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The Principles of Information Design

How to 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 experienced analysts who want to re-acquaint themselves with the theory and evidence underpinning good design.

Participants will leave the course with three things:

  • An understanding of the theory behind the principles of good information design

  • A toolkit of practical techniques that can be employed straightaway to communicate data more effectively and professionally

  • 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.


The Basics of Table Design

  • Andrew Ehrenberg's The Problem of Numeracy

  • Sally Bigwood and Melissa Spore's Six Rules of Plain Figures

  • Edward Tufte's data-ink ratio

  • Ordering numbers, rounding numbers, columns and rows, totals and averages

  • Layout principles e.g. gridlines, colour, typefaces, spacing, proximity and alignment


The Basics of Chart Design

  • Deciding between charts and tables

  • Deciding on a chart type

  • Applying the data-ink ratio to chart design

  • Understanding "chartjunk"

  • Design principles for pie charts, line charts, bar charts and scatterplots


Applying Chart Design Principles in Microsoft Excel

  • Line charts (including control charts and confidence interval charts)

  • Bar charts (including histograms, boxplots, population pyramids and Gantt charts)

  • Creating charts in spreadsheets without using chart functionality


Adding Context and Meaning to Datagraphics

  • Understanding the pros and cons of presenting information using different media - spreadsheets, documents, presentation software

  • Using datagraphics to provide explanations

  • Using juxtaposition and overlay to facilitate comparisons

  • Using sequence to demonstrate how processes work

  • Using small multiples to display large volumes of data in a document

To run the course, you need either an IT training room with enough PCs for each participant or a meeting room big enough to accommodate the participants with a laptop each. We can bring laptops. Up to eight participants can be accommodated on each course.

To run The Principles of Information Design as an on-site course for up to eight participants will cost 1,100+VAT. All expenses included.


"The tutor showed an expert knowledge of the subject and presented the training in a manner that could easily be understood by the audience."

The Principles of Information Design

Countess of Chester Hospital  NHS Foundation Trust, January 2008

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 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 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 who casts a shadow over 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 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.

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