A huge round of applause to everyone who participated in #MakeoverMonday this year. Thanks to those who cheered and supported from the sidelines and to those who encouraged others to join the project. Well done to the many rising stars who jumped head first into every challenge we presented and who created a network of people around their interests, their professional work and their passion for data.
All of you have made Makeover Monday what it is today and we are grateful, proud and excited for what is now and will come (for details check out our announcements). This year has seen a lot of excellent visualizations across topics ranging from the Migration Paths of Turkey Vultures, to the Winter Olympics, Irish Whiskey Sales, Melting Ice Caps, Malaria, Parental Leave in the OECD, Diversity in Tech and Land Use by Food Type, just to name a few.
So if you learned nothing about data, at least you had 52 different topics to tackle. And I bet you all learned a whole lot about data, about analysis, visualization and the nuances around things like color choices, fonts, layout and flow, interactivity and intuitive design as well as storytelling.
What Andy and I enjoy most about this project is to see so many of you develop your skills so quickly, eagerly seeking feedback and implementing it to improve your work. We get a kick out of helping people, especially when we can help them grow their professional skills and therefore enable themselves to go further. In the process many of you inspire others, and you certainly help others in this project and beyond. That is really cool and it’s also very helpful for us because it allows us to reach more people and make a bigger impact.
For the last two years we wrote a blog post every week to recap the lessons learned and provide additional guidance, to highlight our favourites and also put a closing mark at the end of a week before a new challenge was published. The favourites will stay but the lessons learned are something we will discontinue. There are plenty of things to learn – no doubt about that – but we have covered over the course of the last 104 blog posts, the most common challenges encountered by our community.
Our next step for those lessons learned (which can all be found in our book in full-length chapters) is to pick them from those blog posts and make them available here, indexed and all.
At the start of 2018 I didn’t expect this year to fly by so quickly. Somehow it did and we have arrived at week 52. The last week the year is traditionally very quiet in the Twitterverse for our community and I can’t blame anyone for stepping away from their computers and spending time with family and friends for the holidays. Those who don’t celebrate Christmas were hopefully not too bored and while I got a couple of requests for Viz Review, the fact that we’re choosing family time over webinars on Boxing Day didn’t seem to bother anyone.
Participation was still at normal levels as many people wanted to close out the year with as many vizzes as possible and they probably didn’t want to skip the last Makeover of the year.
This week we looked at a very simple dataset about Christmas spending in the US over time. The data provided did not seem to account for inflation but I wasn’t able to verify that because Statista hide everything behind a paywall (yes, I typed up the data manually based on their image).
As always, there are a couple of lessons we can pick out from this week’s submissions and both are close to my heart.
LESSON 1: ATTENTION TO DETAIL
As we refine our skills as analysts, data analysts, data storytellers, information designers and others who fall on the wide spectrum of professionals who deal with communicating data and information, paying attention to detail is a big one.
It’s not only important for data visualizations, though, and I can tell you from experience that high quality, polished work will always be gratefully received by those around you.
Our work with data is one of the areas where we can hone those skills. What parts come to mind in particular? For example:
- Spelling, grammar and punctuation – get those right and you’re ahead of many many others
- Alignment – the human eye loves symmetry and harmony in visuals. Sure, you can have wonky lines as part of your design, but make sure that those things that should be aligned are in fact aligned. They include text elements, borders, timelines/date hierarchies (e.g. two charts, one above the other, have the same timeline and should be aligned for easy comparisons), titles, etc.
- Fonts, font colors and font sizes – consistency is key: are you using the same fonts throughout, except maybe for titles and/or heading which are in a different font to draw attention? Are you font colors in accordance with your visualization? If you use certain colors in the viz, are these consistently reflected in you text? Are font sizes intuitive, i.e. are the more important things in larger sizes while blocks of text or footnotes are slightly smaller?
- Phrases and word choices – are your claims accurate and well expressed? It’s easy to get carried away with a quirky title that distracts from your viz or maybe even goes counter to the arguments you are making based on the data. Are the descriptions, explanations, etc. well worded to ensure the audience can easily understand the points you’re making?
Using the many different elements of your viz to practice your attention to details ensures that the quality of your work is something you can be proud of no matter the topic of the week or the complexity (or simplicity) of your viz.
None of the above suggestions have anything to do with whether or not you like a particular topic, whether you understand it, what level your technical ‘viz-building-skills’ are at or whether you build a simple bar chart or a comprehensive infographic.
Attention to detail is something we can practice in all aspects of our work and I encourage you to use your weekly Makeover Monday practice to do so. It will carry over into your day job, into the visualizations you build there, the analysis you conduct and probably many other things (PowerPoint slides, meeting preparation, etc.).
A question I ask myself before finishing a viz, a PowerPoint deck, a presentation script, a demo, or any other work is: “Can I add anything else that will make this better or more valuable or do I now need another person’s input? Have I done everything I can to make this as polished as possible and am I presenting work that I’m proud of?”
By answering that question honestly to myself I have a good benchmark of whether to hit send/submit/publish.
If you like, try it for yourself and see if it helps you step things up a notch. It might result in an extra 30min (or 180min, just being honest) of work, but it pays off in the long run. I promise.
LESSON 2: COLORS
You know I have to. I promise to not say anything about icons but I must write about colors. The topic will probably be one of the first online lessons available because it is a recurring theme.
Green and red don’t make great color combinations because they are often difficult to distinguish from one another by people with color vision impairments.
I understand the Christmas theme and want to make a couple of alternative suggestions for Christmas. Now, in real life, I’d propose to simply go to a home decorations store during November and December and check out their tree decoration options – plenty of great combinations there that don’t involve red and green.
Other suggestions come from one of my favourite places online… Pinterest…
Now when selecting colors, I would suggest not having five or six different ones. The above palettes are simply ideas for colors that go well together. Pick some that aren’t red and green and you’re already on the safe(ish) side.
To illustrate the challenges people with color vision impairment can have, let’s check out this nice simple viz by Marian. Marian has been doing great work and I know she won’t mind me using her work as an example. It’s a viz that combines red and green and while she’s been playful with it for the Christmas theme, I know she’d normally avoid that color palette, so let’s check it out.
What makes the viz still easy enough to understand is that the single red dot on the green line is actually labelled, so the color isn’t important.
I hope the above examples help you better understand the challenges involved in using red and green in combination. If you want to test your own vizzes to see how colourblind-friendly they are, simply put them to the test on color-blindness.com.
So without further ado, let’s look at our Christmas collection and week 52 favourites to close out this year…