Is Data Visualization the Next Design Challenge?

Data is everywhere, and design is the key to leveraging it

Stephanie Evergreen
Published in
7 min readJun 5, 2019


Illustration: Jackson Gibbs

II am a data nerd. I grew up, professionally speaking, designing studies, collecting data, and trying to get people to make use of the analysis and results. Then one day I realized that no one was going to pay attention to my amazing, glorious, wonderful data if my reports and presentations were poorly designed. So I married a graphic designer, and together we snarked at bad restaurant signage and had heated discussions about nuances in shades of purple. I became a design nerd, too.

When data and design successfully bridge, we can change the world.

Data nerds need designers

These days, I teach data nerds how to become better designers and designers how to become better data nerds. I design great graphs. And I study how data are presented. Here are the patterns that I see over and over again:

  • At worst, I see data nerds who have never worked with a designer, and the resulting heap of data is so off-putting that only the most committed will ever read through it to pull out meaningful insights.
  • In a better situation, I see beautifully designed reports with gorgeous, flowing page layouts and eye-catching color schemes — with all of the graphs tucked in an appendix, clearly just plunked into the page template and not even touched by the designer.
  • At best, I see graphs embedded appropriately in a report, story, or webpage, with the right look and feel that matches the rest of the design, but cast in the wrong graph type, like a pie chart with dozens of slices.

Are you cringing with recognition? If you’re a data nerd, you’ve probably witnessed at least one of these scenarios.

Data nerds need designers. Design is how we create engagement and spark action. But designers typically avoid a deeper understanding of data and how to best present it. Why?

The data/design landscape

My colleague, Elissa Schloesser, a graphic designer at My Visual Voice, suggested that traditional chart software, like Microsoft Excel, can feel intimidating (yo, it can feel intimidating to data…



Stephanie Evergreen
Writer for

author and speaker on data visualization @evergreendata