I.1 The Quest Begins In his book The Seven Basic Plots, author Christopher Booker investigated the
history of telling stories. He examined the structures used in biblical teachings and historical myths
through to contemporary storytelling devices used in movies and TV. From this study he found seven
common themes that, he argues, can be identifiable in any form of story.
One of these themes was ‘The Quest’. Booker describes this as revolving around a main protagonist who
embarks on a journey to acquire a treasured object or reach an important destination, but faces many
obstacles and temptations along the way. It is a theme that I feel shares many characteristics with the
structure of this book and the nature of data visualisation.
You are the central protagonist in this story in the role of the data visualiser. The journey you are
embarking on involves a route along a design workflow where you will be faced with a wide range of
different conceptual, practical and technical challenges. The start of this journey will be triggered by
curiosity, which you will need to define in order to accomplish your goals. From this origin you will move
forward to initiating and planning your work, defining the dimensions of your challenge. Next, you will
begin the heavy lifting of working with data, determining what qualities it contains and how you might
share these with others. Only then will you be ready to take on the design stage. Here you will be faced
with the prospect of handling a spectrum of different design options that will require creative and
rational thinking to resolve most effectively.
The multidisciplinary nature of this field offers a unique opportunity and challenge. Data visualisation is
not an especially difficult capability to acquire, it is largely a game of decisions. Making better decisions
will be your goal but sometimes clear decisions will feel elusive. There will be occasions when the best
choice is not at all visible and others when there will be many seemingly equal viable choices. Which one
to go with? This book aims to be your guide, helping you navigate efficiently through these