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2018 Competition Details

Charles Minard's 1869 chart showing the number of men in Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign army, their movements, as well as the temperature they encountered on the return path.

The Data Visualization Competition is a chance for you to show off your skills in communicating information visually. The competition is open to all students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The winners will be announced at the Fall 2018 Scholarly Commons Open House in the library.

Undergraduate and graduate students in good academic standing and currently enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are eligible to submit an original data visualization.

All submissions must be a visual or graphic representation of data that you have permission to use. Two examples of data you would have permission to use are public data and data that you have collected yourself. The data you use can be quantitative, qualitative, textual, visual, geographic, and so forth.

You must have been involved in the generation of the visualization. If any colleagues helped create it, you must obtain permission from them to submit the visualization in this competition.

Types of submissions:

  • If you submit a static image, it may be a hand-designed or computer-assisted illustration, drawing, infographic, chart, or other data visualization that conceptualizes the unseen or recreates an object, process, or phenomenon, and may include text.
  • If you submit an animated visualization, it may be constructed from photographs, illustrations, graphics, film, or digital visualizations, and may depict an object, process, phenomenon, or the natural world. These should not be documentaries or interviews.
  • If you submit an interactive visualization, it may be a web application or a smartphone or tablet app that requires user input. Entries must be self-guiding or include rules that explain the purpose, challenge, or goal of the interactive. Interactive visualizations should be free-of-charge and compatible with Microsoft Windows or Mac OS, or for smartphone and tablet apps, both iOS and Android platforms.

Submissions must be made through the online submission form. Submissions open on August 13th, and close on September 23rd at 11:59pm.

Please note the following:

  • You can only submit once, so pick your best visualization!
  • Titles should be limited to 20 words and should be descriptive of the visualization or its purpose.
  • Abstracts should be limited to 200 words, and should explain the background and importance of your visualization.
  • Accepted file formats:
    • Static images: pdf, jpg, gif, png, tif
    • Animations: Provide a link to YouTube or equivalent. Please do not upload a file using the submission form. Only the first five minutes of viewing will be evaluated.
    • Interactive visualizations: Provide a link to your interactive project (e.g., website, GitHub repository, Box folder, or equivalent). Please do not upload a file using the submission form. Only the first five minutes of using the interactive visualization will be evaluated.
  • You must agree to the following license agreement that allows the University of Illinois to display and provide access to your visualization:
    • I grant the University of Illinois non-exclusive and royalty-free permission to use my visualization and accompanying text in their original forms and/or modified forms for the purpose of promoting the competition and the projects taking place at the University, and I have the necessary rights, permissions, and/or licenses to grant the University these rights. I understand that this means that such materials, in their original forms and/or modified forms, may be incorporated in any and all media. If I wish to revoke permissions to use my visualization, I must do so in writing to the University Library.
    • By accepting this license, you still retain copyright to your work and do not give up the right to submit the work to publishers or other repositories. The University will clearly identify your name as the creator of the submission will not make any alteration, other than as allowed by this license, to your submission. By accepting this license, you acknowledge that you have read and agreed to the terms of this agreement and all related University policies.

Judging criteria

The judges will evaluate your visualization’s content, communication, and creativity. As you work on your visualization, consider the following questions.


  • Is the information and its visualization accurate?
  • Is the underlying data identifiable and authoritative?
  • Does the visualization have a specific focus? Does it tell a story or answer a question?
  • Is the visualization useful? Does it deepen understanding?


  • Does the visualization accurately represent the data?
  • Is the visualization clear and understandable to a non-specialist?
  • Does the visualization improve the audience’s ability to understand the concept or data?
  • If interactive, is the purpose and function intuitive?


  • Is the visualization thought provoking or novel?
  • Does it look interesting or appealing?
  • Does the visual make good use of basic design principles, e.g., alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, repetition, and white space?
  • Does the visual make good use of advanced design principles, e.g., harmony, emphasis, gestalt, pattern, movement, rhythm, proportion, and unity?

Our expert judges

  • Brian Mertz
    Communications Process Architect
    Public Affairs
  • Juan Salamanca, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor
    School of Art + Design
  • Matt Turk, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor
    School of Information Sciences
  • Joseph T Yun, Ph.D.
    Leader, Social Research and Technology Innovation
    Research IT, Technology Services, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Principal Investigator, Social Media Macroscope (socialmediamacroscope.org)

All awards will be announced at the Scholarly Commons Open House on October 9th.

First place: $500
Second place: $300

We may also award up to two Honorable Mentions.

There will also be a People’s Choice Award, where anyone in the University community can vote for their favorite entry. (Come back to this website after the submission period has ended to vote!)

All awards will be processed through University Financial Aid. Please note: Awards won may have an effect on your student financial aid eligibility. Questions regarding awards and their impact on student financial aid eligibility should be addressed to the Office of Student Financial Aid (OSFA).

Awards may also be considered taxable income. The winner is responsible for any related taxes.

Is this competition the same as the Image of Research?

Nope! The Image of Research competition is held every spring in collaboration with the Grad College (for the graduate version) and the Office of Undergraduate Research (for the undergrad version).

For Image of Research, students have to use their own research in the competition. In addition, the images do not have to be data visualizations. (You can find out more about it at the Image of Research website.)

For this Data Visualization Competition, you can use any data that you have permission to use, whether or not it’s from your own research. Rather than simply an image, your submission must be a visualization of data.

Are international students eligible?

Yes! All students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are eligible. Please note that if you are an international student and you are selected as a winner, there will be some extra paperwork before we can give you your award.

I’m not sure what you mean by static image, animated, and interactive visualizations.

Take a look at Bring on the Bar Charts for an example of static data visualizations, the Upshot’s Income Mobility Charts for an example of animated visualizations, and this World Cup Match Dashboard for an example of an interactive visualization. These examples are given only to help clarify the different types, and are not meant to represent the entire realm of possible submissions. If you still have questions about what you can submit, feel free to send us an email at sc@library.illinois.edu.

I have a different question…

Send us an email at sc@library.illinois.edu.

The Data Visualization Competition is sponsored by the Scholarly Commons, CITL, Illinois Informatics Institute, and Research IT.
Many thanks to Northwestern, after whom we have modeled our competition.