The Importance of Writing & Focusing Narrative

Note: I’m a graduate student at the University of Miami working on my capstone, a visualization of the Pictures of the Year International Archives. If you’re curious about my journey, here are my posts tagged with capstone.

Remember that design process I talked about establishing? Well, apparently I need to print it out and tape it right in front of me.

Dueling Mindsets

This semester has been full of learning the technical. For me, JavaScript, D3.js and some Excel. JavaScript and D3 especially are hurdles. Last semester I finally understood the D3js concept. Once I understood that you load your data, then create invisible frames to then present the encoding of your data, it all made sense. Do I love it? Uh, no. But it is what it is and D3 is the industry standard so like it or not … go.

The struggle is in learning too many different things at once. When I’m in D3 mode, I’m in that mode and trying to get the clear ideas I have in my head to display on the screen. I’m not paying attention to details such as annotations, grid lines or thinking about narrative. Even shifting to CSS and HTML is a big shift. My fingers are on autopilot so my syntax is oiled for JavaScript not CSS and HTML. Oh, the mistakes I’ve made!

So when your mind is in one mode, it takes a long time to shift into a different mode, with a different type of language and thought process. Writing an academic paper is different from writing a blog post and writing the story of your data viz project.

“Take a break from the technical and focus on narrative”.

That’s the advice I got from Alberto recently. It makes sense right? I’ve been so focused on learning how to use d3 to make my charts that I don’t really even have a story. I have a general idea but not a complete picture. He is concerned I’ll spend way too much time building charts and not have a story to explain them. Valid!

So for the next few days, I am tasked with writing. No charts, no code. You would think that would make me happy. It does, but… going back into code mode is going to take some time. I just hope the notes I’ve taken are good enough to save me time.

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