Humans are primarily visual creatures. Our brains are incredibly efficient at processing the visual data that surrounds us every day of our lives. 

Few haven’t heard the idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but it has genuine scientific merit. Studies show that learning through visuals has a different effect than learning through text, and is often more efficient for learning, albeit text is still complementary to image and vice-versa. 

Humans have been incorporating data in a visual format for thousands of years. Given our visual brains, data visualisation plays an essential role in communication across various industries, sectors and other cultural and societal spaces. 

Today, data visualisation is embedded in education, modern culture, and business and commerce. From bar graphs to pie charts, scatterplots to histograms, there are so many ways to communicate data better than through numbers and figures alone. 

However, data visualisation isn’t without its challenges, and it’s not a skill or process practitioners should take for granted. 

Arming yourself with some of the best data visualisation books will help you level up your data skills, regardless of whether you’re a data scientist, analyst, engineer, software developer, a student in data or another discipline, a scientist, designer, business communicator, or someone else that uses data regularly in their life or career. 

Without further ado, here are the top 10 data visualisation books.


Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals – Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

This book is oriented toward business communicators, or client or business-facing professionals that work with data. Examples include data analysts, freelance data scientists, CTOs, etc. 

Rather than providing too much of a technical commentary on building data visualisations from datasets, this book looks more at the process of designing effective visualisations. It focuses on communicating data with stakeholders in an effective and persuasive way. This includes choosing the right visuals, ensuring design elements are in place, and illustrating important information through visuals.

This book is designed to make data communicators more effective. Rather than hoping data speaks for itself, this book hopes to teach practitioners that the human mediator of data visualisations is also extremely important. 

Disciplines: 

  • Business communication 
  • Management and leadership
  • Data analysis
  • Technology and financial sectors 

Suitable For:

  • Anyone who regularly uses and/or communicates with data between businesses, clients and customers

Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-Glance Monitoring – Stephen Few

Constructing dashboards in applications such as Tableau, Microsoft BI, Google Data Studio, and other tools is a vital skill for many types of data practitioners. 

Stephen Few has written various books, including Show Me The Numbers – he’s a longstanding educator and consultant who’s focused on improving communication between data professionals and business stakeholders. 

This book is oriented around creating effective dashboards that provide powerful, actionable insights without the fluff. Covering dos, don’ts and actionable tips for creating incredible dashboards, this is the go-to for those who create visuals in their everyday jobs. 

Disciplines: 

  • Business communication 
  • Dashboard design 
  • Data analysis
  • Cognitive science

Suitable For:

  • Dashboard designers 

Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data Through the Eyes of Experts – Julie Steele, Noah Iliinsky

Julie Steele is an author and editor of various books relating to Python, SQL, PHP, web frameworks and CMS, databases, Big Data and cloud computing. There are numerous contributors to this book, with several detailed essays with reference to real-life use cases. Each contributor has their own distinct and useful insight, making this a dynamic and varied book. 

There are some pretty interesting subjects too, like data visualisation in forensics. But, overall, the book is focused on data visualisation, specifically how to build effective visualisations even in the most complex situations. 

This book is very long and delves into many complex case studies, e.g. conducting data analysis on the New York times and communicating findings to key stakeholders. 

Disciplines: 

  • Business communication 
  • Journalism 
  • Data analysis
  • Science

Suitable For:

  • Anyone who wants to gain high-level real-life insight into data visualisation 

Functional Art, The: An introduction to information graphics and visualisation – Alberto Cairo

Despite being some 10-years old, The Functional Art pulls together art, design, data and cognitive science. As a result, it’s become a go-to book for those working in both statistics, data, journalism and creative sectors. 

While the book is primarily focussed on creating expertly crafted data, it also delves into how the brain perceives visual graphics and how designers can use that to their advantage. It aims to teach how to make data visualisations more attractive, impactful and memorable. There are stacks of examples, and beautiful graphics which illustrate the difference quality design makes, i.e. the “functional art” of creating information graphics. 

This is an inspiring book for anyone in a data-related field. It’s exceptionally well-written and well-presented and has a huge gallery of expertly-crafted examples. 

Disciplines: 

  • Graphic design
  • Science and education 
  • Data analysis
  • Data science

Suitable For:

  • Everyone who wants to improve their understanding of data visualisation, while gaining valuable inspiration into real-life examples 

Information Graphics – Sandra Rendgen

This massive 400+ page coffee table book is packed full of awesome high-quality graphs, charts and infographics covering every subject from journalism and demography to art history and natural disasters. It’s an odyssey of data visualisation designed to inspire, with some 200 projects illustrated with over 400 examples of graphs and graphics from a wide variety of disciplines.

The graphics are well organised and presented with tidbits of information. Much of the book is also filled with essays on the origins and development of data visualisation and graphics. This is an almanac for data visualisation – it’s useful for practically anyone who uses data visuals or infographics (certainly not limited to data science!)

Disciplines: 

  • Natural sciences, geography, politics, demography, and more!
  • Data analysis 
  • Graphic design 
  • Almanack-style book for data visualisation 

Suitable For:

  • Anyone and everyone who enjoys engaging with information and data through the medium of visuals 

Data Visualisation: A Handbook for Data Driven Design – Andy Kirk

Voted as one of the “six best books for data geeks” by the Financial Times, this book enables readers to pick appropriate visualisations for the task at hand, build their skills in creating and illustrating visuals and see visuals deployed in real-life situations. 

There’s lots of supplementary information accompanying examples, such as how-tos, dos and don’ts and checklists to consult. Again, this is focused mainly on business communications, though it also applies to science, education, non-profit, etc. 

The book is straightforward and is quite design-oriented, like some other titles on this list. However, it’s concise and to-the-point, which is great for those who want to enhance their data visualisation skills efficiently. 

Disciplines: 

  • Science and education
  • Business communications and management
  • Data analysis
  • Graphic design 

Suitable For:

  • Anyone looking to enhance their fundamental data visualisation skills 

Learning Tableau 2020: Create effective data visualizations, build interactive visual analytics, and transform your organization – Joshua Milligan

Here’s something slightly different – this is a book focused on using Tableau, one of the world’s most popular data visualisation platforms. This guide starts with Tableau basics, before moving on to ingesting data from multiple sources and turning it into single-view graphs, charts and dashboards for data visibility. 

There’s plenty of advanced content, including using calculations to solve problems, enrich data and enhance analysis. Chapters also cover sets and LOD calculations, amongst other advanced topics. You’ll also learn how to structure dirty and messy data to make it useful for analytics purposes. 

If you use Tableau or expect to use it in your career, this is a great book to have on your desk. One of the most comprehensive guides to Tableau around!

Disciplines: 

  • Tableau 
  • Dashboard design 
  • Data analysis
  • Business communication 

Suitable For:

  • Tableau students and professionals 

Data Visualization in Python with Pandas and Matplotlib – David Landup 

Python features some of the best libraries and frameworks for creating highly customisable data visualisations. Pandas and Matplotlib work together exceptionally well, enabling Python users to clean and manipulate data prior to loading it into Matplotlib. Matplotlib is extremely flexible, containing graphs, charts and diagrams ranging from pie charts and bar plots to complex 3D surface and joint plots.

This is not a concise book – it’s over 400 pages long! However, there are tons of advanced topics inside, such as creating Matplotlib buttons and widgets, advanced data processing, 3D graph creation and much more. If you’re a Python programmer or developer, or intend to use Python for data visualisation purposes, this is a superb book to get stuck into. 

There is a second Python-oriented data visualisation book worth mentioning: Interactive Data Visualization with Python: Present your data as an effective and compelling story. The book covers Matplotlib, Altair, Bokeh and Plotly. 

Disciplines: 

  • Python 
  • Pandas and Matplotlib 
  • Data processing 
  • Advanced data visualisation 

Suitable For:

  • Those who use/want to use Python for data visualisation 

Microsoft Power BI Cookbook: Gain expertise in Power BI – Greg Deckler and Brett Powell

This guide to using Microsoft’s Power BI is full of stunningly detailed information from two top experts. It starts with cleaning and integrating data sources before building that data into visualisations and dashboards. The authors provide guidance on using aggregate tables for big data applications, creating and integrating paginated reports and understanding DirectQuery and live connections.

The book contains some 90 recipes alongside use cases and examples. So there’s a good chance you’ll be able to apply some of the knowledge immediately (if you use Power BI, obviously). 

There’s no doubt that this is an in-depth book aimed at Microsoft BI professionals, but it rates as a superb opportunity for those who want to take their Power BI skills to the highest level. 

Disciplines: 

  • Microsoft Power BI
  • Dashboard design 
  • Data analysis
  • Business communications 

Suitable For:

  • Power BI students and professionals 

Information is Beautiful – David McCandless

An award-winning book, Information is Beautiful, takes various stats and figures and turns them into beautiful figures. This is an inspiration-type book that’s informative and thought-provoking for those working inside and outside of data. 

It’s stimulating and useful in breaking down complex topics into various graphics and visualisations, enhancing the presentation of facts. In that sense, it’s a really good book for anyone who regularly communicates using data, whether in an educational or professional setting. 

The book itself is well-written and well-presented. This is an excellent example of how data, art, and design combine forces to create impactful and memorable visualisations. 

Disciplines: 

  • Geography, demography, politics, art, culture; practically everything 
  • Graphic design 
  • Data analysis
  • Statistics 

Suitable For:

  • Suitable for a broad readership 

Summary: Top 10 Data Visualisation Books

Data visualisation is a massive component of data science and numerous other job remits and disciplines. From healthcare to science, journalism and graphic design, these books are packed full of important advice, guidance and inspiration. 

Even if you think you know your graphs, charts, tables and diagrams inside out, these books are certain to enhance your knowledge. Some of these titles are focused more on design and inspiration, whereas others are focused on practice. Both are essential to creating stunning data visualisations that inform and educate. 


FAQ

What is data visualisation?

Data visualisation includes graphs, charts, diagrams, infographics and any other graphical or pictorial depiction of data. Both structured and unstructured data can be incorporated into data visualisations. Data visualisations enable humans to share information visually, which is often more efficient and effective than sharing it via other methods.

What is data visualisation used for?

Data visualisation is used in virtually every sector and industry. Communicating data and information in graphical format is quick, and efficient, and makes complex figures and statistics easier to understand. Data visualisation is used to make data intelligible. It also transcends language barriers.

What are some examples of data visualisation?

Bar charts, line graphs, scatter plots, pie charts and histograms are just a handful of examples of data visualisations. Infographics and diagrams are also data visualisations. Pretty much any graphical depiction of data counts as a data visualisation,

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