What is diydatadesign in 28 cartoons.

You have data. You have an Audience. Data Design connects the two.

So I’ve been running a digital data design workshop now for several months, and the feedback I’ve received from those inside of it is awesome.  But there are a lot of people still on the fence, not sure about what the workshop is exactly, what it involves, or if it’s for them.

I get that.  I’ve been somewhat vague about the whole thing.

Mostly because at first I didn’t really know what it was going to be all about.  I had an idea, a basic direction, and an awesome group of data people who put their trust in me to provide them with something valuable.  Something actually worth the money and time.

I knew that a lot of people were struggling to build their data design capacity.  I also knew that their needs were fairly diverse, because data design isn’t one specific skill but a ton of diverse skills often loosely grouped together.

My plan


So I came up with a plan.  Here it is:

  1. Ask individual researchers and evaluators about their data design struggles.
  2. Design activities to help them work through those struggles.
  3. Be there when they have questions or need help.
  4. Help build their creative confidence and connect them with other data people facing similar struggles.
  5. Repeat.


So if you want to know what the workshop is all about, the place to start is by reading through some of the struggles I’ve been collecting.  I’ve listed them below and illustrated with cartoons.

If any of the struggles sound familiar or you have a struggle not listed here, let me know in the comments.

After you read through, go check out some of the activities that I’ve created.  I add more each week.  You can download a set for free, and if you get stuck on one of the activities, go ahead and ask for help in the comment section of this post.

A man points to a star, a woman next to him asks, "Ok, but how?"

Data Design Struggles

I struggle to make visuals that are clean and easy to read.

It's almost readable cartoon.

I struggle with walking the balance of collecting data that people want collected and then turning those data into actionable recommendations. I hope to get out of the workshop new perspectives on communicating findings in different formats for different audiences.


For every evaluation I manage, in addition to traditional reports and PPTs (which is a requirement for our organisation) I encourage the evaluator/team to come up with 1 pager and visualise 50 pages in one. It could be infographics, dashboard or two pager brief. Not easy as evaluators don’t think about it when they submit their proposals and struggle when it comes to deliver those visuals.

This is a nice 200 page comprehensive report. Now can you cut it down to 2 pages? Maybe just take away the methods, evidence and findings?

I have been using Tableau data visualization software for a little over a year, and my primary struggle is how to quickly and easily introduce design elements into my dashboards that differentiate the end product from other visuals and/or offer more variety than my current deliverables. Its often a lot of work to extract, transform, and analyze the data and therefore I don’t have much time left over for design – therefore, efficiency is a huge priority.


One thing I struggle with as I lead the staff I manage is they sometimes make great visuals that don’t reflect the most important findings of their reports. It is terrible having to asking them to remove them after all of the work put in, but a visual doesn’t add if it distracts from the key findings.

Cartoon: We spent weeks making the best PDF our audience has ever read. So what's the problem? Our audience doesn't read PDFs.

I struggle with taking a bunch of survey data, that is interesting and necessary to program managers, and making something visually beautiful for sponsors.

We used to have only one or two ugly visuals in every report...But then we heard how important visuals can be. So now we have an ugly visual on every page.

There is no specific struggle at this moment, but I am always wanting to think about how we are communicating our data and evaluation findings in a way that will be visually appealing and engaging to our audiences.

Cartoon - After years of hard work our data system is up and running...Have you discovered anything interesting? Yes nobody wants to use it.

I just love your cartoons. I would like to try to make some of my own. Perhaps I need to be a genius, perhaps some of it can be learned 😉

I also would like to make some infographics. I guess I have enough imagination what I could do – but no software and no clue how to do it.

Overwhelmed so only cat videos cartoon by Chris Lysy

In terms of our challenges… we’re struggling with how to explain semi-sophisticated visuals to our clients. E.g. one of our clients is interested in seeing the range of means across 70+ programs, without naming names. We did some lovely box plots, with what we thought were clear descriptions, and they were confused.

Footnotes Cartoon

I’m in the process of re-orienting my career towards consulting. I’m a statistician by training, but I want to professionalize my story-telling and infography competence in order to communicate my results for my clients in a more digestible way.Hope this helps!


Evaluation can feel very dry and inaccessible to a lot of people, so I would love to get some skills to be able to add some visualizations that help me communicate and grab people’s attention.

Qualitative Dashboard Concept

 My work is super interesting and I love numbers.  But the biggest challenge for me is translating my love for numbers and results into something that’s beautiful and easy to understand for my audience so they can get as excited as I am.  Data visualization is definitely a key skill for numbers people like me who are trying to get non-numbers people to embrace our work and use data for decision making.

Outside of our aid program, there’s little appreciation for the benefits of evaluation & some resistance to extending a culture of evaluation across our foreign policy engagement.

I’m trying to change this perception but also working with my evaluator colleagues to improve the presentation of our own work to bring out its usefulness & relevance more clearly (see, already I’m using too many words..!)

Cartoon: So this version has a the boring upY things you requested...I also created this second really awesome version that is just much better...so which one do you like?

This means boosting the impact of our data.  Right now we tend to present what is most easily formatted rather than what is actually the most important information.


We provide data to our local offices.  I want them to easily see what the data tells us.  I want them to be able to use that data to share with their local stakeholders to help impact change.


I am really interested in your workshop, because it could be updating my visual skills and create new perspectives and accessibility over my economics knowledge.


I am a SAP Business Intelligence professional who leads an internal BI team.  I have a passion for data visualization, but my experience over the last 15 years has been limited to “Operational Dashboards and Reporting”, so I am always keen to see how I can take those skills to the next level in the Big Data age that is now upon us.

My organization is also focused on BI self service, so your title “DIY Data Design” naturally attracted me, as I am curious as to how I can create a DIY data design environment within our organization.

Wasted Data Cartoon by Chris Lysy

I am a grant writer and need to use graphics for proposals and final reports.

Fancy Data Cartoon by Chris Lysy

I signed up because I am always looking for ways to improve data visualizations so that the story is easy to quickly grasp by stakeholders.

Big Report Cartoon by Chris Lysy

I am a PhD student and am starting to think about different ways to represent my research for presentations, publications and in my teaching. I also work at an educational evaluation company.

Cartoon-24 pages of notes. I think I got everything...But did you get this? Holding a sketch note with "The Big Idea"

I am really hoping to learn more about creative and meaningful ways to present data, information, and concepts.

Measuring the return on spending time on data visualization. I did a midyear infographic for our organization, and the feedback was stellar. Now how do I prove other than anecdotal evidence that this was important to raising more dollars or improving donor relations?

I have evidence cartoon by Chris Lysy

My primary interest is in making maps (paper, digital, and interactive) and I have found that many of the fundamentals of good data vis are often useful in communicating information on maps.

Also, I occasionally need to represent data in more conventional ways, and I simply find data vis techniques to be a very interesting topic.

Hey Wyoming, did you know more people live within my borders than in yours? Really DC, but I'm so large and colorful. Wyoming is much larger than DC!

I’m hoping to find ways to communicate my research in more accessible ways so it reaches more than the few people who read final reports. I am also feeling a bit dead by powerpoint and limited options for a non-artist. Have looked at canva and piktochart but realise the skill is in writing short, engaging messages first.

I am also trying to use twitter more and was drawn in by the messages in your listicle infographic – answers to those issues would be helpful!

Overwhelmed Cartoon by Chris Lysy

I’m interested in data visualisation and interesting ways to tell a story. I’m struggling with representing findings from impact evaluations and systematic reviews.

I am looking for Excel templates that I can modify.  I’m also looking for creative ways of communicating learning outcomes assessment results to people who have limited time and interest in this topic.

I signed up because I want to be better in communicating…getting thoughts/ideas shared with reciprocal understanding and mutual respect. I believe your insights and humor help in this regard.

I spent three hours, looking for the perfect picture of a crayon. Then I thought, "hey, if I had a crayon, I could just draw one."

I am always looking for professional development opportunities that are a bit outside the norm.  I am also always looking for ways to make data, analysis, evaluation, etc. accessible and interesting to practitioners.   Visual representations tend not to be my strength.  The content of your site and possibly this workshop seem to fit the bill.


Want to join us?

One big thing I’ve learned in the past several months.  The more diversity we have in the workshop, the better the workshop.

Different points of views lead to what I call the, “hey, that would be really helpful for me as well,” effect.  So join us, we need your point of view!

Again, the price is going up on the 31st. So if you’re interested in joining, do so now!


  1. Karen Peterman on March 28, 2016 at 11:23 am

    As a current participant, I recommend diydatadesign highly. Sometimes it can seem too overwhelming to try to “mix things up” by adding new data designs or techniques, but the workshop gives you the tools you need to make it happen. I have already integrated Adobe Voice into my reporting and I was able to create a tile map of our sites across the U.S. in less than 30 mins thanks to the workshop and activities. It is the best brain candy I’ve found in quite a while!

    • Chris Lysy on March 28, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Karen 🙂

  2. Corey Newhouse on March 28, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I enjoy the range of activities and opportunity to learn from my peers. The sessions are structured flexibly, so that members can step in and out based on their schedules and interests. It is a collegial, friendly group of fellow practitioners.

    • Chris Lysy on March 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks Corey!

  3. Aimee Russillo on March 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I’ve been a follower of Chris’s cartoons for their ability to capture concepts we all struggle with – in a simple, compelling way – and with humor. So I jumped at the chance to take the diydatadesign. It’s part of my investing in myself and to boost my creative confidence. I’ve felt intimidated with the tools and requests – “we need to make it more visual(ly appealing)”. Like so many things, data visualization takes work and regular practice to hone skills – where to start?!! but the online class is very hands on, with activities and interaction with colleagues around the world benefiting from their experience and questions. I’ve learned so much in a short time – I used the Canva activity for a Board meeting and several activities directly improved my efficiency in creating graphs in reports. most importantly, I have begun to approach data visualization differently.

    • Chris Lysy on March 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks Aimee 🙂

  4. Lauren Wilson on March 28, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    The diydatadesign course leads participants to tools and techniques that instantly improve reports. Chris’ weekly lessons provide guidance for a new approach to data visualization as well as inspiration throughout the week. By turning my attention to the course, I’ve begun to actively look for opportunities to add visuals and clarify findings. Furthermore, the community of fellow professionals enrolled in diydatadesign offers encouragement, other ideas for application, and unique approaches to the same task. I’ve already used my diydatadesign “homework” in 3 highly visual reports, and will can’t wait to learn more!

    • Chris Lysy on March 28, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks Laura 🙂

  5. Elizabeth Grim on March 29, 2016 at 10:35 am

    The flexible structure of the diydatadesign course makes it a great fit for both new and experienced evaluators. The weekly lessons and coaching calls provide a supportive environment in which to develop new skills, advance existing skills, challenge yourself creatively, and foster relationships with other professionals. I’ve been playing around with some of these concepts individually but this course has helped and inspired me to make sure I carve out time each week to continue my creative journey.

    • Chris Lysy on March 29, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      Thanks Elizabeth!

  6. Erin Harris on March 30, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    I am one of those folks who was on the fence, mostly because I was not sure what I would be getting into. I decided to take the plunge, and joined the course a week or two ago. So far, I am impressed, and see the potential to learn a lot! I am really looking forward to engaging further.

    • Chris Lysy on March 30, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks Erin, I’m glad you took the plunge 🙂

  7. Ann Gillard on March 31, 2016 at 9:06 am

    This course has been keeping me on track with thinking creatively and outside of my usual ideas. I’ve picked up a ton of tricks and tips to use for different projects, and new approaches to thinking about things. Glad to be involved!