This is the course website for HCDE 511, Information Visualization.

Recent advances in computation, data management, and sensors are leading our society to generate an ever-increasing flood of digital information. Submerged within the data deluge lies a wealth of information that is potentially valuable to businesses, governments, scientists, and all human communities. In order for data to be of use to humans, we need to understand how to explore and communicate this information effectively so that humans can make sense of and draw valuable insights from the data around us. The visual system is the highest bandwidth channel into the human brain.

The goal of information visualization is the unveiling of the underlying structure of large or abstract data sets using visual representations that utilize the powerful processing capabilities of the human visual perceptual system.


Cecilia Aragon
407A Sieg Hall
Office Hours: Tues 5-6pm
Email: hcde511 (at) uw. edu


Polle Zellweger
313 Sieg Hall
Office Hours: By appointment
Email: pollez (at) uw. edu


Daniel Perry
312 Sieg Hall
Office Hours: By appointment
Email: dbperry (at) uw. edu

Course Summary

This course describes the key design principles and techniques used in visualizing information, together with the perceptual principles that support them. It is structured to provide both concrete experience with real data and tools as well as a broad overview of the rich world of information visualization. Students will learn both how to design and how to explore, analyze and evaluate.

The following topics will be included: The design and presentation of digital information. Use of graphics, animation, visualization software, and hypermedia in presenting information to the user. Vision and perception. Methods of presenting complex information to enhance comprehension and analysis. Incorporation of visualization techniques into human-computer interfaces.

There are many related topics that this class will not address. These include: computer graphics and visualization as an artistic enterprise.

Students will be required to do reading assignments, perform in-class exercises in design and analysis, participate in online and in-class discussions, and complete several visualization assignments and a group project that will consist either of creating or enhancing a visualization system or technique. Projects will be interdisciplinary in nature and in most cases will involve programming, visualization design, and user interface design. Students will be expected to write up the results of the project in the form of a research paper. There will be no final exam.

This course is based on many prior courses in information visualization, including material from UC Berkeley professors Marti Hearst and Maneesh Agrawala, UW CS professor Jeffrey Heer, and many others. We would like to gratefully acknowledge the generosity of these professors and other experts in sharing teaching materials. All material is used with permission.

Student Learning Goals

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

Class Meetings

Class meets Tues 6:00pm-9:50pm in 175 Johnson Hall. (If this room does not meet our needs, we may be moving to the Design Lab, 233 Sieg Hall, for later classes.) The format of the class will be a mix of lecture, discussion, analyzing visualizations, in-class activities, and design studio.

Class Catalyst Site and Discussion Board



Grades will be determined as follows:

Late assignments will not be accepted after the first week of class. In-class work and class participation cannot be made up. If you miss a class, you will receive a zero for the work done in class that day. Please do not ask the professor or TA what you missed during class; check the website or ask a classmate. Required posts to the class discussion board must be made before the due date or you will receive a zero for that work.

Final projects cannot be turned in late.

Readings and Books

Readings will consist of one required text: Stephen Few's Now You See It, and a number of papers that will be accessible online or handed out in class.

Highly recommended but not required:

Guide to using the Tableau software package:
The Beginner's Guide to Data Visualization.


We'll be using the Tableau software package. You will receive a code for accessing it; do not share this with others. It only works under Windows, so Mac users will have to use a virtual machine (UW has a VMware license). Tableau's data visualization software is provided through the Tableau for Teaching program.

You may also use the free Tableau Public software package.

Optionally, you may also be working with d3, a free JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data, or other visualization tools. See the resources page for further tools.