Activity: Critique a Gallery of Visualizations

For all the emphasis on data in the popular press, data literacy is low across the board.  What does this mean?  It means people are still learning how to read and evaluate visual presentations of data and data-driven stories.  This activity builds comfort identifying and naming types of visual presentation.  It emphasizes a process of reverse-engineering to understand the who, what and why of existing visualizations. This activity also helps build a shared language for critical thinking about visualization design.

What you need:

  • multi-colored sticky notes and pens
  • printouts of lots of visualizations (good and bad), hung up all around a room

How you do it:

Introduce the gallery of visualizations scattered around the room (but don’t run through each one).  Talk through some questions about the visualizations that are of interest:

  • who is the audience? what are the goals?
  • what kind of data is being shown?
  • what visual technique is being used?
  • are there any ethical issues? any questions of reliability?

Break the participants into groups of 4, each tasked with one of those questions.  Have each group start in front of a different visualization and a unique color of sticky notes.  Ask them to talk about the image and their question, and attach a sticky note to it with a concise summary of their thoughts.  Remind them every few minutes to move to a new visualization.


Close out the activity having everyone circulate around the room reading comments from other groups.  Lead a discussion about patterns, reflections, or specific visualizations that were interesting.


We learned this activity from our friends at the Tactical Technology Collective (who also have a great set of visualizations to use as the gallery).

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