Using principles from Edward Tufte's book Visual Explanations, create an informational graphic that makes a point or argument by visualizing a set of data. In essence, this graphic will both present the data (with numbers and words) and also visualize the most relevant relationships among that data (e.g., distances, locations, time, change, etc.).

Creating the Graphic

Use Photoshop to create the graphic, which you will post to the Web. We will learn all the necessary skills in class to do this.

Making a Point or Argument

You should choose your topic, select your data, and present the graphic intentionally to make a point or argument. If you were writing a "persuasive essay," you would have a position, action, or conclusion that you were advocating. You are doing the same thing with this assignment, but making your argument through visually rather than verbally.

Layers, Variables, Data Points

Graphics should include multiple variables or layers: for example, a bus route graphic could simultaneously show locations, times, routes, daily repetitions. On page 56 of his book, Tufte discusses a single magic-trick illustration with ten layers of information. Combined, the variables on your graphic(s) should include 20 data points (10 instances of 2 variables would be 20 data points).


These graphics should be quantified--that is, should include numbers, distances, times, etc. as appropriate--using Tufte's three techniques of direct labels, encodings and self representing scales (13).

Visualizing the Data

As Edward Tufte explains in his book, visualizing data means placing verbal or numberical language in a visual field so that the relationships among the variables are evident spatially (that is, in visual space). The use of visual quantities (sizes, distances, etc.) should be proportionately accurate and not "juiced up."

At the bottom of your graphic, you should include documentation of the source of your data (e.g., a book, Web site, magazine, personal observation) cited in MLA format.


The project, though primarily visual, should have a brief introductory statement explaining its purpose.

All quantities should be repeated in a table beneath the visual presentation. Create this table in Word, Excel, or some other program you know, then use the "Prt Scr" button to copy screen image into Photoshop, and then crop the table itself into a layer of your project.

Visuals should be primarily your own work in Excel and Photoshop, or modified extensively from some other source. (Be sure to cite all sources of either data or visuals.)

Printout and Commentary

Submit an printout and commentary of the Web-based graphic. See the syllabus for details on the printouts and commentaries.

Key Terms

  • rhetoric: Artistotle defined rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion."
  • visual rhetoric
  • data points
  • documentation
  • direct labels / encodings / self-representing scales,
  • informationally flat or rich graphics (The Onion homelessness example)
  • dequantification / quantification (severe storm example)
  • the art and science of scaling (sunspot example)
  • variables
  • displaying causality (cause and effect) vs. descriptive narration
  • aggregation (of data)
  • evidence (vs. numbers)
  • selection of data (defining terms of the decision)
  • chartjunk
  • order
  • enforcing comparisons
  • "multivariate" nature of analytic problems
  • "precise seeing is precise thinking"





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