The amount and complexity of information produced in science, engineering, business, and everyday human activity is increasing at staggering rates. The goal of this course is to expose you to visual representation methods and techniques that increase the understanding of complex data. Good visualizations not only present a visual interpretation of data, but do so by improving comprehension, communication, and decision making.

In this course you will learn how the human visual system processes and perceives images, good design practices for visualization, methods for visualization of data from a variety of fields, and programming of interactive web-based visualizations using D3.

This website is for both the Harvard college CS 171 course and the Harvard Extension School CSCI E-171 course.

Limited enrollment: To provide the best possible learning experience this course has limited enrollment. We only admit 80 college students and 30 Extension school students.
College students: If you are interested in joining this course please fill out a enrollment survey. The enrollment survey will be available AFTER shopping period starts. The survey is available on our Canvas page.
DCE students: Course enrollment is on a first-come, first-serve basis, starting July 29th.

Cross-registering college students: To get access to the course’s Canvas page you will have to 1) get an XID here; 2) send an e-mail to with the subject ‘Canvas ID’; 3) the e-mail needs to contain your Name, e-mail and XID.

Extension school students: The course will be taught in two sessions per week. The lecture (Th, 7:40-10:10pm) has mandatory attendance, and the lab (Mo, 7:55-9:55pm) has optional attendance. Each class will be a combination of instructor presentation and active learning. In an active learning session, students will meet, virtually, in small groups (4-5 students each) using Web conferencing software to work on problems collaboratively. A member of the course staff will visit each group (virtually) to provide assistance and coaching. Because of the importance of the collaborative, active learning component of the course, DCE students must be available online at these times: Th, 7:40-10:10pm. The presentation segment of each on-campus class will be videorecorded and streamed during those virtual class times. For students who miss the life streaming, videos will be made available online.

Instructor and TFs

Hanspeter Pfister (Instructor)
Johanna Beyer (Head TF)

Course Sessions

Lectures & Labs:
Monday and Wednesday 3:00-5:00pm, Location: Pierce 301
DCE students: Monday (7:55-9:55pm) and Thursday (7:40-10:10pm), online video conference.

Office Hours:
Office hours are posted here.

Lecture Resources:
Discussion forum on Piazza
Materials and grades on Canvas

Teaching Fellows

  • Olivia Bryant - A. B. Candidate in Statistics, Class of 2021
  • Alain Ibrahim - Principal Software Architect
  • Nicole Jarmula - A. B. Candidate in Computer Science, Class of 2021
  • Robert Krueger - Postdoctoral Fellow, Visual Computing Group
  • Ben Levy - M. Sc. Candiate, Data Science
  • Tica Lin - Ph.D. Candidate, Visual Computing Group
  • Zilin Ma - Ph.D Candidate, Intelligent Interactive Systems Group
  • Carolina Nobre - Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Robert Roessler - PhD Candidate, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
  • Yalong Yang - Postdoctoral Fellow, Visual Computing Group
  • Elizabeth Yeoh-Wang - Harvard CS, Class of 2020
  • Amy Zhou - Joint concentrator in Computer Science & Women Gender Studies with a secondary in Education, Class of 2021

Previous Years

2019 Fall Website

2018 Fall Website

2017 Fall Website

2016 Fall Website

2016 Spring Website

2015 Website 2015 Video Archive

2014 Website 2014 Video Archive

2013 Video Archive

2012 Video Archive