Homework Assignments (HW)

These individual assignments will help you develop your knowledge for design principles for Information Visualization. For each of these, the deadline to submit your work is by the start of class on the day they are due. Unless otherwise described, the submissions must be submitted to Canvas.

The grading distribution is broken down as follows. The sum of your assignments count for 29% of your total grade, broken down as:

  • HW0: 0%
  • HW1: 5%
  • HW2: 8%
  • HW3: 9%
  • HW4: 7%

Homework 0: Survey

Complete this background survey. Nothing to submit on Canvas. Only submit 1 response per person.

While this assignment does not have any points assigned to it, you should really do it. It will take only a few minutes, and really helps instructors and TAs plan so that your semester is educational, fun, and interesting.

Homework 1: Data Exploration and Analysis

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with some experience exploring and analyzing data without using an information visualization system. Below is a dataset (that can be imported into Excel) about cereals. You should explore and analyze this data using Excel or simply by hand (drawing pictures is fine), but do not use any visualization tools. Your goal here is to perform an exploratory analysis of the data set, to better understand the data set and its characteristics, and to develop insights about the cereal data.

What to turn in: What you turn in should consist of three things:

First, list (bullet list of items) five “insights”, chunks of knowledge, or deeper questions that you either encountered or gained while exploring the data. An insight could be some understanding of the data and its characteristics that is not relatively obvious or intuitive. It is something that most people might not realize initially. Note that an insight or knowledge chunk simply may be a deeper question that arose in your mind while exploring the data, and your analysis may not have been sufficient to answer the question.

Second, write one paragraph about the process you used to do the exploration and analysis. Did you load the data into Excel, work manually, or do both? What did you do in Excel? Did you draw pictures? Just tell me (briefly) what you did.

Third, write one paragraph about challenges or problems that you encountered in doing the analysis this way. Did anything limit or frustrate you? If nothing did, perhaps there was something that was more difficult than you thought it should be. Nothing is perfect, so you should be able to list some potential issues here.

So, to sum up, your assignment should have a bullet list of five items followed by two paragraphs.

Submit a pdf to the Canvas assignment. If you drew things by hand, take a picture of the drawings and include those.

Grading: We will evaluate the quality of the insights you listed. We are looking for things that we find interesting or perhaps unexpected. This is subjective, but think about making sure that the insights appropriately echo the depth of analysis performed. For the second and third parts, we will evaluate if you did what the assignment asked.

Cereals data (xls format)
The data should be pretty self-explanatory. The Manufacturer is a one letter code with the expected mapping (Q-Quaker Oats, P-Post, G-General Mills, K-Kelloggs, R-Ralston Purina, N-Nabisco). Type stands for C (cold) or H (hot). Shelf stands for which row on a shelf the cereal is on (1=bottom, 3=top). The rest are attributes that describe the nutritious contents of the cereal.

Homework 2: Multivariate Data Visualization

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with further practice in designing visualizations of data. In this assignment, the data set is more complex with many variables. The data set consists of information about whiskeys. (The data set is available under the files section on Canvas).

This assignment has 2 parts:

First, your objective in the assignment is to design a static visualization of this dataset that will convey its key characteristics to the viewer. This assignment is somewhat analogous to the visualization of a year’s worth of weather data from the NY Times that we talked about earlier in the semester (and similar visualizations). The goal is to create an information-dense, static visualization that shows as much of the data as possible. You should represent your visualization on the front of a single piece of paper. Thus, one of the challenges of this assignment is thinking through how to visually abstract the information, what visual metaphor to use, and how to map your variables to visual encodings/glyphs. Finally, you’ll also want to think about how well your choice of visual design maps to the task(s) of your users. You may have to abstract and summarize different aspects of the data — think carefully about this!

Second, describe your design. Write about your visual design, the mappings, design choices, etc. Also, list out the tasks you expect users to be able to perform with your (static) visualization. This second part should be no longer than 1 page.

What to turn in: Submit a single pdf to Canvas. 1 page should be your vis, the second page should be your writeup. It’s ok if your vis is a picture taken with a phone and uploaded (as long as it is easy to make out what you did).

Grading: We will evaluate the effectiveness of your visualization for communicating the fundamental aspects of the dataset. Does it give the viewer a good understanding of the different characteristics of the data? Here, we are looking for both effectiveness and creativity. (We do realize that people have differing levels of design ability and experience. Here, we are looking for a good effort, not necessarily some InfoVis conference paper-worthy new idea. Perhaps you can apply some of the ideas that you’ve learned from class so far.) The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with experience in the analysis of data like this and the design of visualizations to present the data. Also, we understand that not everyone is good at drawing (including myself). However, the design should illustrate what your visualization is attempting to do.

Homework 3: Use and Critique Commercial InfoVis Systems

Use and critique Tableau – an Information Visualization System that does not require programming. This assignment will familiarize you with a full-featured InfoVis system – Tableau – which will be introduced in class.

The goals of the assignment are for you to learn the capabilities provided by Tableau (it is one of the best commercial systems), learn the basic visualization methods that it provides and assess its utility in analyzing data.

Groups of 2 are allowed for this assignment! You can write the report on this homework by yourself, or you can do it with a partner (which I encourage, it will be more fun and you will learn more). Note only groups of 2 are allowed, no larger. If you write with a partner, you will both receive the same grade. You may ask others for help with downloading and figuring out how to use Tableau. The paper and its ideas should be developed by you or by your two-person team.

The assignment has four parts:

1. Gain familiarity with Tableau – Familiarize yourself with the visualization techniques and the user interfaces during the class presentation, and via on-line videos at http://www.tableausoftware.com/learn/training

2. Examine the data sets – Browse several datasets to decide which one to use for the rest of this assignment. Decide on one, and then use the system to explore it further.

3. Develop three interesting questions about the selected dataset – put yourself in the shoes of a data analyst, and think about all the different kinds of analysis tasks that a person might want to perform. For instance, someone working with breakfast cereal data might have analysis tasks like:

• Find all the information on Cocoa Pebbles.

• Identify the cereal with the least fat that is also high in fibre.

• What is the distribution of carbohydrates in the cereals?

• Does high fat mean high calories?

• Which of the following three cereals is best for people on a diet?

Do NOT make all of your questions be about correlations or min or max values. Think back to the different tasks and questions we have talked about in class.

4. Write a report
Part 1 – List your three questions and answers, along with a screen shot showing the visualization you used to answer each question. One page per question – screen shot and narrative. Each question should be answered with a different visualization – so three different visualizations (and not just different data overlaid on a map as can be done in Gapminder).
Part 2 – Critique the system. What are the system’s strengths and weaknesses? For what kinds of user tasks is the system particularly well suited? Focus more here on the visualization techniques as opposed to the particular user interface quirks, though you should feel free to comment on UI aspects when they are particularly good or bad. Describe characteristics of the UI using the concepts and terminology you have learned in class. This second part should be close to 2 pages.

Dataset: There is a folder for HW4 datasets in the Files section on Canvas. You are welcome to use any of these datasets for this assignment. Make sure you specify which one you used in your submission.

Submission: Your document should be in PDF format and is limited to a maximum of 10 pages, no cover sheet. Use Times Roman 12 point type with normal margins, 1.5 line spacing. Submit the paper via Canvas. If you worked with a partner, both of you are required to submit to Canvas, and ensure both of your names are on it. Note the page limit includes screenshots and visualizations you may have produced while using Tableau.

Acknowledgments: Tableau’s data visualization software is provided through the Tableau for Teaching program. We thank Tableau for making the system available to students in class.

Homework 4: Text Visualization Design

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with further experience in analyzing and understanding mutlivariate data sets. The particular focus of this assignment is a data set that is rich with textual data. It is a document collection that consists of a set of product reviews of a Samsung TV from amazon.com. The data set is the files section on Canvas.

First, think about the kind of information that you would want to learn from this data. Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer. What things about the TV sets would you want to know? Push past the simple “Is it a good TV?” question.

Next, design a visualization of the data set that you feel would help a person learn about the television and understand the issues that identified earlier. Think especially hard about visualizing aspects of the data set that would be difficult to extract from simple search queries against it. Sketch your visualization on paper. I’m not looking for a working system here or even a detailed representation where all the actual data values are shown. Just do a conceptual design that shows what your visualization would look like if it was being applied on the data set in general. Try not to simply replicate some well-known infovis technique, however. Be effective, but also try to be creative. I will reward creative ideas. Also, don’t forget the interaction! A static piece of paper does not do justice to an interactive visualization, so you likely will need to explain how the viewer would interact with and update the display.

What to turn in: Draw/sketch/show your design on a piece of paper or a few pages (don’t go overboard). Feel free to annotate the sketch with small comments or captions to explain what it is and how it would work. On a separate page, explain your visualization design in a paragraph or two, how it would start, what the interaction would be, etc.

Grading: We will primarily rate the quality of your design. Here, we are looking especially for utility, and we’ll add on a bit of creativity assessment too. Would the visualization effectively facilitate people exploring the different televisions in order to make a purchase decision? We also will examine how clearly and effectively you explain your design. Remember that communicating one’s work is almost as important as the work itself. (We do realize that people have differing levels of design ability and experience. Do your best — Try to apply the design principles that we have been learning in class.) The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with experience in the analysis of text-centric data like this and the design of visualizations to present the data.


These series of programming labs will help you learn the basics of building web-based visualizations using d3. To access the lab, head over to the Labs GitHub Site. You will see each lab listed there. The due dates for each lab are listed on the course schedule

Grading: Each lab will receive a 0, 1, or 2 depending on quality and effort. A 2 indicates reasonable effort with nearly all expected functionality for the given lab. A 1 indicates lackluster effort, but a reasonable attempt at the lab. A 0 is given to labs not attempted.

Submission: For each lab, you will end up with a folder of files. Compress this folder into a since .zip and upload to the corresponding Canvas assignment. For example, for Lab 3, the file would be named Burdell_George_Lab03.zip.