CDVG members will meet to discuss free online data visualization course offered by Knight Center.

Alberto Cairo and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is offering a free online introduction to data journalism and infographics course in October. I am signing up and I hope that some of you will join me. If you want to discuss the course materials with your fellow CDVG members also taking the course then sign up for the meeting at our meetup site.

Meeting Topic Suggestion: Platform implications for data visualization

CDVG member Adam Kallish recently proposed:

discussions on rich internet applications and discussions when browser based, or fat client/RIA applications for multi-modal platforms (laptop/tablet/phone/hybrid) are best applicable for a particular solution

as a topic for a future meeting.

Please express your interest in this topic by commenting below.

Workshop: Graphing with R & ggplot2

Descriptionggplot2 example by Hadley Wickham

Introduce yourself to R and the powerful graphing library based on the Grammar of Graphics–ggplot2. Attendees will work in small teams to learn how to generate basic and advanced plots in ggplot2 to solve a variety of problems. The workshop will also review the fundamentals of data visualization to increase the readability and clarity of plots.

The workshop is open to all types of users, including those who are unfamiliar with R. We will mix some demonstration with small group-based projects. Basic principles of data visualization will also be emphasized alongside ggplot2 demonstrations to put the program into a larger context.


The workshop is targeted to individuals who are not familiar with ggplot2, including beginners who are new to the R software. Attendees will need to bring there own computer where we will install the R and ggplot2 software–don’t worry, both are open source and free.

Time, Location, & Signup

The workshop begins October 8  in the IMSA classroom at 1871 located on the 12th floor of The Merchandise Mart (222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza). It includes four sessions (outline below) meeting on consecutive Mondays at 6pm. The IMSA room isn’t available on October 22 so, depending on the number of attendees, we will either meet in a smaller conference room or push the schedule a week.

There are only 30 seats available for this workshop due to the size limitations of the IMSA classroom. Interested attendees need to go to the CDVG meetup site to sign up for each of the four sessions.

Workshop Leaders

The workshop will be led by CDVG member Tom Schenk. Tom is a Senior Research Data Analyst at Northwestern University, Department of Medical Social Sciences. You can read more about Tom on his website. He also curates Data Nouveau–a collection of interesting data visualizations on the web.

Tom will be assisted by CDVG member Josh Doyle (who is relatively new to R & ggplot2 and will ask the dumb questions so others won’t have to). We also expect to have some other experienced folks in the room to help out.

Workshop Outline

Introduction to R (October 8)

We will familiarized ourselves with the R environment with a gentle introduction to the basic functions. After installing R, we will import and inspect data sets while becoming familiar with R terminology. By the end of the class, we will conduct basic descriptions and plots of the data.

  • Learn how to import data into R.
  • Understand the structure of data sets and their components..
  • Learn how to describe data.
  • Download and install new packages from CRAN.
  • Plot data using basic R functions.

Introduction to ggplot2 (October 15)

We will begin to use the ggplot2 package to create basic, but handsome, univariate, bivariate, and time-series graphs. We will introduce the functions and terminology used in ggplot2. We will also explain the fundamentals of proper data visualization techniques and how it relates to the ggplot2 defaults.

  • Install the ggplot2 package.
  • Use geometric shapes to display data.

Grammar of Graphics (October 22 or 29)

We will continue to show more advanced features of ggplot2, including how it relates to Leland Wilkinson’s Grammar of Graphics. We will show how to plot more than 2 variables in a single graph using colors, shapes, and sizes. We will also discuss how human ability to perceive different shapes and colors should drive the choices we make in data visualization.

  • Using scales to add information.
  • Using coordinates to aid interpretations.
  • Easily create small multiple graphs.

Plots for Publications (October 29 or November 5)

After learning how to make plots, we will learn how to customize graphs with custom colors, labels, and themes. We will emphasize how to create a customized look to be included in publications, including adding labels in diagrams to help readers.

  • Saving graphs from R into publication-friendly formats.
  • Use custom colors for plots.
  • Use your own fonts.
  • Customizing ggplot2 graphs with the new themes feature.

Recap: CDVG Meeting of Aug. 29, 2012

UPDATE: Links to presentations from our meeting on 8/29.


Thank you to everyone that turned out last evening for our CDVG meeting. Special thanks to

  • Dean Malmgren for spending an hour discussing many of projects he and his partners (Mike Stringer & Aaron Wolf) at Datascope Analytics have delivered. I think these guys like nothing better than a wrangling a massive and messy network of data and discovering insights. You can read more about the Proctor & Gamble project on the Datascope Analytics site.
  • Matej Mavricek of Power Switch for sharing the challenge he has in visualizing the US Electric Grid. I think this is an interesting problem with insights yet to be discovered. The resulting visualizations might be an interesting combination of network diagrams and maps. He is willing to meet with anyone interested in this topic. He can be reached at and by phone at (312) 344-1404.
  • Everyone that asked questions and approached me after the meeting. I enjoyed speaking with each of you and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to spend more time.
  • Technexus and Taylor Kinsella for hosting.
 A few things I mentioned during the meeting…
  • Our weekly learning and hack nights starting October 1 at 1871. Read more about this here.
  • Brian Ringley, CDVG member and a Solution Architect with Slalom Consulting, is representing all Microsoft visualization technologies: Excel, Powerpivot, and Powerview. We are scheduling a future presentation with him but he is open to receiving questions now from any members that have interests in these tools.
  • Open City. This group is a great example of what can be done with open access to government data and open source tools. You can support what they do by taking a look at their apps. You can also participate in the weekly Open Government Hack Nights they host.
  • Chicago Tableau User Group meetup on October 2. This group is organized by  Rina Bongsu-Petersen. I hear that these have been great meetups in the past. I’ll be going and I hope to see you there.
  • Books that I forgot to give away. They are Designing Data Visualizations by Noah Llinsky & Julie Steele,  R Cookbook by Paul Teetor, and  Getting Started with D3 by Mike Dewar. So I know I said that I would give these to the first three people that sent me an email with a suggestion for meetings but…I’m going to change the rules a bit. Sorry. Instead, members that share a relevant visualization, article, or blog post will have their name entered in to a drawing for a book. We will draw the names at our next meeting to be scheduled for September or October. Share twice and your name is entered twice, share three times and your name is entered three times, and so on. Options for sharing include tweeting to @chicagodatavis, posting to the Chicago Data Visualization Group on LinkedIn, or posting to the CDVG website. I’ll have to grant you publishing access to the latter which I will do willingly for those wanting to contribute. Happy sharing!
  • I’m always interested in those members that want to get involved in the group. Contact me if you are interested in hosting/sponsoring a meeting, finding venues, making this boring looking website cool, etc.

Thanks again for coming last night.