CS4460 Information Visualization
Spring 2017
Tuesday, Thursday 3:05 – 4:25pm
Intr. Center Rm. 205

Instructor: Prof. Alex Endert
TSRB 335
Office hours: by appointment (email me to find a time)

Teaching Assistants

Subhajit Das das@gatech.edu W 9:00-11:00am

(Contact in advance on Lync/email/Hangouts for location : das@gatech.edu

Lei Xu xulei@gatech.edu  T,W 11:30am – 12:30pm (CoC commons)
Ayshwarya Saktheeswaran ayshwarya6@gatech.edu  W  3:00 pm – 5:00 pm via email : ayshwarya6@gatech.edu via hangouts : saysh15@vt.edu
Jayanth Mohana Krishna jayanthm@gatech.edu  W 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm (Contact in advance on Lync/email/Hangouts for location: jayanth6@gatech.edu / jaym93@gmail.com)


Information visualization goes beyond presenting information as static charts, graphs and maps by leveraging the power of computer interaction to help people analyze, understand and make decisions from data.  Dozens of companies – including Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and SAP – offer Information Visualization tools. Thousands of companies and governments use the tools for daily operations and for longer-term strategic planning.

Information visualization methods are applied to data from many different application domains, including:

  • Political reporting and forecasting – as seen on TV and in the papers in election season.
  • News reporting – look at the interactive visualizations used by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Slate, etc.
  • Social science and economics data, such as census and other surveys, and micro and macro economic trends.
  • Social networking and web traffic, to understand patterns of communication
  • Business intelligence and business dashboards – to forecast sales trends, understand competitive marketplace positions, allocate resources, manage production and logistics.
  • Text analysis – to determine trends and relationships for literary analysis and for information retrieval.
  • Criminal investigations – to portray the relationships between event, people, places and things.
  • Performance analysis of computer networks and systems.
  • Software engineering – developing, debugging and maintaining software.
  • Bioinformatics, to understand DNA, gene expressions, systems biology.

Course objectives

  • Learn the principles involved in designing effective information visualizations.
  • Understand the wide variety of information visualizations and know what visualizations are appropriate for various types of data and for different goals.
  • Understand how to design and implement information visualizations.
  • Know how information visualizations use dynamic interaction methods to help users understand data.
  • Learn to apply an understanding of human perceptual and cognitive capabilities to the design of information visualizations.
  • Develop skills in critiquing different visualization techniques in the context of user goals and objectives.
  • Learn how to implement compelling information visualizations.

The course will follow a lecture/seminar style with discussions, demonstrations of InfoVis software, viewing of videos, and hands-on experience with information visualization software.

Prequisites. Junior or Senior status; CS1332 with C or better. Programming assignments require Javascript and D3, and are turned in via GitHub.  If you do not already know Javascript or GitHub, you will need to learn them on your own.  There are in-class D3 lectures that give you an overview, but you will be expected to learn the depth of this language as part of the assignments throughout the course.

Required texts

  • Now You See It, Stephen Few, Analytics Press, 2009. Consider partnering with someone else to buy this.  ISBN 9780970601988
  • Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories, and Best Practices Behind Effective Information Visualizations, Isabel Meirelles, Rockport Publishers, 2013. ISBN 1592538061.
  • Interactive Data Visualization for the Web, Scott Murray, O’Reilly Media, ISBN 9781449339739. All about D3, the programming tool we will be using for homeworks and projects. Free download at http://chimera.labs.oreilly.com/books/1230000000345/

Other texts for those who want to learn more

  • For those interested in design: Any of Edward Tufte’s three books: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Envisioning Information; and Visual Explanations.
  • For those interested in business intelligence and business dashboards: Wayne Eckerson, Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business, Wiley, 2005, ISBN 978-0471724179
  • For those interested in Network Visualization, particularly Social Networks: Hansen, Shneiderman and Smith, Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL, Morgan Kaufman, 2011, ISBN 978-0-12-382229-1.
  • For those interested in the psychological/perceptual factors affecting information visualization: Colin Ware, Information Visualization: Perception for Design, 2nd Edition, Morgan Kaufman Elsevier 2004, ISBN 978-1558608191.
  • For a deeper treatment of many aspects of InfoVIz: Visualization Analysis and Design, Tamara Munzer, CRC Press 2014, ISBN 9781466508910.

Course format. Lectures interspersed with discussion and in-class design activities.

Timeliness.  All assignments are due before the start of class on the day listed in the schedule.  Late work will receive a 25% per day penalty. After 4 days, a 0% will be given and no submission will be accepted. This goes for both Homework Assignments (HW) and Programming Homework Assignments (PHW). Too much other work, gone for the weekend, ran out of paper etc. are not emergencies. Advance notification to the instructor and TAs is expected in all but the most severe emergency situations.

T-Square, GitHub, and Piazza. T-Square is for electronic submissions used for most of the assignments, and for recording grades. GitHub is for submission of your D3 programming homeworks. Piazza is for asking questions.

Grading. Grading will be based on class participation, a class presentation, homework, use and analysis of some information visualization tools, and a project.  There will be two tests during the semester, and a final project. Final course grades are curved. Grading weights are:

Test 1 15 points
Test 2 20 points
Pop Quizzes 5 points
Assignments 25 points
Project 35 points

See the project and homework sections for details.

Mutual expectations. At Georgia Tech we believe that it is important to continually strive for an atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledgement, and responsibility between faculty members and the student body. See http://www.catalog.gatech.edu/rules/22/ for an articulation of some basic expectations – that you can have of me, and that I have of you. In the end, simple respect for knowledge, hard work, and cordial interactions will help build the environment we seek. I encourage you to remain committed to the ideals of Georgia Tech while in this class, and always.

Attendance is expected. There will be no less than 5 pop quizzes given at the start of class. If you arrive late, you will not have extra time to complete the pop quiz.  Institute approved absences will be accommodated, as will absences for interview trips. Notify us, by email, if you will miss class for one of these two reasons (if you feel some other reason for absence is reasonable, email us, but again, in advance). Attendance will be taken during many of the classes. Two unapproved absences are OK.   Only institute approved absences are OK for the two tests and project presentations.

Contacting your instructor and TA. By far the best way to get in touch with us is via email. For most of the reasons you might contact us, please include all the TAs and instructor on your emails to make sure we are all informed. Start your email subject with ‘[CS4460] ‘ (e.g., [CS4460] question about test 1, [CS4460] requesting an excused absence for a job interview, etc.) so that it is easier for us to find your emails and respond to them. We will do our best to respond quickly.

Collaboration and academic honesty. Georgia Tech aims to cultivate a community based on trust, academic integrity, and honor. Students are expected to act according to the highest ethical standards. For information on Georgia Tech’s Academic Honor Code, please visit http://www.catalog.gatech.edu/policies/honor-code/ or http://www.catalog.gatech.edu/rules/18/.

Any student suspected of cheating or plagiarizing on a quiz, exam, or assignment will be reported to the Office of Student Integrity, who will investigate the incident and identify the appropriate penalty for violations.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you are expected to do homework on your own. Your project work may borrow libraries and code fragments from sources on the web that you integrate into an overall working system.  Your source code should indicate what code is imported and used as is, what code is imported and modified, and what code is original. It is appropriate to discuss your project with others to gain ideas and feedback and help with sticky problems.  It is not appropriate to find an existing InfoVis system, modify it, and submit it as your own work.  If in doubt, confer with your instructor. It is much easier to ask about these things than handle the consequences of a poor decision.

In-class use of computers, cell phones and tablets. Please use your technology appropriately while in class. Using computers. tablets, smartphones, watches, VR headsets, etc. in a way that reinforces the educational context, such as taking notes or visiting a web site being discussed, is appropriate. Reading email, playing games, browsing social media, watching Netflix, doing your HW assignments, purchasing football tickets, web browsing, etc. are not appropriate. Not only does this detract from your learning, it unavoidably distracts those sitting near you. As well, incoming emails and alerts are distracting. Even note-taking on your computer may not be such a great idea: studies have shown that note-taking by hand has been shown to be more efficient for learning (also see this news story), as opposed to by computer, but that’s your call.

Also, understand that this course is about data visualization. We will spend significant class time showing slides of visualizations and discussing them. The content of the discussion is not captured in the slides, yet you are expected to take notes, learn, and be tested on it.

Accommodations for students with disabilities. If you are a student with learning needs that require special accommodation, contact the Office of Disability Services (often referred to as ADAPTS) at (404)89-2563 or http://disabilityservices.gatech.edu/, as soon as possible, to make an appointment to discuss your special needs and to obtain an accommodations letter. Please also e-mail your instructor as soon as possible in order to set up a time to discuss your learning needs.

Software. One of the assignments is to analyze data using Tableau. Tableau’s data visualization software is provided through the Tableau for Teaching program.