Modern Heroes

While it is too early to say whether people working in modern visualisation will stand the test of time as Florence Nightingale and John Snow have, we still think it is possible to pick some modern heroes. Like William Petty and William Playfair, a group of unsung people stand behind most of the good charts that you see today. Here are some key players, with their most important invention:

  • Leland Wilkinson: The Grammar of Graphics. A psychologist by training, Wilkinson developed a number of plotting packages and in 1999 published, The Grammar of Graphics, a foundational book in modern data visualisation.
  • Hadley Wickham: ggplot2. Currently the Chief Scientist at RStudio, Wickham took the concepts from Wilkinson’s book, and made a popular R-based charting library (ggplot2).
  • Guido van Rossum: Python. Inventor of Python, a high-level programming language. Python sits behind many of the charts we work on, especially when working with large datasets requiring automation. Python is amazing because it is both simple and powerful - write code that reads like English but crunches data at Terabyte scale. It is used by data journalists, Fortune 500 companies, and freelance web developers alike.
  • Mike Bostock: D3. An American computer scientist with a Stanford PhD, Bostock is the key brain behind D3. His work has features in the New York Times and he has been tipped as a future data hero by Edward Tufte. D3 is the industry standard for creating beautiful, interactive graphics for the web. 
  • University of Washington. Interactive Data Lab. Admittedly not a single person, the team at the UW-IDL make some of the best visualisations out there. They provide lots of tutorials, code and examples, and are the people behind Vega, the charting language that we recommend you learn, and help you use as part of the Playfair Prize.