Thank you, Shirley Wu

Two mailing addresses, a few missed issues of Net Magazine.

Missing magazines show up—yay!—but left unopened for weeks.

Finally open the envelope, glance at the covers and they sit for another week. I was beginning to feel that read-your-New-Yorker-magazine-pressure every time I passed them.

But just yesterday when I sat down to write a blog post about a yield curve I saw (saving that for later), I noticed a small cover line on the August 2019 issue of Net Magazine.

Learn from a Data-Viz Whizz

Really? Cool.

Who is the Data-Viz Whizz?

Flip, flip, flipShirley Wu.

Opening spread in the Voices section of Net Mag, August 2019.

Shirley Wu, one half of the popular Data Sketches project, creates highly interactive, beautiful data visualizations. Here, she gives us a look behind the scenes and shares the lessons she’s learned.

Intrigued, I immediately sat down to read about Shirley Wu.

It was an inspiring read. I love stories about people who make changes; that she switched from being a front-end software engineer to become a data visualization designer is cupcake.

So, do you recall periods in your life when you are planning your next step or struggling or hoping for something but not sure what and the universe sends you a person or a moment or a sign to help you take that one small step forward?

This interview with Shirley is one of those moments. Noticing that small cover line near the UPC symbol is nearly impossible but I did and that led me to discovering Beautiful for the first time. Why is this important? Because I’m planning to tackle my first interactive data visualization of poems (Pablo Neruda? Anne Sexton? Maya Angelou? — I need to decide) and it helps to see what other data viz designers have done using text. Part of learning is seeing and understanding what is possible. It may take me some time to reach Shirley’s level of talent but her work and her words were a spark.

Correction: In my excitement, I had flipped Shirley Wu and Nadieh Bremmer’s work in my mind. My sincere apologies to both women. Nadieh is the designer behind Beautiful and Shirley is the designer of Explore Adventure (below), an equally beautiful (see what I did there?) and fun visualization about the travel search connections between countries, seasons, attractions, and more.

Screengrabs from Explore Adventure. This section about searches for Qin Shi Huang was the most interesting; however, I’m trying to still understand how I’m supposed to know the searches happen during spring, summer, winter or fall when just looking at the visualizations.

Lesson learned? Give yourself enough time to triple check your work, what you read, and own up to your mistakes.

Beautiful visualization interaction
The snaking animation is delightful and on hover, I learned more.

What I love about Beautiful is the overall simplicity, the subtle animations and the surprising level of detail and information which isn’t obvious at first. It’s fun and interesting. My only wish: a little more feedback during my interaction with the top 10 words per language.

Beautiful visualization
I wanted a slight animated fade or subtle change in value when I hovered over any of the shapes for each country.

Legends is just stunning and ok, I admit, I have a thing for that color palette. The cool factor is huge. Immediately I wished for Legends to be realized into a physical space that I could walk in and around (VR anyone?) with additional layers of information as I interact with each crystal.

Legends visualization from above
This feels like you are flying just above the surface of an alien planet (I watch a lot of Sci-Fi).
Legends visualization side view
I imagined myself walking among these crystals. What if I could touch them and they would light up and reveal something interesting?

I also admire the fact that she shares her knowledge about D3.js with others through workshops (with live coding!), user groups and online courses. She mentions her process and a lot of the tools she uses to clean, understand, explore, prototype, and design. It is a list I’m definitely planning to check out as I begin my journey learning D3.js through Coursera and making my first interactive visualizations.

So, thank you, Shirley Wu for making feel even more excited about data visualization, sharing lessons you’ve learned, your take on tools, and showing me what is possible with D3.js.

I cannot wait to see more of what you create.

PS: It’s always nice to read about people you know, especially when you are also learning from the same. She mentions Alberto twice. The first when he invited her to dive into data that would result in Beautiful and the second when she mentions how teaching forced her to learn so she read a few books. The Functional Art, she says, is “one of my favourites”. Cool.

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