Assignment 1: Visualization Design

Due: Monday Sep 27, 2021 by 7am

In this assignment, you will design a visualization for a small data set and provide a rigorous rationale for your design choices. You should in theory be ready to explain the contribution of every pixel in the display. You are free to use any graphics or charting tool you please–including drafting it by hand. However, you may find it most instructive to create the chart from scratch using a graphics tool of your choice.

Data: Stanford Undergraduate Majors

The Stanford Daily publishes a variety of datasets through the Stanford Open Data Portal. They have published a data table containing information about the number of Stanford students majoring in 70 different subject areas from 2011-2019. We have filtered and wrangled this data to the top 10 majors over the time period to produce a dataset with the following variables:

Number of records:
Variable Names:
     Year: Academic year between 2011-2012 and 2018-2019.
     Subject: Subject areas in which students majored.
     Number of Students: Number of students majoring in the area.

The extracted dataset is available in csv format: StanfordTopTenMajors2010s.csv


Your task is to download this data and design a static (i.e., single image) visualization that you believe effectively communicates one aspect of the data and provide a short write-up (no more than 4 paragraphs) describing your design choices. Start by choosing a question you’d like your visualization to answer. Design your visualization to answer that question, and use the question as the title of your graphic.

While you must use the data set given, you are free to filter, transform and augment the data as you see fit. Such transformations may include (but are not limited to) log transformation, computing percentages or averages, grouping elements into new categories, and/or removing data that are not relevant to your driving question. You are also free to incorporate external data as you see fit. Your chart should be interpretable without recourse to your short write-up. Do not forget to include title, axis labels or legends as needed! Hint: Good design often requires omitting data when it is irrelevant to the question your visualization is designed to answer.

You should plan to spend some time initially exploring the data to try and identify the question you wish to answer. Students often try several questions before settling on their final choice.

In your write-up, you should provide a rigorous rationale for your design decisions and explain wherever possible how your design decisions. Document the visual encodings you used and why they are appropriate for the data. These decisions include the choice of visualization type, size, color, scale, and other visual elements, as well as the use of sorting or other data transformations. How do these decisions facilitate effective communication of the answer to your question?

Please include a short list of the tools you used to create the visualization.


The assignment score is out of a maximum of 10 points. Historically, the median score on this assignment has been about 8.5 which corresponds to an A-. We will determine scores by judging both the soundness of your design and the quality of the write-up. We will also look for consideration of audience, message and intended task. Here are some aspects that may lead to point deductions.

  • Use of misleading, unnecessary or unmotivated graphic elements.
  • Missing chart title, axis labels, or data transformation descriptions.
  • Missing or incomplete design rationale in write-up.
  • Inappropriate data or data transformations for answering your question (e.g. question cannot be addressed by the data shown).
  • Ineffective encodings for conveying the data relevant to your question (e.g. distracting colors, improper data transformation).

We will reward entries that go above and beyond the assignment requirements to produce effective graphics. Examples may include outstanding visual design, meaningful incorporation of external data to reveal important trends, demonstrating exceptional creativity, or effective annotations or other narrative devices.

Submission Details

This is an individual assignment. You may not work in groups. Your completed assignment is due on Monday Sep 27, 2021 by 7am. We will be discussing submissions in class, so be sure to avoid a late submission!

Make sure to size your images so that they fit within a reasonable window size on a laptop screen (i.e. images should be 600-800 pixels wide) and that the text is readable at that size.

To submit your assignment, prepare a PDF containing your image and short description with filename: A1-FirstnameLastname.PDF

Upload this PDF to Canvas.