Seeing Data Blog

8 Articles Discussing Visual and Visualisation Literacy

by Andrew Kirk • July, 7th 2014

In many ways we are in a golden age of experimentation and discovery in data visualisation. The popular coverage of data visualisation on the web tends to reflect this, generally concentrating on new projects, new techniques and tools. This is entirely understandable. Greater degrees of discourse about some of the key nuances of visualisation design can be found on blogs and other subject-dedicated websites but visualisation literacy is a relatively under-discussed issue, despite its critical role.

Here is a short collection of eight recommended and relevant articles about visualisation literacy – as well as the broader matter of visual literacy – that hopefully capture the value of this study:

‘Reading Visualizations for Beginners’ by Zach Gemignani – published on Juice Analytics. Zach introduces some of the challenges faced by readers trying to make sense of different charts and offers some really useful guidance for how to read them and what to look out for: “If you are to carry this burden of rooting out the insight in a data visualization, you need to know where to look.”


‘Learning to See’ by Oliver Reichenstein – published on Information Architects. One of the single best articles I read during 2013, this is a long discussion about the critical need for designers to learn how to see to help, amongst other things, develop the appreciation of the eye of a viewer: “Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see.”


‘ODI: data literacy will help solve world’s biggest challenges’ by Sophie Curtis – published on The Telegraph. A slightly higher-level perspective, this time focusing on the importance of data literacy at large and the open data movement: “…levels of data literacy need to be raised before businesses and organisations start fully making use of open data”.


‘Visual Literacy in an Age of Data’ by Shazna Nessa – published on Source. This article explains what visual literacy is and why it’s critical for data visualisation designers to take it seriously: “…we’re losing readers because we’re not taking our audience’s visual literacy into account.”


‘New kinds of literacy, and the world of visual information’ by Conrad Taylor – published on Conradiator. An article that asks the question of whether visual literacy (and other related literacies) are “just a rhetorical device by peripheral fields of study to claim equality of importance with literacy skills, or do they really tell us something about the nature of understanding?”


‘Lucas, Scorsese: On the need for visual literacy’ by Garr Reynolds – published on Presentation Zen. Two video interviews with George Lucas and Martin Scorsese who assert that “visual literacy is crucial for people in today’s world and that it should be both more highly valued by educators and taught in schools.”


‘ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (US)’ by the Visual Literacy Standards Task Force – published on ACRL. This page offers a framework and structure to facilitate “the development of skills and competencies required for students to engage with images in an academic environment, and critically use and produce visual media throughout their professional lives.”


How to Be an Educated Consumer of Infographics: David Byrne on the Art-Science of Visual Storytelling by Maria Popova – published on Brain Pickings. Some excerpts from David Byrne’s introduction in the ‘The Best American Infographics 2013’ about the importance of becoming more educated in our consumption of infographics: “One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information.”


If you come across any others, please get in touch, stick a link in the comments below or through social media channels