#datavizlive online
May 28, 2020

So much more to learn at the first #datavizlive online, chair’s reflections

By Paul Laughlin

This week, I had the pleasure of chairing the first-ever #datavizlive online event. Following on from the excellent #datavizlive conference in London earlier this year (which I’ve shared previously).

It was an interesting experience as a chairperson, using Microsoft Teams rather than seeing a physical audience. You can’t feed off the audience in the same way, but I was glad of the live Q&A functionality.

This event was again delivered by Tucana Global. They also took the sensible step of investing in a tech team to coordinate speakers, chairs & media behind the scenes. I was also able to direct the audience to a wealth of teams & channels to explore, including exhibitions and networking.

But, rather than sharing more on my experience as the chair, let me share some insights gained from the excellent speakers. We had presenters participating from across the globe, so below I’ve shared a few takeaways that stayed with me.

No offence is intended to others whom I may not mention. Put that down to my memory, or the fact I was only able to attend one of the streams through the middle of a great educational day. Anyway, here are 3 of my memories…

Establishing habits to create a culture of good design

We started our day hearing from Australia. Fi Gordon & Simon Beaumont from JLL shared how they had created a data visualisation culture there.

Having previously praised the book Atomic Habits” by James Clear, it was fascinating to see how many of his lessons on embedded habits were revealed here. The visibility of their guidelines & showcases, the ease of using templates, the peer support of internal groups & peer reviews.

They also shared some useful advice on considering the use of colour and design principles to establish consistent standards. Plus, how eye tracking helped them win the case for breaking ‘brand guidelines‘ to achieve more effective dashboards. Resulting in some beautiful Tableau dashboards.

Insight for me: Put as much focus on psychology and embedding new habits in your analyst community, as you do no technical training.

Here’s Fi’s website to explore further her take on Data Viz:


Understanding visual design and the principles to guide you

Next, we heard from Emma Cosh in London. You may recall that I praised Emma’s talk in my review of the London event. This one was even better, plus the accompaniment of some beautiful birdsong in the background.

As a professional artist & designer, Emma provided a useful design principles education for attendees. She walked us through Gestalt principles and pre-attentive attributes and then brought the theory to life with examples. This was so much more valuable than reading a textbook.

So many of the lessons reminded me of design advice in Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, but Emma went deeper into the implications of each Gestalt principle. One of her most popular tips was the use of a consistent design grid as a wireframe to guide your design.

Insight for me: There may well be trade offs needed, but understand the principles you seek to follow & have a design grid to prompt decisions.

Here’s Emma’s website to enjoy more of her design approach:

Emma G. Cosh

Comic maker and illustrator

Public data provision & visualisation needs to improve

One of the most heartfelt presentations of the day came from Xaquín González Viera. He shared examples of how public data has either been missing or poorly visualised during the peak of COVID19 cases in Spain. The international comparisons were not favourable and made me feel grateful for the work of The ONS in the UK, if not some of the daily briefing charts.

His wider point was relevant for all attendees. That you need to make public data visible to make it usable. Unless it is visualised in a way that people can understand, then all the apparent progress on ‘open data‘ is worthless. Challenging us with a beautiful example from Singapore.

He also shared a useful high-level process of Collect > Analyse > Visualise > Communicate. Making the case that senior meetings in governments (like COBRA in the UK) need someone around the table thinking about each step.

Insight for me: Don’t just accept the gaps in public data or poor representations. The Data Viz community needs to challenge & expect more, for the good of a functioning democracy

Here’s Xaquín’s website, to explore more of his important visualisations:

xocas /SHAWK-us/is a hypocoristic form of Xaquín /shah-KEEN/

I recently led the Visuals desk at The Guardian – a cross-disciplinary experiment of graphics, interactive, multimedia and picture editors. Before that I worked at National Geographic, The New York Times, Newsweek and El Mundo. My most recent obsession are emotional connections in data-driven visual storytelling. I moonlight as a chef.

More to come as DataVizLive online gets communal, ethical & political

Rather than publish a long post again, I will stop there for now. In part 2 of my briefing on the excellent event, I will share 3 more highlights that stay with me. I hope they all give you food for thought or at least prompt you to read mode from these excellent Data Viz communicators.

I hope this marks the start of even more online events of such quality. It really could give us all the chance to hear from the best experts & practitioners from around the world, whilst comfortable at home.

Once published, you can get access to the slides and videos of each talk by going to the #DataVizLive online site & buying Premier membership. Plus, some content will be available for free:

DataVizLive – Online | Data Visualisation Online Conference, May 2020

Be a part of this event, and join the growing movement of DataViz professionals that are driving business forward. If you’re not ready to join just yet, let us know where to reach you, and we’ll keep you in the loop – you’re welcome to join any time.