This past week I had the great pleasure of catching a few moments with Andy Kirk of visualisingdata.com. Andy recently returned home to the U.K. from a trip to North America where he conducted data visualization training courses in five different cities – Chicago, Toronto, New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore. I’m a huge fan of visualisingdata.com and Andy, who unknowingly gave me that extra nudge that I needed to start this blog almost one year ago.

I wanted to talk to Andy because of his background, and because I was certain that someone who spent a full day with groups of people in each of those cities would have some very interesting things to say about the state of data visualization in North America, particularly the human component.

  • What type of people are interested in data visualization and why?
  • What kind of things do they struggle with or get excited about?
  • How do they interact with each other?

Andy and I discuss these topics and more in this 22 and a half minute chat that we recorded for your benefit. You will hear about Andy’s background and how he got hooked on data visualization, and you will hear about his sessions – both what he taught and what he learned from the attendees. That and you’ll get to hear his Yorkshire accent, which is reason enough to listen.

Here are some key excerpts:

About the training sessions – what is covered, and what is the format?

Andy – “We cover in the first instance, the background of the subject, the foundation of some of the key theories, especially around cognitive science about how the brain and the eyes work – visual perception, and then we really launch into the methodology and the morning session is really around the preparatory stage, about how you contextualize and understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve with the visualization project, what curiosities you’re answering, what questions, what story you’re trying to portray, and also the intimate familiarization process of getting the raw data and learning about this raw material that you’re going to be working with.

“And then we move on in the afternoon session purely about the design – What are the different visual options, the different visual layers that we need to harmonize and bring to a creative solution, but also the reasoning why some solutions work better than others…

“And then we finish off with the construction and the launch of a project…we spend a decent amount of time in groups, conceiving a potential solution to a given problem, and using that session help try and cement what we’ve learned for the rest of the day.”

On Andy’s philosophy or approach to data visualization:

“I try and steer clear of any strict rules and hard principles. I tend to present considerations – things that people need to think about and justify to themselves or their client because there are so many different scenarios that lead to endless permutations about when something is a better solution than others, so I try and equip people with the thinking skills to be able to reason themselves through a project.”

On the type of people that attend:

“The variety and the richness of the background of people going to these events is fantastic for me. It’s not a single industry, it’s not a single, typical delegate. It’s literally everyone from every background – all ages, all levels of seniority…And for me that’s kind of justified the very objective, or the very mission I was trying to fulfill, which is to take this subject to all these people around the world, who are really representing the age that we live in – everyone is responsible for data in some shape, way or form, whether it’s analyzing or presenting or any kind of stage of the process. Everyone’s now got a responsibility that would otherwise in the past have been on the fringes of an organization, or very specialist roles, statisticians, engineers. And so the sheer fact is that the variety of people that come along to these events just sort of supports that mission, really.”

More training sessions coming soon!

The good news for folks like me on the west cost of North America is that Andy plans on bringing his training sessions to our neighborhood in the winter. Who wouldn’t want to visit L.A. and San Diego at that time of year? I’ll be sure to post a link to the 2nd leg of his tour as soon as it is announced. In the meantime, if you want to influence what cities are included in the itinerary, now is the time to let Andy know. You can get Andy’s contact info here.

Thanks for stopping by, and many, many thanks to you, Andy, for sharing your insights with me and my readers!

Ben