From 0 to Visualisation in under 6 hours

This was a project to teach fellow students to visualise data. Some materials available online are the Initial Setup, Slide set 1 and Slide set 2. Thanks to Daniel Gavrilov and Axel Goetz for their help with prettifying the slides via colour coding.


Techsoc was approached by a departmental society from the university for a potential collaboration. It was on the hot topic of data visualisation, and I volunteered to do the part where I stand up and somehow ‘teach data visualisation’. There were to be 3 sessions, each 2 hours long, and naturally pizza.

Teaching is good; it’s a way to know if you really not just know something, but truly understand it, and if you don’t, you ought to be soon. Knowledge and understanding is also one of those things that you can give away without losing possession of it yourself. It was a great idea.

The plan was relatively simple, some people from the departmental society picked a pretty visualisation (in fact this one), then they also gave me two datasets, one on Real GDP per capita, and one on a measure of inequality (The Gini Coefficient) and my task was to put the two together, the new data in the same-ish kind of visualisation. Then teach people to do it. In under 6 hours.

This led me to think about my would-be students. (In fact they are students, just the thought that they will by my students, even for 6 hours, was rather daunting.) I found that thinking about it like a friend helping friends out about something they’re interested in slightly easier to deal with. So these friends I have, they aren’t students of computer science, but also aren’t students of the engineering faculty, which means we have to cover plenty of ground.. In not so much time.

That’s alright! We’ll use the d3 javascript library, doing cool stuff with scales, axes, paths... but we’ll first cover what a library is, but before that maybe we need Javascript; but maybe start with primitive programming constructs then introduce the syntax, but what about SVG (The thing the library is actually drawing!)? The Web? Browsers Developer Tools, HTML, CSS? …

Given the audience only a fool would agree to cover this in such a short time!

I was that fool. Although I think it turned out alright.