Mental Barriers, Confidence Intervals, and Questions

I do not suck at math

”I do not suck at math. I do not suck at math. I do not suck at math …”
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …”

The enormous hurdle in my mind that I’ve been working through as I learn about visualization is the math required to properly, truthfully visualize a story. This is not easy as I have believed over the past 30 plus years that I. Suck. At. Math. I’ve shared this fear of math before and I have been training my self to be more positive. I bought some books and at every opportunity I try to practice.

Still, the negative experiences I buried for decades feel like they just happened yesterday and this chapter in The Truthful Art about confidence intervals immediately made my want to close the book. Dramatic perhaps but as a kid who was scolded so many times for not understanding (translation: stupid), the first opportunity to avoid those experiences were a blessing. So for years I managed to avoid situations where I would never have to deal with math.

Yet here I am and planning to keep going. There are pattens in life worth breaking or resolving and I’m determined to re-craft my narrative. So, I have to read this chapter again and again and I think it is going to take more than books to help me feel confident in my abilities. It might be time for a tutor or a summer class.

“The predicted probability of having a data policy for English-language general (red, higher) and specific (blueish-green, lower) journals as a function of their impact factor”. From “Which political science journals will have a data policy

Papers that don’t report significance, effect sizes, and power together deserve extra skepticism, as a general rule.

The Truthful Art, p. 324

Keep Asking Questions

I’ve learned over the years not to be duped by fancy names or titles and somewhere during my career, I figured out that surrounding myself with people who knew more than I or complemented my skills were key to doing great work… as a team.

Off the top of my head, here are just a few people who have helped shape me as a designer in no particular order:

  • Michael Kellams
  • Emily Escalante
  • Tina Ullman
  • David Pratt
  • Jerry Sealy
  • Norie Quintos
  • Leigh Borghesani
  • Bill Marr
  • David Griffin
  • Trish Reynales
  • My husband

Of course there are many others—colleagues (designers, reporters, editors, photographers) and people I’ve never met whose work I’ve admired or whose books and articles have inspired me and challenged how I think.

I started my design career in newspapers interning at The Seattle Times, then went on to The Globe and Mail, Copley Sun Publications, The Chicago Tribune and off to National Geographic Traveler magazine. My focus at that time was on photography. I worked with picture editors and photographers in packaging and presenting stories where the photographs were the lead visuals.

So, as the completion of the semester, this class, and my first year approaches, I find myself reflecting on what has transpired in the past 7-8 months. A lot has happened and one thing I didn’t anticipate was the desire to return to the “newsroom”. I never thought I would want to pursue data visualization, especially because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

The secret behind any successful data project is asking people who know a lot about the data at hand and its shortcomings, about how it was gathered, processed, and tested.

The Truthful Art, p. 316

Asking questions is paramount to collaboration, understanding people, and being a responsible designer. I’m used to working with others, experts, so honestly, my first visualization for this class made me nervous. I was uncomfortable and uncertain about the data because of my inexperience. I did my best and the project comes with a giant asterisk (* school project!) but I suppose I had to start somewhere.

At least I know for certain that I need to learn more about understanding data and ramp up my math skills. I also have to remind myself that I just started in January. So patience, where are you?