Visualization and Design: Fundamentals

  • pdf of syllabus with dates
  • CUNY Graduate Center
  • 6:30 to 8:30pm | Mondays
  • Michelle McSweeney (mmcsweeney@gc.cuny.edu)
  • Office Hours By Appointment
  • https://introductiondatavizfa21.commons.gc.cuny.edu


As employers in every sector continue to search for candidates that can turn their data into actionable information, this course is designed to demystify data analysis by approaching it visually. Using Tableau Software, we will build a series of interactive visualizations that combine data and logic with storytelling and design. We will dive into cleaning and structuring unruly data sets, identifying which chart types work best for different types of data, and unpacking the tactics behind effective visual communication. With an eye towards critical evaluation of both data and method, projects and discussions will be geared towards humanities and social science research. Regardless of your academic concentration, you will walk away from this class with a portfolio of dynamic dashboards and a new interdisciplinary skillset ready to leverage in your academic and professional work.


By the end of this class, you will be able to:

  • Build interactive data visualization dashboards that answer a clear and purposeful research question
  • Choose which chart type works best for different types of data
  • Iterate with fluidity in Tableau Software leveraging visualization, aesthetic, and user interface best practices
  • Structure thoughtful critiques and communicate technical questions and solutions
  • Leverage collaborative tools, including Tableau Public, the CUNY Academic Commons, and repositories of public data sets
  • Contribute to the broader conversation about digital practices in academic research
  • Critically read a wide range of chart types with an eye for accuracy, audience, and effectiveness
  • Identify potential weaknesses in the collection methods and structure of underlying data sets
  • Locate the original source of a visualization and its data


This course is an hybrid studio-lecture-online format. The lecture will focus on a theoretical component underpinning data visualization. The tutorials cover essential tools and techniques in Tableau. The Studio is found in the iterative nature of your projects, the pin-ups, and the weekly critiques. 

The Tableau tutorials are only available online because I believe it is the best way to learn the basics of the tool. They can be completed in any order, though they do correspond to the weekly sessions. The due dates are in the syllabus, but I will only check for completion on November 26th. You will not receive feedback on the labs because you are simply following along with the instructions.

Most weeks, you will critique a professionally made visualization. You will get the most out of that exercise by really taking some time to read the visual before analyzing it.

There are 3 projects. Before each project, you will submit a project proposal. The project proposal consists of 1 paragraph describing your question, the data you plan to use (specifying the variables), and a sketch of your visualization. We will have a 5-10 minute meeting to discuss your proposal. You will then complete your project. 

After you complete your project, you will participate in a pin-up. This is an opportunity to get feedback from the class. The purpose of the pinups is to both practice giving and receiving feedback and it is an opportunity to envision how you can develop your project. 

By the end of this course, you will have developed a deep understanding of the context around data visualization and how to effectively and ethically engage in visual communication.

***FALL 2021 ADDENDUM***

This course can be taken completely online or as a hybrid. All students will complete all labs online and will participate in pin-ups and final review online. Lectures will be held in person with the option to view a pre-recorded lecture online instead. Per CUNY-GC guidelines, masks are required for everyone attending in-person lectures regardless of vaccination status. If you are unable or unwilling to wear a mask during in-person activities, you will be asked to leave the classroom and watch the lecture online. 

I reserve the right to transition the class to being fully online at any point in the semester for any reason.


During this course, you will complete four graded assignments: 3 projects and a white paper. You will get feedback on these 4 items. You will likely turn in each project before you feel fully ready to do so, and will have the opportunity to submit revisions until you’re satisfied with the outcome. 

 You will also complete tutorials on Tableau, forum discussions, and critiques, these are graded on completion and you will not receive feedback on them. 

Submit your PROPOSALS & White Paper via email to mmcsweeney@gc.cuny.edu

Post the link to your PROJECTS (the CUNY Academic Commons Page with your project and text) to the respective Project Threads in the Group Forum.

Post your Tableau Tutorials/Labs to your Tableau Public Site. 

Post the Forum responses and Critiques to the Group Forum.

Project 1

15% Final Grade | Guidelines
Visualizations built with New York City’s 311 data

Project 2

20% Final Grade | Guidelines
Visualizations of a data set you’ve created

Final Portfolio

25% Final Project| Guidelines
Visualizations answering an independent research question using a data set of your choice

White Paper

10% Final Grade | Guidelines
A 1,500-4,000 word final reflection on data, visualization, and iteration


15% Final Grade | Critiques Guidelines

Tableau Labs

15% Final Grade | Completion of Tableau Labs



There are 5 SYNCHRONOUS classes via ZOOM 

8/30 6:30-8:30pm (ET)

10/4 6:30-8:30pm (ET)

11/1 6:30-8:30pm (ET)

12/6 6:30-8:30pm (ET)

12/13 6:30-8:30pm (ET)



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