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Data Visualization

Parsons School of Design

MFA Design and Technology

PGTE 5598, Section A, CRN 3481
Spring 2017

Course Description

At what point does data become narrative and how can we, as designers, facilitate this transformation? How can we design interfaces and systems that will draw on generated data to show compelling stories, patterns, and points of view? This course will allow students access to a variety of data sets and APIs from the public domain such as article text, metadata (keywords, geotags, etc.), and archival data. Using these APIs, students will develop generative interfaces and data visualization projects that create dynamic views into the news and data of the present and the past.

Course Outline

See the syllabus (.pdf) for a complete outline.

Learning Outcomes

By the completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Be familiar with the fundamental graphical principles as well as the lexicon and history of data visualization.
  • Demonstrate competence in visually re-configuring and mapping data to present and support an argument
  • Critically analyze the various methods and techniques to visualize data.
  • Have better intuition about the appropriate use of different design strategies to create effective visualizations for a wide range of purposes.

Assessable Tasks

Inspiring Dataviz Example Presentation

Every week, 1-2 students will take turn presenting one example of a data visualization project. In a short 3-5 minute presentation, talk about these points:

  • Why have you chosen this example?
  • Who is the author of the project?
  • Where is the data from?
  • What are the tools?
  • What is the main audience/context/purpose?
  • What is working?
  • What would you improve?

For an inspiring reflection on data visualization critique, check out Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg's Design and Redesign. Please beware of your presentation's date, which will be assigned during the first class.


There will be no weekly homework but instead, three big projects along this course. All must be submitted through your personal Github repo. The basic and general requirements are:

  • You must clearly state the focus, intent, and tone of your project and how your solutions relate to them.
  • You should also demonstrate a deep understanding of the data you used, mentioning sources and transformations.
  • Finally, you should be able to present your findings and explain further what works/what doesn’t.

Project #1 - Freeform

Using no or very minimal coding skills, create an engaging data visualization for communication. Any media and tools are acceptable, as long as you’re comfortable producing with it. For example, if you’re really good at sketching, draw them. If you’re good at cooking, make your visualization edible maybe? If you’re good at physical craft and/or physical computing, make your visualization in a concrete form, and so on. Choose from topic below:

  • Visualize your daily life. Quantify yourself, whatever it may be, it must be your own personal data.
  • Visualize a topic of your own. You are welcome to choose whichever topic and dataset that interest you.

Project #2 (Midterm) - Exploratory Visualization

Produce a visualization that allow users to interact and explore the data. General requirements apply.

Project #3 (Final) - Data Storytelling

Produce a storytelling project of any topic of your choice, that has several ways of visualizing data or showing a piece with data updates and motion. General requirements apply.

Grading Criteria

The Dataviz Example Presentation is intended to assess your critical skills, while Projects are intended to assess your capacity of creatively applying your skills. For each project, the way I grade them:

Criteria %
Does it meet the requirements outlined in the assignment? Does it have a clear purpose, tone, and focus? 30%
Does it work? Is it functional? 20%
Does it show effort? How polished is it? 30%
Was it submitted on time? 20%

Some additional notes

Some additional notes:

  • Your cleanliness and the organization of your code is important, but it won’t be included as my grading criteria. However, you should still follow the recommended coding practises to help you be more efficient. See Gabriel Gianordoli’s coding advice for more.
  • I will not check your code line by line looking for bugs. So please submit your assignments as functional as possible. If the page just crashes on loading I will not be able to understand whether or not you have accomplished something. In those cases, comment out the bug and leave a note with details. For instance: "This part should display the data, but I wasn't able to finish it."

Required Tools

Recommended Readings

There are no required readings for this class.

Final Grade Calculation

Item %
Participation/Attendance 10%
Dataviz Example 10%
Project #1 20%
Project #2 (Midterm) 30%
Project #3 (Final) 30%

Grading Standards


  • A Work of exceptional quality
  • A- Work of high quality
  • B+ Very good work
  • B Good work; satisfies course requirements
    Satisfactory completion of a course is considered to be a grade of B or higher.
  • B- Below-average work
  • C+ Less than adequate work
  • C Well below average work
  • C- Poor work; lowest possible passing grade
  • F Failure
  • GM Grade missing for an individual
    Grades of D are not used in graduate level courses.

Grade of W

The grade of W may be issued by the Office of the Registrar to a student The grade of W may be issued by the Office of the Registrar to a student who officially withdraws from a course within the applicable deadline. There is no academic penalty, but the grade will appear on the student transcript. A grade of W may also be issued by an instructor to a graduate student (except at Parsons and Mannes) who has not completed course requirements nor arranged for an Incomplete.

Grade of Z

The grade of Z is issued by an instructor to a student who has not attended or not completed all required work in a course but did not officially withdraw before the withdrawal deadline. It differs from an “F,” which would indicate that the student technically completed requirements but that the level of work did not qualify for a passing grade.

Grades of Incomplete

The grade of I, or temporary incomplete, may be granted to a student under unusual and extenuating circumstances, such as when the student’s academic life is interrupted by a medical or personal emergency. This mark is not given automatically but only upon the student’s request and at the discretion of the instructor. A Request for Incomplete form must be completed and signed by student and instructor. The time allowed for completion of the work and removal of the “I” mark will be set by the instructor with the following limitations:

Graduate students: Work must be completed no later than one year following the end of the class. Grades of “I” not revised in the prescribed time will be recorded as a final grade of “N” by the Registrar’s Office.

Divisional, Program and Class Policies


Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late assignments, failure to complete the assignments for class discussion and/or critique, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, presentations and/or critiques will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.


Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, assignments, projects, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time.


Parsons’ attendance guidelines were developed to encourage students’ success in all aspects of their academic programs. Full participation is essential to the successful completion of coursework and enhances the quality of the educational experience for all, particularly in courses where group work is integral; thus, Parsons promotes high levels of attendance. Students are expected to attend classes regularly and promptly and in compliance with the standards stated in the course syllabus.

While attendance is just one aspect of active participation, absence from a significant portion of class time may prevent the successful attainment of course objectives. A significant portion of class time is generally defined as the equivalent of three weeks, or 20%, of class time. Lateness or early departure from class may be recorded by the instructor as one full absence. Students may be asked to withdraw from a course if habitual absenteeism or tardiness has a negative impact on the class environment. Members of the faculty are expected to provide syllabi in which course objectives and assessment criteria are described, in writing, at the beginning of the term. The syllabus should also articulate how attendance is assessed with respect to active participation.

At Parsons, attendance and lateness are assessed as of the first day of classes. Students who register after a class has begun are responsible for any missed assignments and coursework. Students who must miss a class session should notify the instructor and arrange to make up any missed work as soon as possible. A student who anticipates an extended absence should immediately inform the faculty and his or her program advisor. Advance approval for an extended absence is required to ensure successful completion of the course. Withdrawal from the course may be recommended if the proposed absence would compromise a student’s ability to meet course objectives.

Finally, faculty are asked to notify the student’s advisor for any student who misses two consecutive class sessions without explanation or who otherwise miss a significant portion of class time. Following two absences, students may be asked to speak with their advisor to review any impediments to their successful performance in class and, if so, to provide confirmation to the faculty member that such a conversation took place.

Religious Absences and Equivalent Opportunity Pursuant to Section 224-a of the New York State Education Laws, any student who is absent from school because of his or her religious beliefs will be given an equivalent opportunity to register for classes or make up any examination, study, or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. The student must inform the instructor at the beginning of the course of any anticipated absences due to religious observance.


Use of Canvas may be an important resource for this class. Students should check it for announcements before coming to class each week.


In rare instances, I may be delayed arriving to class. If I have not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes for my arrival. In the event that I will miss class entirely, a sign will be posted at the classroom indicating your assignment for the next class meeting.

Electronic Devices

The use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, etc.) is permitted when the device is being used in relation to the course's work. All other uses are prohibited in the classroom and devices should be turned off before class starts.

Academic Honesty and Integrity

The New School views “academic honesty and integrity” as the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship for his or her own work and only for that work, and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely. This obligation is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate, and creative and academic pursuits. Academic honesty and integrity includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of faculty members and other students). Academic dishonesty results from infractions of this “accurate use”. The standards of academic honesty and integrity, and citation of sources, apply to all forms of academic work, including submissions of drafts of final papers or projects. All members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves in accord with the standards of academic honesty and integrity. Please see the complete policy in the Parsons Catalog.

It is the responsibility of students to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including (but not limited to) one or more of the following: failure of the assignment, failure of the course, academic warning, disciplinary probation, suspension from the university, or dismissal from the university.

Student Disability Services (SDS)

In keeping with the University’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations is welcome to meet with me privately. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to meet with Jason Luchs in the Office of Student Disability Services, who will conduct an intake, and if appropriate, provide an academic accommodation notification letter to you to bring to me. SDS assists students with disabilities in need of academic and programmatic accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.