1. Technology

Data Points

by Nathan Yau

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Data Points by Nathan Yau

Data Points by Nathan Yau

Cover image courtesy Wiley

Bottom Line

If you're new to data visualization and want to get some ideas on how the best flow charts, infographics, and graphical representations are made, this is a great book to check out.


  • The graphics in this book are amazing
  • Good introduction to data visualization
  • Nice, easy-to-read tone


  • Not a technical book
  • Does not teach you how to create the amazing graphics you’ll see in the book
  • Not for professional data analysts or graphic artists


  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Price: $39.99
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Released: March 25, 2013
  • Chapter 1 Understanding Data
  • Chapter 2 Visuaalization: The Medium
  • Chapter 3 Representing Data
  • Chapter 4 Exploring Data Visually
  • Chapter 5 Visualizing with Clarity
  • Chapter 6 Designing for an Audience
  • Chapter 7 Where to Go from Here

Jennifer Kyrnin’s Review of Data Points

The first thing I noticed when reading this book were the images. It's not surprising that a book on data visualization would have good looking pictures, but many of them are great. In fact, there are often so many pictures that I found myself just skimming through to look at them, forgetting that I was supposed to be reading what they were included for. After all, this isn't an art book, it's a book on data visualization, right?

Not For Pros

If you've been taking data and creating amazing visual representations of it for years, you probably won't find this book all that useful. This is not a technical book. It doesn't teach you how to create the amazing graphics you'll see in the book. Nor does it give you explicit technical examples for how to elicit the data that backs up the visualizations. He does mention some tools you can use, but not how to use them, or often even where to get them. The final chapter has a lot of those resources.

This book is also not for graphic artists, unless you like pretty books. After all, if you're a professional graphic artist, you probably already know most of the techniques he demonstrates. For instance, Figure 2-11: Coffee Drinks Illustrated is a very nice graphic detailing how coffee drinks are made. If I hadn't seen it in this book, I would have thought of it as the work of a graphic artist, rather than the work of a data analyst. But in reality it is both.

Who Is It For?

I believe this is a great book for web designers who are used to getting data as chunks of numbers, but don't often take the time to look at them in a larger context. This book will help you see that you can view your web stats in such a way as to make it clear that most of your customers come to your sites after 5pm on Thursdays, or that Plurk is the social media site that sends you the most referals.

This book will give beginners to data visualizations ideas for how to present their information. From flow charts to photo collages, you will come to realize that almost all visual things can be data or used to visualize data. I especially liked chapter four, where Yau provides a process for analyzing data to determine how best to display it visually. Again, this information is very basic for experienced data analysts, but for the rest of us it can be reassuring to read “I sometimes spend most of the time gathering data and little time visualizing it.” (page 138). Once you've gathered the data Yau gives you a bunch of ideas for how to display it, but you will need to decide on the graphics elements yourself.

I Enjoyed This Book

I found this book easy to read and interesting to consider. I admit that before I read this book I mostly used pie charts and bar charts for data visualization. And after reading it, I probably still will, but at least I have a better sense of why I should use them and when they work best. I'd love to take a look at the Tableau Software he talks about in chapter 7, but until they have an OSX version, I'll wait. And as he mentions in chapter 7 HTML5 and JavaScript are getting more capable of doing data visualization even on-the-fly, so that makes learning how to do it that much more important.

If you're interested in reading an excerpt of this book before you buy, I have a full-color PDF excerpt on my site.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.