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Well designed visualizations capitalize on human facilities for processing visual information and thereby improve comprehension, memory, inference, and decision making. In this course we will study techniques and algorithms for creating effective visualizations based on principles from graphic design, visual art, perceptual psychology and cognitive science. The course is targeted both towards students interested in using visualization in their own work, as well as students interested in building better visualization tools and systems.

There are no official prerequisites for the class, but familiarity with the material in CS147, CS148 and CS142 is especially useful. Most important is a basic working knowledge of, or willingness to learn, web-programming, especially JavaScript, Vega-Lite and D3.js. While we will cover a little bit of Vega-Lite and D3.js in class, we will also expect students learn some introductory material, especially about Javscript on their own, as necessary. Tutorials on Javascript are available on the web and we will help you find the relevant information as you need it.

*Contact us via Slack if you are worried about whether you have the background for the course.

Learning Goals

The goals of this course are to provide students with the foundations necessary for understanding and extending the current state of the art in visualization. By the end of the course, students will have:

  • An understanding of key visualization techniques and theory, including data models, graphical perception and methods for visual encoding and interaction.
  • Exposure to a number of common data domains and corresponding analysis tasks, including exploratory data analysis and network analysis.
  • Practical experience building and evaluating visualization systems using Vega-Lite and D3.js.
  • The ability to read and discuss research papers from the visualization literature.


  1. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2nd Edition). E. Tufte. Graphics Press.
  2. Envisioning Information. E. Tufte. Graphics Press.
  3. Optional Textbook. Visualization Analysis and Design. Tamara Munzner. A K Peters Visualization Series. CRC Press.
  4. Optional Reference. Interactive Data Visualization for the Web (2nd Edition). Scott Murray. O’Reilly Press. [Read Online] [Code Examples on Github]

Your best bet is to order them online. Please order soon. Readings will be assigned in the first week of class.


Week 1
M Sep 20: The Purpose of Visualization
    Submit Response | Slides
   Assigned: Assignment 1 (due Sep 27 by 7am)
   Required notebooks
        Introduction to Vega-Lite (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Chapter 1: Information Visualization, In Readings in Information Visualization. Card, et al. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        Decision to launch the Challenger, In Visual Explanations. Tufte. (pdf)
        Representation and Misrepresentation. (Critique of Tufte's analysis). Boisjoly et al. (web)
        Graphs in Statistical Analysis. F. J. Anscombe. The American Statistician. (jstor)
W Sep 22: Data and Image Models
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required notebooks
        Data Types, Graphical Marks, and Visual Encodings (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Chapter 1: Graphical Excellence, In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Tufte.
        Chapter 2: Graphical Integrity, In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Tufte.
        Chapter 3: Sources of Graphical Integrity. In VDQI. Tufte.
   Optional readings
        Level of Measurement. (Wikipedia)
        On the theory of scales of measurement. Stevens. (jstor)
Week 2
M Sep 27: Visualization Design and Redesign
    Submit Response | Slides
   Due (by 7am): Assignment 1
   Assigned: Assignment 2 (due Oct 11 by 11:30am)
   Required notebooks
        Data Transformation (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Design and Redesign in Data Visualization. Viegas and Wattenberg. (web)
        The Power of Representation. Chapter 3 In Things that Make Us Smart. Norman. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        Chapter 4: Data-Ink and Graphical Redesign. In VDQI. Tufte.
        Chapter 5: Chartjunk. In VDQI. Tufte.
        Chapter 6: Data Ink Maximization and Graphical Design. In VDQI. Tufte.
        The representation of numbers. Zhang and Norman. (pdf)
        Vega-Lite Excercise (will use in class) (JavaScript/Observable)
W Sep 29: Exploratory Data Analysis
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required notebooks
        Scales, Axes and Legends (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Polaris. Stolte, Tang, and Hanrahan. IEEE TVCG, 8(1), Jan 2002. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        Voyager. Wonsuphawasat et al. IEEE TVCG, 22(1), 2016. (pdf)
Week 3
M Oct 4: Using Space Effectively
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required notebooks
        Multi-View Composition (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Graphical Methods for Data Presentation. Cleveland. (jstor)
        Chapter 8: Data Density and Small Multiples. In VDQI. Tufte.
        Chapter 2: Macro/Micro Readings. In Envisioning Information. Tufte.
        Chapter 4: Small Multiples. In Envisioning Information. Tufte.
W Oct 6: Interaction
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required notebooks
        Interaction (Javascript/Observable)
   Required readings
        Interactive dynamics for Visual Analysis. Heer and Shneiderman. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        The death of interactive infographics? Baur. 2017 (web)
        In Defense of Interactive Graphics. Aisch. 2017 (web)
        Dynamic queries, starfield displays, and the path to Spotfire. Shneiderman. (web)
        Visual queries for finding patterns in time series data, Hochheiser and Schneiderman. (pdf)
        Postmortem of an example, Bertin. (pdf)
        Classic systems from (videos)
Week 4
M Oct 11: Introduction to D3
    Submit Response | Slides
   Due (by 11:30am): Assignment 2
   Assigned: Assignment 3 (due Oct 25 by 11:30am)
   Required notebooks
        Introduction to D3 (Javascript/Observable)
   Optional readings
        Let's Make a Scatterplot (will use in class) (JavaScript/Observable)
        Observable D3 gallery (html)
        Mike Bostock's notebooks for learning D3 (html)
        Interactive Data Visualization for the Web. 2nd Ed., Scott Murray. Chapters 4, 5, 6. (html)
        D3: Data Driven Documents. Bostock et al. (pdf)
W Oct 13: D3 Tutorial
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required notebooks
        Making D3 Charts Interactive (Javascript/Observable)
        Let's Make a Scatterplot (will use in class) (Javascript/Observable)
        D3 Exercises (will use in class) (Javascript/Observable)
   Optional readings
        Interactive Data Visualization for the Web. 2nd Ed. Scott Murray. Chapters 7, 8, 9. (html)
Week 5
M Oct 18: Perception
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Perception in visualization. Healey. (html)
        Graphical perception. Cleveland and McGill. (jstor)
        Chapter 3: Layering and Separation. In Envisioning Information. Tufte.
   Optional readings
        Gestalt and composition. In Course #13, SIGGRAPH 2002. Durand. (pdf)
        The psychophysics of sensory function. Stevens. (jstor)
        Crowdsourcing Graphical Perception. Heer and Bostock. ACM CHI 2010. (pdf)
W Oct 20: Visual Explainers
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        The Pudding (read through at least 3 articles in detail) (html)
        Design for an Audience, Corum. (html)
        Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data, Segel and Heer. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        Communicating with Interactive Articles. Hohman, Conlen, Heer and Chau. (html)
        Ice World: Visualizing Science at the New York Times, Corum. (html)
Week 6
M Oct 25: Color
    Submit Response | Slides
   Due (by 11:30am): Assignment 3
   Assigned: Final Project: Proposal (due Nov 3 by 11:30am)
   Required readings
        Color and information, In Envisioning Information, Tufte.
        Color Naming Models for Color Selection, Image Editing and Palette Design. Heer and Stone. (html)
        Color guidelines, Brewer. (html)
   Optional readings
        The crayola-fication of the world. Bhatia. (html)
        A rule-based system for assisting color map selection, Bergman, Treinish and Rogowitz. (pdf)
        Charting color from the eye of the beholder. Landa, Fairchild. (pdf)
        Color2Gray: Salience-preserving color removal. Gooch, Olsen, Tumblin, Gooch. (pdf)
        Bruce Lindbloom’s Useful color information, studies, and files
        Meet iCam: A Next-Generation Color Appearance Model
W Oct 27: Animation
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Animated Transitions in Statistical Data Graphics. Heer and Robertson. (html)
        Animation: Can it facilitate? Tversky, Morrison and Betrancourt. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to Computer Animation. Lasseter. (acm)
        Intuitive Physics. McCloskey. (pdf)
        Representing motion in a static image. Cutting. (pdf)
Week 7
M Nov 1: Network Layout
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Graph Visualization: A Survey. Herman, Melancon and Marshall. (pdf)
        Hierarchical Edge Bundles. Holten. (ieee)
   Optional readings
        Let’s draw a graph. Khoury. (html)
        Visual Exploration of Multivariate Graphs. Wattenberg. (pdf)
        Improving Walker’s Algorithm to Run in Linear Time. Buchheim, Jünger and Leipert. (pdf)
        Dig-cola. Dwyer and Koren. (pdf)
        A Technique for Drawing Directed Graphs. Gansner, Koutsofios, North and Vo. (pdf)
        Visual Complexity - graph visualization gallery
W Nov 3: Network Analysis
    Submit Response | Slides
   Due (by 11:30am): Final Project: Proposal
   Assigned: Final Project: Presentation (due 7-10pm)
   Assigned: Final Project: Code and Video (due Dec 10 by 11:59pm)
   Required readings
        Centrality and Prestige of Social Network Analysis. (pp. 169-198) Wasserman and Faust. (pdf)
        Balancing Systematic and Flexible Exploration of Social Networks. Perrer and Shneiderman. (pdf)
   Optional readings
        The Structure and Function of Complex Networks (Sections 1 and 2 only pp. 1-8). Newman. (pdf)
        The Social Organization of Conspiracy. Baker and Faulkner. (pdf)
Week 8
M Nov 8: Deconstructing Visualizations
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Revision: Automated Classification, Analysis and Redesign of Chart Images.Savva et al. (html)
        Graphical Overlays: Using Layered Elements to Aid Chart Reading. Kong and Agrawala. (html)
   Optional readings
        Deconstructing and Restyling D3 Visualizations. Harper and Agrawala (html)
        Extracting References Between Text and Charts via Crowdsourcing. Kong et al. (html)
W Nov 10: Visualization and NLP (Dae Hyun Kim and Vidya Setlur)
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Answering Questions about Charts and Generating Visual Explanations. Kim et al. (html)
        Towards Understanding How Readers Integrate Charts and Captions. Kim et al. (html)
   Optional readings
        Eviza: A Natural Language Interface for Visual Analysis, Setlur et al. (html)
        Accessible Visualization via Natural Language Descriptions. Lundgard et al. (pdf)
Week 9
M Nov 15: Visualization and AI (Hari Subramonyam)
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        The What-If Tool: Interactive Probing of Machine Learning models. Wexler et al. (arXiv)
        Errudite: Scalable, Reproducible, and Testable Error Analysis. Wu et al. (html)
   Optional readings
        Rulematrix: Visualizing and understanding classifiers with rules. Ming et al. (html)
        Coping with Imperfect Algorithms During Medical Decision Making Cai et al. (arXiv)
W Nov 17: Text Visualization
    Submit Response | Slides
   Required readings
        Mapping Text with Phrase Nets. van Ham, Wattenberg and Viégas. 2009 (pdf)
        Ch. 11: Info. Vis. for Text Analysis. In Search User Interfaces. Hearst 2009. (html)
   Optional readings
        Ch. 10: Info. Vis. for Search Interfaces. In Search User Interfaces. Hearst 2009. (html)
        Designing Model-Driven Visualizations for Text Analysis. Chuang et al. 2012 (html)
        Termite: Visualization Techniques for Assessing Textual Topic Models. Chuang et al., 2012. (html)
Week Thanksgiving
M Nov 22: No class due to Thanksgiving Holiday
W Nov 24: No class due to Thanksgiving Holiday
Week 10
M Nov 29: Final Project Design Review and Feedback
W Dec 1: Final Project Design Review and Feedback
Week Final Project Due
F Dec 10: Final Submission
   Due (by 11:59pm): Final Project: Code and Video

Teaching Staff

Instructor: Maneesh Agrawala
    Office Hours: 2-3:00pm Wednesdays, Coupa Cafe at Y2E2 and via Canvas/Zoom.
Course Assistant Dae Hyun Kim
    Office Hours: 10-11:00am Thursdays, Outside of CEMEX Aud. at the GSB and via Canvas/Zoom.
Course Assistant Shana E. Hadi
    Office Hours: 7-8:00pm Sundays, Canvas/Zoom.

We are also happy to meet by appointment. To contact us for any reason, please use Slack. This is the fastest way to get a response.

Assignments and Requirements

Class Participation (10%)
Assignment 1: Visualization Design (10%)
Assignment 2: Exploratory Data Analysis (15%)
Assignment 3: Creating Interactive Visualization Software (25%)
Final Project (40%)

Late Policy: We will deduct 10% for each day an assignment is late.

Plagiarism Policy: Assignments should consist primarily of your original work, building off of others’ work–including 3rd party libraries, public source code examples, and design ideas–is acceptable and in most cases encouraged. However, failure to cite such sources will result in score deductions proportional to the severity of the oversight.