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12 books worth reading about data visualization

Would you like to learn more about the theory and historical development of data visualization? Would you like to get inspiration for visualization through impressive examples? Would you like to learn how you can make your visualizations even more meaningful? Or do you just want to soak up all sorts of information from the luminaries of data visualization? All of these topics are exciting, and the more you know about them, the better you will get to use Tableau. As part of our handy guide to data visualization, we've compiled a list of books we've read over the past few years that have served us well. Of course, this list is far from complete - there is a lot more exciting literature on the subject.

An earlier version of this article by Andy Cotgreave appeared on the Tableau blog.

1. "Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-glance Monitoring" by Stephen Few

Author: Stephen Few
Website:Perceptual Edge | Amazon

This highly educational book is packed with examples of good and bad dashboards. Stephen Few explains how to create a clear dashboard and introduces the theoretical principles of data visualization and dashboard design. All of Stephen Few's other books are worth recommending, but this one is the easiest to access.

The book focuses less on data visualization per se and more on how visualization techniques can be used to keep an eye on data efficiently and clearly. Dashboards are a common way to monitor multiple records at once, but all too often they get cluttered and inefficient. Few's declared aim is to prevent this from happening. Therefore, in this book, he highlights common dashboard design mistakes and best practices to avoid such pitfalls.

2. "Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data Through the Eyes of Experts" by Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky

Author: Julie Steele, Noah Iliinsky
Website:O'Reilly Media | Amazon

Steele's and Iliinsky's book focuses on the cognitive processes and design achievements that lie behind real data visualization projects. 24 experts go into the methods, approaches and perspectives that they use when designing data visualizations in their respective fields. "Beautiful Visualization" covers a wide range of topics, including storytelling based on data, the significance of visual indicators such as color and current research methods.

The book describes the design and development of some popular visualizations and is an excellent opportunity to learn from others' approach to visual design. One particularly interesting finding is highlighted by all authors alike: namely the fact that data collection and preparation is always the most difficult part of a project. It is reassuring to know that this is not an easy task for even proven experts!

3. "The Accidental Analyst: Show Your Data Who’s Boss" by Eileen and Stephen McDaniel

Author: Eileen McDaniel, Stephen McDaniel

This book is about what to do when someone who is completely inexperienced in the field of data analysis is suddenly thrown into the deep end of an analytics project. This is exactly what happens to countless business users every day. Many of us may work with data, but actually we specialize in sales, human resource management, editorial work or operational business. "The Accidental Analyst" describes clearly and practically how an analytics project can be broken down into individual steps so that in the end something usable comes out.

Regardless of whether you are just starting a new job as a data analyst or have come to analytics like a virgin to a child - this book offers welcome assistance for anyone who has to deal with data for the first time in search of insights. It leads you through the whole process step by step: How do I decide which questions should be answered? How do I collect data? How do I organize information? How do I graph data? And finally: How do I convey my results to others?

4. "The Functional Art" by Alberto Cairo

Author: Alberto Cairo
Website:The Functional Art

Alberto Cairo is a data journalist and, as a university lecturer, specializes in information graphics and data visualization. His book “The Functional Art” deserves special credit: It emphasizes the importance of following best practices as closely as possible without losing sight of the beauty of the result.

For Cairo, “functional art” is a concept that on the one hand serves a very mundane purpose, but at the same time has to have aesthetic qualities so that users feel addressed by it. According to the author, this is the ultimate goal when it comes to the visualization of data. In his book, he examines the aesthetic properties of data visualizations and how it can be possible to create attractive graphics that also correspond to the best practices customary in the industry. He pays particular attention to the aspects of color and design, which serve as a means of increasing the aesthetic effect and thereby exploit certain peculiarities of our brain when it perceives information and stores it in memory.

5. "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward R. Tufte

Author: Edward R. Tufte
Website:Edward Tufte | Amazon

Edward Tuffe's book covers the theory and design of data graphics and includes illustrations of both particularly successful and daunting examples. Released in 1983, it has already taken on a bit of patina, but even after more than 30 years it is still an excellent introduction to some timeless design theories and puts data visualization in a historical context. The work comprises 250 images of data visualizations and statistical graphics, which are analyzed in detail.

6. "Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline" by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton

Author: Daniel Rosenberg, Anthony Grafton

Anyone interested in the history of data visualization is well served with this book. It describes how the visual representation of time - which has always been anything but simple - has developed. Fascinatingly, it turns out that the challenges that data visualizations present us today are very similar to those of past centuries.

Data visualization may have moved into the focus of science more recently, but the difficulties of visualizing information have not changed that much over the course of history. For generations we have been trying to display time-specific data visually, be it as a digital dashboard or on old maps. "Cartographies of Time" gives a comprehensive historical overview of attempts by Western scholars to illustrate time axes. The richly illustrated book deals with graphic representations of time from almost 600 years in Europe and North America.

7. "Information Graphics" by Sandra Rendgen and Julius Wiedemann

Author: Sandra Rendgen, Julius Wiedemann

This opulent illustrated book contains more than 400 infographics and data visualizations from all over the world. The examples come from journalistic and official publications, but also from education, the business world and other areas. The illustrated book is rounded off by essays that introduce the history and theory of data visualization as well as data journalism.

"Information Graphics" is a kind of almanac of data visualization. The first part of the book consists of essays that shed light on the historical context and practical aspects. In the second part, over 200 projects and 400 infographics from all over the world and various disciplines are presented, sorted chapter by chapter by place, time, category and hierarchy.

8. "Visual Thinking for Design" by Colin Ware

Author: Colin ware
Website:Data Visualization Research Lab | Amazon

If you are interested in the scientific background of data visualization, we would definitely recommend this book to you. It is an excellent introduction to design and cognitive psychology. Understanding this can also improve your practical design skills.

The book examines the scientific and psychological foundations of design and explains how this knowledge can be applied to data visualization to convey messages more effectively. Accordingly, design is more of a tool that uses special techniques to make use of the perception and thought processes of the human brain. Hundreds of full-color diagrams are analyzed in the running text.

9. “Storytelling with data: The basics of effective communication and visualization with data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Author: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
Website:Storytelling with data

Many data visualization books focus either on theory or on the basics of practical application. This book, on the other hand, answers the question of why, i.e. why do we visualize data at all? Data is just a tool - which story we want to tell with it is up to us. The “storytelling with data” approach is reminiscent of the “Show, don't tell” principle known from writing, with which authors get to the heart of things through scenic descriptions of the action: Instead of relying on the data for themselves like to speak, the deeper meaning of the data should be made clear by means of graphics. In the book you can hear how the desired message of data can be clarified with the right visualization or graphics and thus attract the reader's attention. Last but not least, it is also about how to communicate effectively with data.

10. “This is how the world ticks: Big connections ingeniously simple” by David McCandless

Author: David McCandless
Website:Information is beautiful

The book is penned by David McCandless, best known for his data visualization blog "Information is Beautiful". With infographics, it illustrates complex information and shows global references and connections. Using data from art and science, medicine and mass media, patterns and relationships in daily life become clear. Inquisitive people are guaranteed to get their money's worth when “This is how the world ticks” shows popular dog breeds as a diagram or precisely traces the political relationships in the Middle East.

11. "Visualize This! Data and Design: How to Bring Your Numbers to Life ”by Nathan Yau

Author: Nathan Yau
Website:Flowing Data | Amazon

In this book, Nathan Yau explains step by step how to tell a story with data and gives useful practical tips. The main focus is on statistical data with a technical reference and the implementation of the visualization by means of programming. Visualize This also includes recommendations for graphic design tools and software for online and print applications, as well as code examples in web programming languages ​​such as Python and JavaScript.

12. "The Big Book of Dashboards" by Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer and Andy Cotgreave

Author: Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer and Andy Cotgreave
Website:Tableau | Amazon

For anyone looking for inspiration for dashboards, this book is the absolute ultimate. It covers all types of dashboards for a wide variety of industries and areas including healthcare, marketing, finance, customer service, sports, and more.

The main focus is on real applications where it is important that data can be presented easily - be it on the PC, in the conference room or on the go on the mobile device. As noted in Information Dashboard Design above, the dashboard design is almost as important as the data itself. The Big Book of Dashboards addresses practical and psychological issues that you may need to address before they become a problem.