Hello! My name is Jane and I am based in Toronto, Canada. I am a freelance data visualization designer and social media strategist. I previously worked at Kantar developing reports for Fortune 500 clients.
My educational background is in life sciences and design strategy. Shortly after graduation, I worked at a startup during the day and began exploring my interest in data visualization in the evenings. Through personal projects, I have taught myself how to create data visualizations.
If you have questions about my work or would like to collaborate with me, you can reach me at jane.zhgw[at]gmail.com, or you can fill out the contact form below:
How did you get into data visualization?
I was studying design strategy and one of my instructors showed me Information is Beautiful by David McCandless. I was shocked to learn that people got paid to make this type of work. I didn’t think about data visualization as a possible career choice until after I graduated. When I graduated, I tried out various professions, like UX design, website design, business strategy and so on. Data visualization was the only one that really stuck.
Why do you make data visualizations?
It’s become part of my life. I look at the world around me and wonder how I can capture the information. I have found that I tend to lean towards understanding human experiences. I’ve created projects about the number of laughs I hear or looking at my mental health. I am interested in capturing what we cannot see. These moments are fleeting and I want to document them by visualizing them. There’s something very interesting about how people react to my visualizations. They begin to see something different about life or about themselves. I work to create these shifts in people.
Why the jump from science to data visualization?
I thought I was going to work in health care. During my final two years in school studying science, I shadowed a couple of professionals and quickly realized life in the clinic wasn’t my thing. At the time, I wanted to learn how to solve wicked problems, which was why I studied design strategy. The program there led me to data visualization design. Coming from a science background, it helps with understanding how to work with and interpret data.
Over time, I learned I was a maker. I realized that I really enjoyed creating things and this was probably why data visualization became the path I chose to commit to.
What tools do you use to make your visualizations?
I use a mix of Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, MS PowerPoint, and MS Excel. I usually collect and create my own data so I don’t need to use Python to scrape data. If I make maps, I use QGIS with OpenStreetMap. The most important tool is definitely MS Word and post-its. Before I actually design, the concept and the ideas have to be solid. This is where my background in design strategy really helps. Even when I do my own personal projects, I mock-up a brief pretending I am serving a client. I identify target audience and intended effects.
Do you make dashboards?
No, I don’t. I don’t have the skills or interest for making dashboards or interactive viz. You would be better off finding someone else for these projects.
I want to learn data visualization, where do I start?
Learning data visualization requires active participation. It’s important to NOT underestimate it as a field. Data visualization is an interdisciplinary domain and requires a good understanding of both data and design. If you are just starting out and want a better understanding of it, I recommend Storytelling with Data by Cole Knaflic. This book is suitable for business professionals who use tools like Excel and PowerPoint. If you want to move beyond this and understand data visualization a bit deeper, then I recommend Alberto Cairo’s How Chart’s Lie and Truthful Art.
If you are beyond the point of these books and have a good understanding of basic concepts. Then practice is the next step. There are a lot of challenges you can participate in online. I recommend checking out MakeOverMonday or looking at local data meetup groups. They might host short hackathons or events where you can apply skills at low risk.