Wanting to make beautiful visualizations of data. My background is in Astronomy, and I was a Data Scientist at a consultancy after I graduated. With data analysis comes data visualization, and I was doing all that in R. But when I was first exposed to the magic that d3.js can do, I knew that I had to learn how to make visuals in d3 too. And that’s how I got introduced to the web languages.
As a freelancer, I work from home. I’m quite tidy, so I only have necessities on my desk and I love my big 34” screen. My 14-year old cat Snookie is also vital in my daily work, keeping me company throughout the day :)
There are four programs that I can’t work without R for data prep, VS Code to program my visuals and Chrome to see them in, and Illustrator to do any possible after work for static visuals. And for ease I also use GitHub Desktop, and since I work a lot with data I can’t get away from Excel since basically all my clients have (part of) their data in Excel files (through a virtual machine, Excel on a Mac is just such a horrible experience).
My phone is quite boring, mostly public transport quick links, banking, and favorite social media channels.
A (rather unconventional) combination of R, d3.js & Adobe Illustrator.
By far at the top for me is, of course, Mike Bostock’s d3.js and the multitude of plugins that people have created. One of my favorites is Susie Lu’s d3-annotation, which makes placing good annotations around charts so much easier and better. And I basically always make use of Chroma to have more advanced control of colors, since these are so important in data visualization. I also like to use Matt DesLaurier’s budo, for a quick live-reload development set-up, and recently I’ve been playing with his canvas-sketch, which is a great way to quickly get started with a little generative art.
I know they’re not new, but WebGL and Three.js and how that could be applied to data visualization. I’ve gently played around with shaders for a bit, but I still have a lot to learn and experiment before I get to the point where I think I could truly apply it to a data visualization project
I always start my project by figuring out the question and goal, what should the audience learn from the visual that I want to make. I can then use this to figure out the data that I need. Once I have that I go into the design phase in which I make some very rough (pen & paper) sketches of how I want to layout my data. And next comes the endless programming. I do try to get the data on my screen as soon as possible to see if my rough design idea even works with the actual data. At this stage, if it’s a client project I often create a hidden URL that I share so that I have a continuous feedback loop with the client on how the visual is progressing. If the visual is meant for something static (e.g. magazine, press release), I’ll take the final online visual into Illustrator for some final touches. But if the visual stays online, well, then I basically only create prototypes. I hate doing production work, and I don’t even have the proper knowledge to do it. So I deliver a fully functioning, but standalone visual function to the client, whose own developers will integrate it into their systems.
Between 2016 and 2018 I did a long collaboration with Shirley Wu, called data sketches, where we created 12 elaborate data visualizations. We made them separately, but we both started from the same topic. For example, there were movies, Olympics, nostalgia, fun, nature and more. Besides sharing the end result, we also wrote about the creation process of each, from data to sketching to coding it all up. And I learned so much doing all those projects! It was a great place to experiment and go crazy about niche topics that I truly cared about, such as comparing constellations from cultures across the world, the fights in Dragon ball Z, or all the words spoken in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Making lots of projects/experiments. You learn new things with every small thing you create, which you can develope further on your next project. And better yet, it can serve as a portfolio that grows over time.
I could say something along the lines of “gosh, my boss just doesn’t listen to my amazing advice”, but since I’m a freelancer :P But perhaps that’s the crux, the tech challenge that I have is that my knowledge is very specifically focused on DataViz. And for some projects, I need people who are experts in other areas, such as back-end, front-end, design. And I don’t yet have the network yet to just reach out to someone that I know who can do it well. But I’m slowly working on growing that.
Well, if you ask, I now have a course on Skillshare in which I share my favorite techniques to take a data visualization beyond the norm. How to get it from the standard chart into something that is both effective and visually appealing, crafted to fit your particular dataset. It's a tool-agnostic, so it doesn’t teach you any specific programs. Instead, it’s about practical instructions, best practises and tips. And you can follow it through the 2-month free trial that you get when you sign up through this link: https://skl.sh/visualcinnamon