The Playfair Prize is a new data journalism competition for students. It takes its name and inspiration from William Playfair, a Scotsman born in 1759 who spent his working life in Birmingham and London.

Playfair did many things: he was an engineer, an economist, a journalist and an editor; he also set up a few companies that went bust and got involved in some unsavory financial dealings. We like him because in the 1780s he set out the first economic charts: he drew an area chart of Britain’s trade balance, and he designed the first pie chart. Playfair was the world’s first data visualizer, and used his charts to support his arguments.

We think good charts are vital. In recent discussions with students and lecturers at the London School of Economics, King’s College London and Birkbeck University we found students were keen to get involved in debates using data, but were often held back. People had many questions: on the best way to set out a chart, the best places to find data, and the best way to write a convincing argument.

As experienced economic journalists, we believe that these things are all important and that you will get better at them by doing them. That is what the Playfair Prize is all about. We have designed a prize that offers you a challenge; it is powered by a new data visusalisation website that will help and support you as you write. We hope you will take part and that you will enjoy it.

Good luck.

Richard Davies and Ed Conway