

Data, Design, Meaning

Data, Design, Meaning

The ultimate goal of data visualization is to tell a story and supply meaning. There are tools and science that can inform your choice of data to present and how best to present it. We reflexively evaluate data and fit it into a narrative which aids decisionmaking; learn how to take advantage of this tendency in order to deliver meaning, not just numbers and charts.


Data visualization is a hot field right now—and for good reason. In our age of info-saturation, true value is found in distilling large amounts of data into a form that is easy to comprehend and act upon. This talk provides an overview of tools and techniques which you can use to level up your data presentation, regardless of application.

As humans, we are adept at evaluating visual information. From an early age, we learn to make inferences about things based on their visual properties—large and small, near and far, motion, direction, and other attributes. Taking advantage of the visual process we’ve been practicing since birth is an easy way to optimize delivery of your data into the brains of your audience.

Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to appeal to the part of our brains responsible for figuring out whether we can successfully hit an animal with a rock. A great visualization must appeal to our sense of beauty. Structure, layout, typography, and color are all tools which can be used (and abused) to delight your audience and direct their attention where you want it to go.

Whether you’re building an information dashboard for a webapp or presenting scientific data, an understanding of these techniques will make your data more accessible to your audience, and more of a delight to read and learn from.

Notes to the Organizers


  • Introduction
  • Telling stories with data, resources
    • Data-driven journalism
    • Miniseries, journalism in the age of data
    • Edward Tufte
    • Brian Suda, “Designing with Data”
  • Vision
    • How we perceive visual information
    • Visual triage: looking vs seeing
    • establishing relationships: position, orientation, etc.
    • visual defects: colorblindness
  • Increasing signal, reducing noise (reducing meta-information)
    • data-ink ratio
    • using and abusing color
    • … as applied to various common visualizations
    • chartjunk and other ways to misinform.
  • Design
    • choosing colors
    • typographical considerations
    • emphasis/deemphasis: establishing a visual hierarchy
    • guiding the viewer
  • Pulling it all together?
    • A practical example, if time permits.

About me

I’m Django’s “Benevolent Designer for Life”; as a core committer I’m responsible for issues which touch on the needs of frontend developers as well as anything which can be improved through design.

As a designer/developer hybrid, I’ve spoken at three DjangoCons, including my recent keynote address at DjangoCon US 2011. I’ve also spoken numerous times at local python and web development meetups.

My DjangoCon talks and related materials are online at

Talk length

While a talk like this can be trimmed to fit a 30-minute slot, the example-oriented nature makes it a much nicer talk in the longer slots.

Oct 19, 2011

Jul 10, 2010

The Irony of Javascript’s Name

Javascript has almost nothing to do with Java (the language). Its name was chosen in the wake of mid-90’s Java-mania, probably by some marketing droids.

Ironic that so many years later, it is Javascript which is the true “write once, run anywhere” language. Yes, Java has succeeded, but the humble web browser, sans plugins of any sort, is the most widely-installed virtual machine on the planet, full stop.

Jun 2, 2010

Annoying people who feel the need to give us parenting advice in the street

  1. Them: (sees our girl asleep in the baby carrier) She can't breathe in there!
  2. Us: That's ok, we can always make more.
  3. Them: (sees our girl asleep in the baby carrier) She can't breathe in there!
  4. Us: Yeah, we kinda wanted a boy anyways.
  5. Them: (sees our girl asleep in the baby carrier) She can't breathe in there!
  6. Us: Oh my gosh! We didn't realize that! It's so lucky you came and told us after she's spent a hundred hours in there. To think, if she'd just spent another few minutes, she might have died! Thank you!
  7. Them: (sees our girl asleep in the baby carrier, open their mouths)
  8. Us: *run away*.
Jun 1, 2010

Sadly, the embedded flash title slide is a bit corrupted. You can download the original PDF on from scribd, or view it on their site in their fancy-pants HTML5 mode.

Jun 1, 2010

My “Design for Developers” talk at from DjangoCon Europe (Berlin, May 2010)

May 27, 2010

No, I did not design this theme

I just customized the masthead with my branding. Kudos to for the original theme.

May 27, 2010
There once was a hacker named Gaynor,
who was given a bottle of Jäeger,
“If four shots you can drink,”
Jacob said with a wink,
You’ll get your commit bit, later.
Apr 26, 2010

140 characters is not a lot of bandwidth

I caught myself desiring a venue for writing about topics that won’t fit into 140 characters, yet again.

I could wait another decade and write my own django-based blog, or I could just customize a tumblr theme and get on with life. Better yet, I can use a vanilla tumblr theme and deal with the pretty tomorrow.

Speaking of customizations, it looks like people are more than capable of creating some beautiful blogs using tumblr. I’ll give it a shot.

Designer, Developer, Djangonaut, Geek Subscribe via RSS.