Headshots of Elevate Your DataViz Team

We’ve all seen the various ways to learn about data visualization. There are courses on various platforms and learning areas, books, blogs, and more. But these tend to be one-way modes of learning: Someone records a video or writes a blog post (or records a podcast!) and releases out in the world for us to learn. Recently, a team of experts in the data visualization field got together to try something different–a learning environment where learners get continual access to their educators. They can ask regular questions, read blog posts, and have regular calls. So I asked the four founders of the new Elevate Dataviz Learning Community to join me on the show and talk about how and why they started it, what people can learn, and why they think this approach can be so valuable. I think you’re really going to like this episode.

Duncan Geere is an information designer interested in climate and the environment. He communicates complex, nuanced information to a wider audience for clients like Information is Beautiful, the Gates Foundation, and Project Drawdown. He’s the co-host of the Loud Numbers data sonification podcast, and he’s also a generative artist and musician.

Alli Torban is an information design consultant where she helps businesses transform their technical information into clear and engaging infographics. She’s worked with clients like P&G, Axios, and Data Literacy. Alli is also the host of the popular podcast Data Viz Today. In her spare time, she loves designing tessellations and reading endlessly to her two young daughters.

Will Chase is a developer, designer, journalist, and artist. He uses his background as a researcher to better understand the world through data and he shares those insights by designing and coding visual essays. Will has done dataviz in academia, business, freelance, and he currently works at Axios as a visual journalist. He also likes to make experimental stuff for the web and generative art.

Gabrielle Merite is a former scientist turned information designer, powered by plants and information. She is a science graduate, creative, analyst, advocate for humanity, and cat lady. Gabrielle previously worked as a science writer and brand designer, and now freelances full time. Her work spans graphic design, data visualization, branding, web design, and art, often with a strong focus on social justice and ethical design.

Episode Notes

Elevate Your DataViz Skills
Will Chase: Axios | Twitter
Duncan Geere: Website | Twitter
Gabrielle Merite: Website | Twitter
Alli Torban: Website | Twitter

The Keyboard CEO Manifesto
Failing to freelance in data visualization by Jane Zhang
Tools (blog post with a whole list)
Fullstack D3 and Data Visualization: Build beautiful data visualizations with D3 by Amelia Wattenberger
One Chart at a Time with Alli Torban
One Chart at a Time with Will Chase
Loud Numbers Podcast

Watch this episode on YouTube

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Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I am your host, Jon Schwabish. On this week’s episode of the show, I’m very excited to talk with the four founding members of the new data visualization learning community, Elevate your DataViz. I’ve got Duncan Geere, Alli Torban, Will Chase, and Gabrielle Merite joining me on the show. This new learning community is really exciting, I think, because what the four founders have done is created a community where not only can community members get specific pieces of advice, and specific training, and specific videos and blog posts and all of that, but they get to communicate regularly with the four owners or organizers, I should say, to tell them what they want to learn about. Does the community want to learn about D3? Does it want to learn about Tableau? Does it want to learn about data equity? What do you want to learn about, and then they build the content around that, in addition to having this active community where people are talking to each other, they’re sharing their own experiences, they’re sharing their own successes and their own failures. So it’s a really exciting part of the data visualization community, and I hope you’ll check out their site, I hope you check out what’s going on. But the one thing you should always know, when you have five people on a podcast is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to discern names and voices. I think we did a good job here. We are pretty upfront about that at the beginning. You’re going to hear me introduce each person as we go through. And you’re going to learn a lot I think about not just about the Elevate platform and community, but you’re going to learn a lot about how they think about the organizers think about teaching data visualization to coming practitioners either very new to the field or even experienced, but want to maybe change their field or change their job or change the type of visualizations that they’re creating. So take a listen to this week’s episode of the show. A bunch of links are below the episode notes, so you can check those out, I mean, a lot of links. We talked about a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of links down there, so check those out, check out their portfolio, check out the platform and see if you might be a community member that could benefit from learning more about data visualization. So here we go, here’s my conversation with Duncan, Alli, Will, and Gabrielle.

Jon Schwabish: Welcome to the podcast, the Elevate DataViz team. I’m going to call you a team, I think I’ve got – I think four people qualifies as a team. So welcome to the show all, thanks so much for taking some time out.

Alli Torban: Thanks Jon, happy to be here.

JS: Yeah, I’m very excited. So for those who are listening, we’re talking beforehand, we’ve got five people on this episode, we’re going to be wrangling, we’re going to try to get it all so that you can identify who’s talking at what time. And, of course, there’s going to be a lot of links that come out of this conversation, so you should check them out, it’ll be in the notes. So we’re going to start with introductions, so you can, in your mind, as you’re listening on your walk or whatever you’re doing right now, you can tag names to voices. So we’re going to start with Gabby, and yeah, so maybe just a little bit about yourself, and we’ll just go around the room.

Gabrielle Merite: Awesome. No pressure, first one.

JS: No pressure, first one, right.

GM: I’m Gabrielle Merite, I’m a freelance information designer and data Illustrator, and I help ethically-driven and creative organization share their stories with data. I hope that’s short enough.

JS: Yeah, that’s great. I’m just going to go around my virtual room. So Will, you’re up.

Will Chase: Yeah, so I am Will Chase, I am a visual journalist based in Philadelphia, but I work for Axios, so I work remotely. In the past, I’ve also worked for companies, worked in academia, and done freelance DataViz work as well.

JS: Great. And Alli?

Alli Torban: Hi, I’m Alli Torban, I’m an independent information design consultant here in DC, I’m basically Jon’s neighbor, and I do mostly editorial style, I guess, would be a good way to describe it, data visualizations and infographics.

JS: Great. And last but not least, Duncan.

Duncan Geere: Hi, I’m Duncan Geere, I’m an information designer, I live in Sweden, though, as you can probably hear from my accent, I’m originally British. And yeah, I tend to work with nonprofits, I do a lot of environmental and climate work, I’m also super interested in sonification, I’m one of the cohosts of the Loud Numbers Podcast with Miriam Quick. And yeah, I’m going to be the only one of us to introduce themselves with I’m also one the cofounders of the Elevate Learning community.

JS: They passed right by it, they just passed right by it, totally forgot about it.

AT: Just totally missed that.

DG: I think that was sort of a given, you know, like, you’re on the Elevate DataViz Learning community podcast. So we’re not just inviting randos on here.

JS: No. Well, I mean, sometimes it feels that way a little bit, but not this time. Okay, so I’m really excited to talk to you all about the new DataViz learning community you all pulled together. And so, I thought we could start with maybe Duncan talking about what it is for people who may not know, and then talk about how did the whole thing come together because, like, I kind of think it’s a miracle that we were able to get the five of us on a call, I feel like that’s not a miracle, but getting four people to pull together an entire platform of teaching people about data visualization is itself kind of a miracle. So Duncan, maybe you could just give that short introduction to what it is, and then how it came together.

DG: Sure. So Elevate is a learning community, as I said. We’re providing a space, kind of, safe space for people to get together, and boost their skills in kind of creative DataViz and information design. Does that make sense, is that pretty clear? People are nodding?

JS: Yeah, so maybe just so people know, it’s not just like a website you go to, and there’s a list of resources and video tutorials. I mean, there’s a whole ecosystem around it. So maybe you can talk a little bit about all that stuff – and I know we’ll come back to it, I’m sure, over the course of the conversation.

DG: So we provide a website with a bunch of blog posts that we post to once a week. We also provide a community which is based currently around Slack, where you can kind of chat about things. We have a weekly question, and we have a little wins channel where you can share whether you’ve done something, and then we have like, I need feedback on this kind of thing channel. We also have a knowledge base, where we’re trying to compile all of our community’s knowledge together into sort of one easy to browse unit. What else do we have? We have regular office hours, where people can come with their problems and chat to us. We do live streams. We do heaps of stuff. It’s a really long list.

JS: Yeah. And I guess, it’s beneficial. You kind of cover a lot of different time zones. So, I mean, so we’ve got Gabby on the West Coast, Will and Alli East Coast, Duncan here in Sweden. So are you all sort of, like, have you carved out time, specific time, just make sure you’re kind of watching the Slack thing over here, or, is it just like whoever’s sort of around at that time?

DG: Yeah, I mean, one of the great things is that we do have members from all around the world, and that’s been something that we’ve been really, really happy about. And yeah, people are generally pretty – they’re willing to wait a couple of hours or something for [inaudible 00:07:55]. It’s not too much of a problem. We don’t have it perfectly synchronous, and when we do a live stream or something, there’s always a recording available for people who can’t make it live. So yeah, the time zone thing works, but it definitely helps that we are spread around the globe a little bit.

JS: Yeah, absolutely. All right. So tell us how this thing came about, like, were you just sitting at home one day, and you’re like, I have this great idea, I’d go talk to my friends?

DG: So this came out of a couple of years ago, I read this article, it was called something like the Keyboard CEO Manifesto. I can give you a link for your show notes. And it was kind of explaining how to be a solo business person, like a company of one. And one of its key recommendations, and it’s really, really good advice was not to spend all your time looking at the superstars, the people who are much further on in their career than you and feeling like you suck by comparison to them. And instead, try to kind of form a small group of folks at a similar stage in the journey to you. So I looked around, and I kind of identified a group of people that I thought were doing kind of similar work to me, and I messaged them, kind of, just sort of out of the blue really, and asked if they wanted to kind of do sort of an occasional group call or something, just to kind of compare notes. This was sort of right at the start of the pandemic and lockdown, and so, I think nobody was tired of Zoom at this point. So it was a good time to be sending that message. But yeah, to my surprise, they all said yes, and that group, immediately became, for me at least, one of the most important things that I’ve done in my career to date, like, I cannot overstate how incredibly valuable this thing has become, having this little kind of trusted counsel of advisors to help me work through problems and help other people through their problems in turn. But then, during all of this, I kind of realized that all of us were writing blog posts and newsletters and sort of hosting podcasts in the case of Alli, and informally kind of mentoring people in the subject of kind of how to build a career out of creative DataViz freelancing or information design. And also this is something that we all love to do, and want to do more of, but we also needed to pay the bills, and doing that kind of stuff doesn’t normally pay the bills. So I kind of started thinking about how we could join forces and create something that would be valuable for people, while still being kind of financially viable for us to spend time on. And so, I pitched this kind of super vague idea. I think I have this crazy metaphor about light and fire…

AT: We had a PowerPoint presentation.

DG: I had a PowerPoint presentation…

JS: Oh, that’s amazing, that’s awesome.

DG: And yeah, and then to my even greater surprise, they all said yes again, and yeah, here we are today, and I kind of want to note as well Jane Zhang who was part of our larger group, was also a big part of the development of this program as well, and she decided to opt out before we launched, because she pivoted her career away from DataViz, and you might have read her excellent article about that. But yeah, Jane was really instrumental in the early days of setting it up, and really helped us clarify a few things, so I wanted to give a kind of little shout out to Jane, and the other people who are part of this kind of little wider group who, yeah, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to.

JS: That’s great. So I want to come back to one aspect of the origin story about you sort of, seemed like you built your own little community of four people before building this broader platform. And so, I want to get back to that, and sort of maybe what the lessons learned were over those six-12 months or so, and how maybe that was incorporated. But before we get into that, because I have a lot of questions, so before I get into that, I want to talk about one of the interesting things I’ve noticed in the community is that it’s not just focused on how to learn how to build something in tool X, Y, Z, or, what should your invoice look like. There’s a whole section that I was looking through on process, and so, there’s this really cool piece I thought that was like, basically, how to collect images, build your digital mood board, get those into this tool or that tool, I think maybe Pinterest was one of them, and then pull it into Figma, and then align it. So it was not just like get inspired, it was really practical process, and so, Gabby, I wanted to ask you to talk maybe a little bit about the process part, but just how that sort of all fits within the broader community.

GM: Yeah, so we all do create tutorials on softwares, but we know and acknowledge the fact that they are better tutorials, probably out there already. We all have access to all those courses and free YouTube videos. And so, we want to offer something different to the community. We really want to give process, like you said, practical advice and recommendation that people can apply to questions that maybe sometimes are not covered, so the one you’re talking about is called the find your style challenge, and it was made in four weeks. And each step is different, it’s kind of breaking it down, baby step. Instead of telling people you have to find your style, look for inspiration. And there you go. We wanted to give really, really exact advice on, like, step by step, here’s where you collect images, because people don’t know to start with, like, here’s a list of all the websites you can use, what type of inspiration you’re looking for, how many do you need to get. So the idea really for those challenges, and we do – so this is a find your style challenge process, there’s some DataViz challenge that we’ve done, and also coming up soon. But the idea is really to break it down into micro steps to help people really take the time to do it, and their own time, obviously there’s no time pressure here. But we’ve realized in our private community between us that when we have those big goals that are bit abstract, make a portfolio website. It’s just impossible, first, it’s scary to start with, and also, where do you start, do you first do your own, you know, do you first do you own content, do you start with choosing the website template, which website template to use, WordPress, Squarespace. So we really [inaudible 00:14:03] breaking down all those processes, we want to talk about the things that nobody talks about, so whether it’s client work, I’m like, okay, so here’s a contract, but how do you use it, what do you pay attention to. We really want to break it down to micro information that people are, you know, that people need and never get. So even recently, Duncan and Alli have a study on the process of creating a DataViz solution for the press. So how do you pitch it and Duncan is showing his email, like, what email did he – he sent the whole template. And that’s the kind of thing that you don’t [inaudible 00:14:35] give you vague advice on this is how you present it, you talk about what’s cool about the art, what’s real event, but really having a template with sentences that’s pre-written for you, I think is like what we were missing and what we give each other in our private community in our private site. That’s why we realize, well, helpful is sometimes I’m going to ask, like, can somebody write for me an email to tell my client push back on something. And how do I actually formulate that? So that’s the idea of this process is just breaking down and giving people way more practical information.

JS: Yeah, but it taps into a real thing, which is like, I think, we all sort of forget that we don’t all know every tool, and just like, even though Pinterest, for example, might just be sort of a simple like, put this in your thing, not everybody knows that, not everybody knows there’s a Chrome extension where you can like, yeah, I mean, all those little things are super helpful, just to like, as Duncan mentioned earlier, reduce the amount of time that you’re doing on these sort of smaller things and just get to the, what I think most of us would say is the fun stuff, which is actually creation part. Cool. All right, so now, process is obviously a big part, and we’ll come back to that, but part of the process is learning how to actually build something. And my guess is, and correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess is a lot of people in the community want to learn like, how do I actually make a thing – I’ve got the data, but how do I actually make a thing. And Gabby, as you mentioned, there’s a million tutorials out there, but like, you watch the YouTube thing, and if there’s a step missing or your computer does something, you’re kind of stuck. So I wanted to ask Will about sort of tools, generally, but also specifically about D3, because I noticed, I think is the most recent newsletter you all sent out, there was a whole section on questions about D3. So it’s sort of a two-part question, like, tools, in general, but also, specifically to D3, what are you seeing from members of the community, is that their focal point at this point, or is it just like there was just kind of a spike in interest in that, and you anticipate it sort of broadening out?

WC: Yeah, so I think there’s several parts, it’s a two-part question, and I’ll probably give a 10-part answer or something. So I think in terms of focusing on tools or what sort of stuff do we do around tools, that’s definitely a major part of the content we make. But I think, like Gabby touched on, we really try to focus on niches or areas where you can’t find good resources elsewhere. So recently, Alli and Gabby made a tutorial on how to add textures to your charts using Procreate and Figma and Photoshop, because that’s something, like, if you go search for that on the internet, it’s not easy to find that in a DataViz context. So we do have a lot of tutorials that are focused on stuff you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Now, in terms of the D3 stuff, I think it’s what happened was we had a lot of new members come in, and we had a big influx of people saying, hey, this is my name, and I live here, and right now, I want to learn D3, like, that’s the next step. But as Gabby mentioned earlier as well, there’s people out there that make way better D3 tutorials than we could ever make, and there’s dozens of them. So if somebody asked me to teach them D3, I would be like, okay, great, give me $200, and then I will give you 100 back to spend on Amelia Wattenberger’s book, and then I’ll pocket the rest. But the tricky part is when you tell somebody, oh, there’s lots of tutorials, go find them, it’s not that easy. And especially for something D3 what we realized is that it’s really a huge base of knowledge that you need to even get to that point, and that’s the case with a lot of tools. And all of our members are coming in with really different experience levels, they’re starting at different places, they have different goals, why do they want to learn D3? Do they want to be a master engineer, or do they just want to dabble a little bit? And so, we came up with the idea to basically say, okay, we’re not going to make a whole D3 course, but what we will do is make a learning pathway sort of thing, where we figure out, okay, where you’re starting, what is your base of knowledge that you’re coming in with, and then, based on that, here’s a whole set of tutorials, here’s what you need to learn. Okay, step one, learn HTML and CSS; here’s our recommended tutorials to do that. Step two, learn JavaScript, here’s the courses we recommend for that and so on. And I think it’s a really good example of how we can respond basically to what our members are asking for, because that’s one of the my favorite things about this is that we can be really responsive. So if we see a huge influx of people saying, I need to learn D3, we can be like, okay, great, we’re going to make some content for that. And yeah, part of that newsletter was saying this is something we’re working on, and what else do you want to see, because I think this is a concept that’s really applicable. So people come into DataViz with completely different, like, some people are engineers and they need to learn design; some people are designers and they need to learn engineering. So I think this is a concept we hope to extend, you know, we can have a learning pathway on D3, on visual design, Tableau, storytelling, whatever it is. And so, we’re asking our members what do you want, what do you need, and then responding to that.

JS: I wonder how many people who said I want to learn D3, and then you’re like, okay, here’s what you need to learn on HTML, and here’s what you need to learn on CSS, and here’s what you learn on JavaScript, and then we’ll get to the D3, how many of them were like, forget it. I’ll just go into Google Sheets, forget it, I’m not going to dive into that, yeah?

WC: I mean, most people don’t need D3 to do what they want to do, right?

JS: Right, yeah. So I do wonder how many people sort of think, I need D3, and then they’re like, well, maybe I just need like…

GM: A lot.

JS: A lot, yeah, that’s right.

WC: I think it’s a huge thing, I mean, in fact, one of the first articles I wrote for the community was called do I need to learn D3, because I was like, you know, we’re seeing everyone comes in, and I think there’s this huge sort of, like, I don’t know where it comes from exactly, but there’s this sort of D3 lobby that gets it and everybody has had that, as soon as they join DataViz, that’s like the pinnacle, they have to learn D3. And one of the messages I was giving people is, honestly, if you’re thinking of time input, like, input and reward, you’re going to get out of that, D3 is not what I would recommend learning. It’s a massive, massive time sink, years of investment, if you’re not already familiar with this knowledge base. And you’re going to get a useful skill out of it, but like, in that same amount of time, you could develop so many other useful skills, and skills that are used far more often than D3 is, in fact.

JS: So before I ask my next question, so when we started, you all mentioned, you sort of have different – it’s interesting, you all have sort of different places that you sort of live kind of in the DataViz world, right? So Alli is kind of more on that infographic illustration side, and Will, you’re in sort of the news side. So I’m just curious, maybe we’d go around the room, like, what is your primary/preferred, I hesitate to say that, because sometimes we have our tools that we don’t like, but we have to use them, but what is your primary tool that you use in your day to day, so maybe we’ll just like, so Will, we’ll start with you.

WC: Yeah, so, I mean, I use a huge variety of tools, I think visual journalism is one where you use, perhaps, like, I don’t know, it’s so many, but a lot of my work is design focused and storytelling. So to be honest, if I think of the percentage of my time that is spent in a tool, the majority is probably something like Figma is probably my number one for doing design and concept work. And then, I also spend a lot of time just researching things, and taking notes, I use notion for note taking, pen and paper for just kind of sketching out ideas, making outlines of stories. And, I mean, well, obviously, the number one tool is Google for any data journalist, so yeah, for actually making the charts, Datawrapper, we make tons and tons and tons of charts with Datawrapper, that’s our bread and butter tool. Illustrator for making more complex charts, and then, yes, of course, D3, occasionally. But these days, if I’m coding, it’s really going to be Svelte with like a little bit of D3 sprinkled in, yeah.

JS: Okay, Gabby, what’s your primary/preferred?

GM: I am an Adobe girl. All my work is mainly Illustrator and heavy Photoshop, because I do a lot of kind of the illustration. And then, for the data part, I kind of use Excel quite a bit…

JS: [inaudible 00:24:02] who does not have a problem with that, so no…

GM: Yeah, it works for me, no cutting, and I actually have been using a lot of Figma, because I do a lot of web design, and really big UX/UI heavy website with data visualization. So Figma has been incredible for that, so quite a bit of Figma too.

JS: So then, just quickly, this is really just for me rather than listeners, although they might be interested, so the Figma, Adobe or Illustrator split, like, so are you using Figma More for wireframing for websites, and then Illustrator for more of the more detailed design piece?

GM: Yes. So Figma is a tool, and again, you can use it almost like Illustrator for really basic stuff, but when it comes to doing custom design, like, really specific shapes and type of thing, Illustrator is, like, that’s just the way to be honest.

JS: That’s still the place to go.

GM: I personally feel strongly about it, Duncan might have another opinion on it, but I just think – the thing with Figma is it’s really user friendly, so I always recommend that if you’re starting with a vector based software, just go with Figma, it’s free, it’s really easy, it’s just limited in terms of custom vector shapes type of thing and FX is getting there though. But really, to me the main function of Figma, why it’s so powerful is the UX/UI of the components and responsive prototype, so I can quite literally make a website that looks a functioning website with button hover effects, animation, transition. It’s such a powerful, and I built entire design system with data visualization, with responsiveness in Figma, and there’s nothing that in Adobe [inaudible 00:25:41]

JS: Okay, Duncan, what’s your preferred tool, if you want to argue the Figma-Illustrator thing, I’ll just sit back and watch?

DG: Yeah, I mean, I use Figma for everything, and that’s mostly because it works the way I expect it to, whereas Illustrator just does not. So, I mean, I don’t know, I use Illustrator sometimes, but it’s only ever really when I’m working with someone else who doesn’t know Figma, and I have to give them an Illustrator file, otherwise, they’ll just not be able to do anything with it. Or the other situation is when I’m doing [inaudible 00:26:17] print, because Figma doesn’t do print. And that is a thing that I come up against sometimes. So I guess, that’s my kind of Illustrator versus Figma.

JS: Yeah, no, I mean, I think that’s great.

DG: But yeah, I mean, Figma kind of sits in my pipeline pretty close to the end, like, the start is, yeah, it’s Google Sheets almost always, I almost never use Excel, and pen and paper after that to kind of sketch things out. And yeah, and then, in between, it’s usually Flourish, sometimes RAWgraphs to kind of make the charts, or if I’m doing something spatial, it will be Mapshaper, I love Mapshaper and Mapbox, yeah, VS Code if I’m doing stuff with code. That’s pretty much how I run things. And what I really liked about this question, I’m really glad you asked this, because it really shows how, I don’t know, one of the big benefits of I think our membership is that you get four different perspectives on everything. It’s not one answer, you’re getting four answers, and it kind of shows that you can kind of build a career in this, like, we’re doing it in four different ways, you can do it in your own way. There are certain commonalities and useful things, but exactly which tools you use, everybody uses different tools, and everybody is making a success of it. So you don’t have to kind of copy people’s tool list or whatever or learn whatever the cool tool is, just like, use what you’re good at, and you’ll make good stuff with it.

JS: But each of the three of you, and we’re going to come to Alli in a second, Alli’s going to pull it all together, but the other point that the three of you have made is that there isn’t just one tool in the process, and I feel like a lot of people forget about that, or, when they’re like, hey, I’m a Tableau user. I’m not picking on Tableau, I’m just saying, I’m a Tableau user, they don’t always talk about the three other tools that they use to maybe collect the data and analyze the data or clean the data; and then maybe they’re doing other things after they’re working in Tableau. And to I think, Gabby’s point from earlier about being detailed, but each of these sort of little things that add up to the whole, I think a lot of people sort of forget that, especially, if you’re just, as you’ve all mentioned, sort of, coming fresh to this. Okay, so Alli, I’m going to ask the same question on tools, and then, I’m going to ask you a follow-up question, but let’s start with what’s your toolkit like?

AT: Yeah, I love Tableau, I use Tableau a lot. Figma [inaudible 00:28:44] IO to do charts, and Illustrator and Procreate with my iPad are kind of my big ones. And you’re right, just jumping from one, like, in one project, like, I will do sketches and storyboard stuff in Procreate, and then I’ll do some charts in Tableau, and then I’ll export it as PDF, bring it into Illustrator, so it’s a vector; and then maybe overlay a texture that I made in Procreate, and it all – there’s like three different tools right there or four – three.

JS: Four tools, and to the point, like, Procreate, as you mentioned, is a Tablet app. Right?

AT: Yes.

JS: So it’s not just four tools on the desktop, it’s two totally different machines.

AT: Yeah, exactly, and going back and forth between different softwares and technologies, it is a lot, and that’s a great part about showing people kind of looking over our shoulder, they can see that it’s a huge process, and it’s not just a, oh, just once you know how to use Tableau you’re good. You can see from beginning to end what the whole thing looks like.

JS: Yeah, so to that point, maybe I ask these questions out of order, so we start with Gabby and sort of setting up your process and your inspiration, and we kind of skip to the end with Will on the DataViz tool. But I wanted to back up just a little bit. Are you all doing or planning on doing tutorials, lessons, similar sort of thing for the data collection, cleaning, analysis part of this whole thing, because like, this is the thing that I feel we often miss in the DataViz discussion is on the data part, which is so central to everything.

AT: Yeah, we are, like everybody else has said, super reactive to what people want. And so far, there hasn’t been a lot of questions about the data and analysis part, and might be just the kinds of people who are in right now, because it seems a lot of people, the thing that we kind of, is the highlight of the community, our community is showing creative ways of designing. So I think that attracted a lot of people who are more in the data part and wanted to hone the creative skills. But, of course, that is a huge aspect of data visualization, so we’re kind of, as we run into things in our personal practice we post about it, and then are reactive to other people’s questions like Duncan, just so obsessed with the VLOOKUP in Excel. He was like, I have to write an article about the life changing magic of VLOOKUP, because it saves me so much time, when I’m cleaning data and analyzing data. So he did a video on that, it’s so useful, I learned a lot. And then, I think Gabby mentioned how Duncan and I are live streaming our process of pitching a data story. So we are actually showing us kind of like, looking at the data we have and being like, I want to show this, but I don’t have the information, let’s look in this research article and see what data we can get from here. Okay, well, that idea is dead now, because we don’t have the data. Okay, what do I have to do to pivot this dataset, so it works for our visualization? So you can see us working through these problems live, so that is definitely something that we are focused on, but we’re more reactive to what people want.

JS: So two things on that, Duncan, I don’t want to blow your mind anymore, but now you need to go to XLOOKUP, that will totally change your life, if you go to XLOOKUP. But that’s a whole other thing.

AT: I haven’t heard of that.

JS: Oh XLOOKUP is like the new… It’s VLOOKUP on steroids, because it combines index and match in a lookup, it’s fantastic.

AT: Oh wow.

DG: I was going to say I’m all about index match these days, I’ve moved on from my VLOOKUP days.

JS: I will say it’s a fun – it’s one of the rare fun parts of the Excel community is like, are you an index-match person, are you VLOOKUP person. But I will say on this process live stream, I started a little Tableau playlist on my YouTube channel, just me struggling with it, and it has gotten a really good response, and I think because people who are either already very experienced with Tableau or even developing Tableau, forget about the early struggles that we all have with these tools, like, where is this menu? I think Duncan you said Figma is really intuitive for you, like, I think we kind of forget, as we get used to tools, some things are not intuitive for the early user. So I think that showing people that struggle, and that I don’t want to call it failure, but to your point Alli, of like, yeah, this data doesn’t exist or doesn’t work or whatever, like, yeah, that’s a struggle that we all have, and I think we see shiny things on the internet, we’re like, oh, this is easy. But like, yeah…

AT: Yeah, you see somebody post, like, Will will post something on Axios, and you’re like, whoa, how did he get that, how did he do that. And then, of course, he doesn’t tell you about all his stories that got killed.

JS: Right. And that he needed to lean on someone else in Axios to make the little illustration of the little piece of bacon or whatever it was in that one that I’ll find, yeah, exactly. So Alli, you mentioned that so far there hasn’t been a ton of questions on the data analysis part. You’ve all mentioned that D3 seemed to be the sort of a bigger area of challenge. So what are some other things that people have been asking about that you are, obviously, working on now, but you expect to sort of be those things that you can address?

AT: Yeah, and I should say, the way that we find out what people want is that we have surveys and people ask questions in Slack, and we have office hours every week, and that’s a lot of where we get our ideas for our next article. Someone will say, I’m having trouble doing this where like, other people are probably having trouble doing this too. So we get a lot of ideas from people who come to office hours, so that’s a really great source. A lot of it is wanting to know the process from beginning to end, and having four practicing DataViz designers at your disposal is super valuable, and being able to share our experience has been really helpful to our members. So just kind of the process from beginning to end is something that people ask a lot about. Where to even start with freelancing? Because some people in the membership already are freelancing, so they’re really like, being able to talk to other freelancers, so it’s not so lonely. But some people want to make the jump soon, so me being a career switcher, and jumping into freelance, I can give them like, hey, I literally just did this, this is what I did, this is what I would do over. And then, some people just kind of want to peek behind the curtain and be like, I might want to do this in two years, kind of, what’s the process like. So Duncan and Gabby just recently posted articles about just breaking down their finances, and giving real numbers which is huge, just in the world, in general – real numbers, what their expenses are, where their clients came from. Will and I are up next to share our stuff, and I think mine will be interesting for some people who want to jump careers, because last year, I went from a salary job to freelance, so you can kind of see how I did that transition. So just the kind of the ins and outs of freelancing, there’s a lot of people who are curious about that. And then, also just experiments, people are really interested in kind of the new things that we’re doing, like, Duncan is really on the cutting edge of sonification; and I’ve actually been really surprised a lot of people are interested in sonification that are coming into the membership; they’re just like, I’m really into music, I’m into data, like, let’s put them together; and Duncan’s giving them feedback, and it’s a really cool thing…

DG: You all felt it was just like this weird thing that I did, and no one else did, but it [inaudible 00:36:28]

AT: Yes. And I’m doing a lot of experiments with 3D and visual metaphor. And Gabby and Will are doing a lot of experiments too, and it’s a lot of data journalism too, we’ve noticed a lot of people are into data journalism. So Will’s going to do a challenge about a data story, like, how, like, before you even open up a software, like, what’s the process of finding a data story, like, that’s something another thing now a lot of people are talking about. So it’s a lot of like the intangibles, you can’t find a YouTube video immediately on these different topics. And so, those are the things that people have been coming to us for.

JS: Interesting. So on the freelancing side, Duncan, I want to turn to you on this one, so on the freelancing side, when you all first announced this project, I saw a bunch of people say, aren’t you just helping people who are going to be your competitors, I mean, not Will so much, because he’s got the Axios machinery behind him, but – no, just kidding – what’s your response to that? I don’t think it’s a critique, I think it’s just a question, but like, what is your response to that question, aren’t you just training your competitors?

DG: Yeah, I mean, I think this is a totally reasonable question, I mean, what I replied at the time was a rising tide lifts all boats, and that was perhaps a little bit cryptic. So let me try and unpack that a little bit, so it’s clear what I mean. So I’m an environmental scientist by education, that’s the background that I come from. So I come at this from kind of an ecosystem perspective, and I think that right now, one of the biggest problems faced by creative DataViz experts, us and our members, is that most people who could use our help, don’t even know that DataViz or information design or whatever is a thing, they’ve not heard of it. And so, instead, they look for designers or UX people, or data analysts or whatever, and those people, they might be experts in their part of the puzzle, but they don’t necessarily have the whole package of skills that are crucial to kind of crafting the best possible work, and that includes graphic design and UX and data analysis, but it also involves storytelling, experience with accessibility, coding skills in some cases, maybe a degree of artistic flair if that’s something that you can call a skill. And much more, you know, beyond that. So how do we change that, and it’s one way that we can do that is by raising the profile of DataViz as a field, so that more people know that it’s a thing, and there are people who specialize in it, or if they do know about it, maybe we want them to understand better how incredibly valuable it can be to an organization, and that it’s worth paying for an expert rather than just getting your in-house graphic designer to have a go. Right?

JS: Right.

DG: And so, then we ask kind of how do we do that, and one good way is to have as many people as possible making really good work and proudly talking about it and labeling it as DataViz and publishing books full of beautiful DataViz works and things, and that’s kind of where we come in. Right? We think that the best way to get that to happen is to provide a safe place where people can get together to learn and experiment and, well, to elevate their skills, basically. So to kind of sum all that up, I guess we kind of think that expanding the market is a much more useful thing to be doing than fighting over scraps, and I think you can kind of see that in the fact that we offer unemployed folks and students and people in lower income countries a 50% discount on the cost of the membership. And we love, we really genuinely love sharing our knowledge and our skills and our experience, and we love to see our members succeed; and we very much think that more people doing great work means that everybody has an easier time; it’s a kind of a vibrant ecosystem, is a much better, a much healthier place to be than a collection of tall poppies or whatever. So that’s kind of our philosophy behind the whole thing.

JS: Yeah, that’s great. So I want to just wrap us up, maybe I’ll give, well, I’m trying to think if we should go around the room one more time, but I wanted to ask Alli just one more time, where should people go to find you all, what’s the best way to sign up, what is the signup process – I’m guessing it’s a pretty easy signup process, because it just signs up, but where should people look for you all?

AT: Yeah, go to elevatedataviz.com, and you can see, you can read all about the program, we have testimonials there, what we offer, and then, there’s a button up at the top that you can click on that says Join Now. And then it’ll just take you to the page where you just type in your email address and then put your payment in. So like Duncan said, we have a regular payment, and then we have half off for people who are unemployed or from different countries, and we don’t ask you to provide any proof or anything, like, if you feel like you’re qualified, just do it. We want you to take advantage of it if you need it, that’s what it’s there for. And you’ll get a welcome email on where to start and showing you around the program, and then you can join the Slack and introduce yourself, and you’ll get a very, very warm welcome. And yeah, we hope to see you in there.

JS: That’s great.

DG: And also, if anyone has any questions and just wants to ask something, you can email us at any time. What is the email address? It’s hello@elevatedataviz.com. Right? I think that’s it.

AT: Not again.

DG: Should I rerecord that? I don’t know.

AT: If you wanted a call back, hello@elevatedataviz.com.

JS: That’s right. No, he took care of at the beginning where he introduced he was part of the cofounder, but then, didn’t have all the contact information. This is great. Gabby, Will, Alli, Duncan, thanks so much for coming on the show. Congrats on this. It’s really exciting. And yeah, thanks again for coming on the show.

AT: Thanks so much Jon.

WC: Thank you so much Jon.

GM: Thank you Jon.

DG: Yeah, thank you so much.

Thanks, everyone, for tuning in to this week’s episode of the podcast. Before I let you go, just a couple of quick things about some changes that I’m building into the support for the site. So for a long time, I’ve had Patreon going, which is an opportunity for you to financially support the show. I’m going to collapse the Patreon down to just one platform, just one tier if you want to join that way. I’m also going to add a paid version of my newsletter, the paid version of the newsletter is going to have more behind the scenes action, I’m going to give you sneak peeks at many of the YouTube videos, you’ll receive the link to the unlisted video before it goes live. I’m also going to start biweekly, every other week, our Zoom sessions so that you can ask me questions, you can come in, I’m going to have some of the podcast guests join me. So I’m going to try that as well. If you’d rather not clutter up your inbox, I’m also starting a new text messaging service that you can be a part of, that’s a little bit different. I’m going to give you some little sneak peek, some little clips about certain visualizations that I think could be valuable to you. So if you’d like to financially support the show, all of this is to support the show to support the audio editing and the transcription and the web support that’s needed, if you’d like to do so, head over to one of those links that are in the show notes below, head over to Patreon, head over to the newsletter, or head over to Winno which is the new app I’m using that will be using text messaging. So check all those out if you’d to support the show. But, of course, the best thing you could do to support the show is keep listening, keep downloading, and letting other folks know about it. So until next time, this has been the PolicyViz podcast. Thanks so much for listening.

A number of people help bring you the PolicyViz podcast. Music is provided by the NRIs. Audio editing is provided by Ken Skaggs. Design and promotion is created with assistance from Sharon Sotsky Remirez. And each episode is transcribed by Jenny Transcription Services. If you’d to help support the podcast, please share it and review it on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. The PolicyViz podcast is ad free and supported by listeners. If you’d to help support the show financially, please visit our PayPal page or our Patreon page at patreon.com/policyviz.