Exploring Data Visualization in VR

An experimental design project, in which we students are analyzing methods for communicating data visually and exploring how those principles might be transferred and transformed in a 360 environment.

The military budget of the United States is $597 billion. What does that number mean to you? How do you understand it? How might your understanding change if you were standing on top of a pile of 597 billion dollar bills?

Could a VR rollercoaster effect depict the rise and fall of the housing market more accurately than a line chart? What does accuracy mean in that space?

What would a VR representation of the most densely populated place on the planet look like? The most sparse?

These are a few of the questions we’ll investigate this quarter. Exploring Data Visualization in VR is an experimental design project, in which we will analyze methods for communicating data visually and explore how those principles might be transferred and transformed in a 360 environment. Students will become acquainted with important pieces of data visualization in journalism, discuss what makes those pieces effective, and use creative tools like Google Tiltbrush and Unity prototyping assets to re-imagine how those stories might work in VR. In addition to reinventing existing models, we’ll spend significant class time exploring VR’s remarkable properties of presence and immersion—and how to emphasize those attributes to convey data in a more impactful way.


Results from the project

  • Uncharted Territory

    Diving in to Data Visualization in Virtual Reality

    Virtual reality goes beyond the world of video games and 360 videos; it provides the opportunity to better communicate information to readers by having them experience data rather than just observe it. In instances where a bar chart just isn’t enough or when you find yourself making yet another line graph, this interactive website is here to guide you through the things to consider when creating data visualizations in virtual reality. It will tell you...

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Faculty and Staff Leads

Rebecca Poulson

Technical Program Manager, Emerging Platforms

Rebecca leads AR/VR projects at Knight Lab. In addition to being a software developer and playwright, Rebecca is an Oculus Launchpad Fellow and Mozilla Tech Speaker. She has taught WebVR workshops on three continents.


Gabriel Canigila

Sophomore at Northwestern studying computer science, cognitive science, and design. Interested in the future of human-computer interaction.

Audrey Debruine

Second-year student interested in journalism, computer science, statistics, and where they intersect.

Miao Deng

Graduate student studying integrated marketing communications. Interested in data analytics, media storytelling, and emerging technologies.

Megan Fu

Senior at Northwestern studying Journalism and Global Health, interested in storytelling.