How to Design a Data Visualization Poster

By Maya P. Lim

A successful data visualization (also called an “infographic”) is a balancing act between simplicity and complexity, utility and art, and the bigger picture and the details. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to redesign a bar graph that suffers from common data visualization pitfalls. The result is a graphic that invites you to linger on its details.

The original bar graph (below) is not only hard on the eyes, but it won’t work well in its final format as a printed poster. 

This bar graph is a mess. The 3D effect complicates side-by-side comparison, the axis labels are hard to read, and the colors aren’t suited for color-blind viewers.

In the video tutorial below, we’ll see how to solve its many problems. I built the bubble graph in Adobe Illustrator CC, where you can create graphs of many different types. I set the title in Haettenschweiler, and subtitle and category names in Freight. The rest of the text is in Myriad Pro.

This data visualization video tutorial demonstrates how to turn an ugly bar graph into an inviting infographic.

Click to watch the video tutorial.

Here are five quick tips on making a bubble graph in Illustrator:

  1. Select your Pie Graph tool under the Column Graph Tool. Import your data file, leaving the data values running down in the first column, which allows you to create circles proportionally sized to the values. Click on the check mark to draw the graphs.
  2. Ungroup these items, which disables any additional data editing. Keep ungrouping until objects can't be ungrouped anymore.
  3. Referring to your datasheet, label each bubble, and group the label with the bubble.
  4. Separate the data into their categories, apply colors, and make a key.
  5. If you scale your bubbles, always scale everything together so that area proportions are maintained.

Ultimately, designing engaging data visualization is all about clear communication, like any other form of graphic design. If you understand the user’s needs, have a careful eye for details, and enjoy stretching your creativity, you’re well on your way to producing beautiful and useful data graphics.