Episode 14: How to Use Visual Metaphor to Evoke Emotion - Featured Data Viz by Valentina D'Efilippo

Valentina D'Efilippo. Image via her LinkedIn.

Valentina D'Efilippo. Image via her LinkedIn.


Welcome to episode 14 of Data Viz Today. How can you use visual metaphor to evoke emotion? Host Alli Torban dives into specific ways to find a visual metaphor that's right for your data! Featured data viz by Valentina D'Efilippo models how to use visual metaphor to create a beautiful, meaningful, and memorable data viz.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Google PodcastsStitcher, SoundCloud & Spotify.

"Poppy Field" by Valentina D'Efilippo. Image via her website.

  • Welcome! I'm Alli Torban.

  • 00:25 - “How can you use visual metaphor to evoke emotion?”

  • 01:00 - Enroll in my free mapping mini-course here!

  • 01:25 - Featured viz “Poppy Field” by Valentina D’Efilippo. She’s an award-winning information designer, illustrator, and author based in London. In 2013, she published The Infographic History of the World and she also leads creative workshops attended by students and professionals alike, including a series of Masterclasses with The Guardian.

  • 02:00 - James Ball found the data source: the Polynational War Memorial – an independent study which attempts to compile all the conflicts since the beginning of the 1900.

  • 03:00 - She conducted some preliminary analysis in excel to see how to best present the data variables and insights. At the same time, she considered the art direction that was most suitable to the subject. Valentina decided that a scatter bubble chart was the best viz to display the data, and then she began looking for a visual metaphor that could illustrate and humanise the data. She created mood boards about war and was looking for patterns, density, length and size, and she thought of creating a field of commemoration. Then she had the idea of using Poppies because they’re used as a commemorative symbol for lives lost in war.

  • 03:45 - The final version was created using Adobe Illustrator

  • 05:45 - Check out the interactive version of her data viz here

  • 06:11 - Thought Co. defines a visual metaphor as the representation of a person, place, thing, or idea by means of a visual image that suggests a particular association or point of similarity.

  • 06:50 - Do you even need “embellished” visual metaphors in data viz? I think i depends on your goals, like we talked about in episode 01.

  • 07:15 - A paper called Understanding Visual Metaphor by Dr. Matthew Peterson and others talks about how metaphor is foundational to human thought, and it takes advantage of existing knowledge to explain the unfamiliar.

  • 08:00 - Try some creative exercises that artists use to get their creative juices flowing: write two separate lists and then combining items from each list into different combinations. Or use this website to generate visual metaphors.

  • 09:30 - Create a simple chart first with your data, and then think about a visual metaphor that you can use.

  • 10:00 - My inspired viz is a physical dendrogram representing all the people served at a medical facility.

My inspired viz - a physical dendrogram!


  • 12:15 - Final takeaway is using visual metaphor in our data viz can help our readers use their existing knowledge to explain the unfamiliar. Metaphor is foundational to human thought, and using it creatively in data viz can help strengthen its impact and beauty. Try creating a simple and clear viz first, define your goals and then spark your creativity with the exercises stolen from the art world!

  • 12:45 - Valentina’s advice to designers just starting out: she recommends to be curious and use self-initiated projects to explore subjects you’re interested in and keep nurturing your ideas and creativity. In the world of data viz, we’re required to do so many things at once – don’t let your current skill-set limit your exploration.

  • 13:10 - Visit Valentina’s website and follower on Twitter or Instagram!

  • 13:45 -  Get mapping right away with my free-mini course “Make Your First Custom Map in Under 30 Minutes”.

  • 13:55 - No episode next week for Memorial Day. See you soon!