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January 19, 2013

Developing a visualization concept solution – The Andy Kirk way


Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending Andy Kirk’s full-day ‘Introduction to Data Visualisation’ training course with four of my colleagues from Facebook.  If you don’t know Andy, he’s the person behind the excellent data viz website Visualising Data and author of the new book ‘Data Visualization: a successful design process’ (I get my hands on a copy sometime next week).  If Andy’s ever in your area (or your company is ok with a bit of travel expense), I highly recommend his course.

In the course, Andy outlines an five-step design methodology:

  1. Establishing purpose and identifying parameters
  2. Acquire, prepare and explore your data to begin familiarisation
  3. Establish editorial focus about your subject matter
  4. Conceive your visualisation design
  5. Construct, launch and evaluate your visualisation solution

After each of these steps there’s a hands-on group exercise to put each methodology into practice.  The final exercise, “Develop a visualisation concept solution”, required us to take a set of data that was a bit messy (I think Andy did this intentionally but he wouldn’t admit to it), and apply all of the lessons we learned to improve this viz (click on it to make it larger).


The idea was to start with a blank slate, intentionally walk through each step of the design methodology and see what you can build in 45 minutes.  Each team then presented back to the class.

Our team consisted of a MicroStrategy trainer, a data engineer, a BI engineer and myself.  It was such a great experience to build something together and talk through our design…BEFORE we built anything.  Here’s what we came up with:

Andy’s design methodology worked perfectly!  I was amazed at how simple it was to create a usable design, in a short period of time, by slowing down and asking questions that help organize your thoughts.  When I teach, I recommend asking questions as well, but the way Andy recommended asking questions was a bit different than I had done it before.  I can’t wait to use it on a real project.

Thanks Andy, not only for this fabulous course, but for coming to speak to us at Facebook as well.


  1. I'm going on Andy's course in a few weeks. I wonder how you would have built anything in 45 minutes without Tableau? What would the microstrategy guy have done?



    1. She was using Visual Insights and is a very skilled trainer on the tool, so she hung pretty well, but couldn't iterate quite as quickly.