MIT 4.s02

Information Design:
Exploration, Navigation, and Understanding

This is an archive of our Information Design course taught at MIT during Fall 2016. The class consisted of seven students, a mix of graduate and undergraduate from several departments across MIT. Most had very little coding or design background at the beginning of the course. Take a look at some student work and learn more about one student's process here. The site for the previous semester’s class can be seen here. You can also read our post about why we teach for a background on how education fits into our work at Fathom.

Course Description

Introduction to working with data for exploration and explanation. The course mixes history and theory of information with a series of projects that apply the ideas directly. Students will start with basic data analysis, then learn about visual design and presentation, followed by more sophisticated interaction techniques. Topics include storytelling and narrative, choosing representations, understanding audiences, and the role of designers working with data. Experience with code and/or design preferred, but not expected or required.


This class is not intended to give students a “how to” on creating data visualization. There are plenty of tools and libraries for creating interactive toys and prescribed visualizations. Those tools can be very useful, but it’s something you can learn on your own time if you choose to. This course will use a mix of work from outside of information design and data visualization, plus work we have done at Fathom to demonstrate different ways of looking at narrative and interactive information design in a broader way.

Minimum homework time

9 hours per week


Grades from A to F will be assigned at both the middle and end of the semesters. Only the end of semester grade is on record. The following criteria are used for assessment:

Completion: Were the projects completed on time?

Design: What was the quality of design concept/unique perspective. Was there enough design iteration and process sketching?

Code: What is students understanding of code? Were they able to iterate and modify code?

Participation: Did the student participate in class? Did they ask questions to TA’s if needed?

Design + Code = 70% of grade

Completion + Participation = 30% of grade

Assignments + Themes

There will be four core assignments representing different information design/data visualization considerations. There will also be weekly themes that align with the current project. For the most part, there is no pre-determined deliverable. Each assignment will begin with an overview lecture providing context and precedents.

Assignment 1: Examples

1 week

Assignment 2: Clocks

1 week

Assignment 3: Weather

2 weeks

Assignment 4: Census

4 weeks

Assignment 5: Choose your own adventure

6 weeks


We expect you to keep a sketchbook to be submitted at the end of the semester that shows us all of your hand drawn concepts and screen grabs of the projects along the way.


Context of Use