Assignment 1: Visualization Design

Due: Monday Oct 02, 2023 by 11:30am

In this assignment, you will design a visualization for a small data set and provide 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.

Data: Stanford Undergraduate Majors

Stanford University publishes a variety of datasets through the Stanford Institutional Rsearch & Decision Support website. They have published a data table containing information about the number of Stanford undergraduates obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in 75 different fields of study from 2003 to 2022. We have filtered and wrangled this data to the top 10 fields of study by cummulative degrees conferred over the time period to produce a dataset with the following attributes:

  • Year: Academic year between 2003 and 2022. (Academic years run July-June so Year=2003 covers July 2002 to June 2003.)
  • FieldOfStudy: Field in which degree was obtained.
  • Count: Number of students earning a Bachelor’s degree.

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

As different visualizations can emphasize different aspects of a data set, your write-up should document what aspects of the data you are attempting to most effectively communicate. In short, what story are you trying to tell? Just as important, also note which aspects of the data might be obscured due to your visualization design.

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 Oct 02, 2023 by 11:30am. We will be discussing submissions in class, so be sure to avoid a late submission!

Make sure to size your visualization so that it fills a full 8.5 x 11 page of a PDF document and that any text within it (e.g., labels, axis markings, etc.) is easily readable when the visualization is expanded to fill the screen. The short description should appear on a following page and should be in 10pt or 11pt font.

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

Upload this PDF to Canvas.