The Principles of Information Design

Create tables and charts that communicate with clarity

This course teaches how to align the way you present your data with the reasons for presenting the data. It is not about ad hoc formatting preferences; instead it teaches evidence-based information design principles.

The Principles of Information Design is aimed at NHS data analysts who want to gain an understanding of the principles of good information design and how to apply those principles to their day-to-day work. It will suit both analysts who are relatively new to NHS data analysis and also more experienced analysts who want to re-acquaint themselves with the theory and evidence underpinning good design.

Participants will leave the course with three things. Firstly, an understanding of the theory behind the principles of good information design. Secondly, a toolkit of practical techniques that can be used straightaway to communicate data more effectively and professionally. Thirdly, a resource of further reading to enable them to explore the subject in more depth.

You need a basic grasp of Microsoft Excel in order to be able to complete the course exercises.

Session 1 / Design to compare
Most data analysis tasks involve comparison. This year compared with last year. This hospital compared with another hospital. Year-to-date position compared to plan. But we need to consider carefully how we design our tables and charts so that the key comparisons are enforced. The teaching examples and exercises show various techniques for accomplishing this.

Session 2 / Design to show cause-and-effect relationships
Comparison is second-nature to most analysts; but causality is rarely tackled. We often have little experience of designing tables and charts that demonstrate causality. Sometimes it is as easy as presenting multiple trend lines on the same chart and inviting viewers to make their own assessment of how parallel the lines are. But we also have to know how to design scatterplots and bubbleplots so that relationships can be explored in more detail.

Session 3 / Design to show multiplicity
One of Edward Tufte's grand principles is about making our data exhibits show multivariate data, in an acknowledgement that the world we;re trying to describe is multivariate and hence our data exhibits should reflect this variety. But multivariate designs can be hard to achieve using conventional presentation media. There are limits to what we can do with one side of A4 paper or the restricted static 'real estate space' of a PowerPoint slide, so in the third section of the course we examine ways of getting round this in order to show multivariate data displays.

Session 4 / Design using data and text together
Data analysts are happy to be called 'number-crunchers' and it hardly ever occurs to us that we might also want to be called 'wordsmiths'. And yet there is a strong argument that the best data displays integrate words and numbers in such a way that the narrative is woven into the data exhibit itself. In the final session of the course we experiemnt with various techniques that enable us to do this.

The Principles of Information Design exists because poor information design abounds in the NHS.

All too often, analysts make the mistake of thinking that as long as you've got the numbers right, you'll be OK. But it's not OK, you also have to get the numbers across to managers and clinicians, many of whom are uncomfortable with numbers and lack confidence in their numeracy skills.

The course starts from the premise that analysts' responsibility does not end with analysis: they also have to possess the skills to put the information across in a clear and credible manner. The principles we teach have been gathered together from a wide variety of sources. The figure whose work dominates the whole project is Edward Tufte, who has probably written more on this subject than anyone else. But we also draw on good practice examples from newspapers (with the Financial Times and the Economist getting frequent and honourable mentions).

Tables and charts are the visible end-product of what information analysts do. The Principles of Information Design shows how to transform that end-product into something that will inform rather than frustrate the recipients of their analysis.

If you want to book a place at an open course, please first check the course calendar for available dates and prices, and then email to book a place. If you can't see any scheduled dates, email me anyway and we can try to set one up on a date that works for you.

The Principles of Information Design can also be booked as an on-site workshop for £1,250+VAT, and up to 12 participants can be accommodated in each workshop session. Email to start making arrangements.

A degree of familiarity with Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint is helpful for this training course.