1. How to Apply Visualization Skills


Understanding the visual language hierarchy helps you outsmart visualization software. We’ll briefly introduce the hierarchy in this lesson, and outline the case studies we’ll consider in this course.

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  1. Lesson Goal (00:25)

    The goal of this lesson is to learn how we can make changes to visualizations to improve them.

  2. Review of the Visual Language Hierarchy (00:32)

    Visualization applications like Tableau or Power BI make it easy to create visualizations, but their default settings may not create optimal visuals. To be smarter than the software, you need to build charts using the visual language hierarchy. This contains 5 traits: location, size, gradient, color, and shapes. These represent 5 methods of conveying information in a visualization. The hierarchy is explained more fully in our course on visual data thinking.

  3. Case Studies in This Course (02:03)

    This course contains three main case studies:

    • The first deals with maps, where we learn how to use various traits from the visual hierarchy in a map.

    • The second transforms a stacked bar chart. Although bar charts are common, we’ll see that they can be problematic, and learn how to create an improved visualization.

    • The third considers a table of data. Tables are a difficult visual to read and interpret, and we’ll see how the hierarchy can be used to replace a table with something better.


Data visualization is an increasingly important skill in business and a good way to learn how to create effective visualizations is to analyze several visualizations and consider how they can be improved.

In this course, we'll consider several visualization case studies and see how we can make the visuals more effective and useful.

In this first lesson, we'll learn how we can make changes to visualizations, to improve them.

Visualization skills are increasingly critical in modern businesses, but many people lack the skills to create effective visualizations. Applications, such as Tableau and Power BI mean it's easier than ever to create visualizations, but their default settings can sometimes create visualizations that are unclear or sub-optimal.

In order to create good visualizations, you'll need to be smarter than the software, which you will be after taking this course.

Our focus in this course will be on using the visual language hierarchy to study visualization case studies and learn how we can make them more effective. This hierarchy contains five traits, location, size, gradient, color and shape.

Each of these traits represents a method by which information can be conveyed in a visualization.

If you're not familiar with this hierarchy, we suggest you watch our course on visual data thinking. It explains the hierarchy and each of the five traits in detail.

The hierarchy is an ordered representation of the best ways to communicate information.

For example, it's best to use size before you use gradient or use color before you use shape.

A lot of our work in this course will involve analyzing visualizations and determining which traits are being used. Then using better traits that are easier to understand.

We'll consider three main case studies in this course, we'll start by learning about maps. Maps are a common visualization type, and we'll learn that many of the traits of the visual language hierarchy can be incorporated in a map. We'll learn how to do this and how to use the traits to create effective maps. In our second case study, we'll look at a stacked bar chart. Bar charts are a very common visualization in businesses.

They can convey a lot of useful information, but they're not always the best visual type for any given situation.

We'll consider an example of a bar chart and consider how we can fix issues and create an improved version of this visualization. Again, using the traits of the visual language hierarchy. In our third and final case study, we'll learn how to transform a table. Tables are often found in business reports and presentations, but they can be very difficult to read and interpret.

We'll learn how to take a table and create alternative visualizations that convey the same information in a way that's much easier to read and understand. Let's stop the lesson here.

In the next lesson, we'll get started by looking at our first case study, which is all about maps.