• bkornell

My #MakeoverMonday Confessions

The #MakeoverMonday project, Tableau's most popular community initiative, recently went on hiatus. (Don't despair; their are 300 historical data sets to catch up on!)

With a little breather from the weekly data challenge, it's time to get some things off my chest:

I was one of the earlier Tableau Public users... and I had published three vizzes before Makeover Monday.

I began using Tableau Public in 2010 or 2011. My first public viz (created in Tableau v7.0!) helped me score a Tableau developer job in 2012. In 2020, Tableau even sent me a sweet mug to celebrate Public's ten-year anniversary. (It keeps coffee hot for hours!)

I used Tableau at work, but had almost nothing to show to the world. And frankly, I'd stalled out in my learning. Vizzing for a job meant that I was limited in the type of data I worked with and the types of vizzes I was creating.

Today I have almost 60 public vizzes, a portfolio that chronicles my technical and design development... and that's thanks to Makeover Monday and other community projects such as #DiversityInData.

My first Makeover Monday viz had four pie charts.

Not just that: it was a time series of pie charts!

Yes, I know best practices for showing data over time. (Line charts. Always line charts.) But Makeover Monday was sometimes about making ugly babies: taking a chance on a different viz type in order to understand why it does or doesn't work.

There are other things that I hate about this viz. The long lines of text. The aggressive blue background. The lack of white space. Little icons just for the sake of having them. If I tackled this data set again (and I may!), I'd make a lot of changes.

One of the best pieces of advice in the #datafam is leave your old vizzes up. You're showing your development to employers, to the community, to new users, and most of all to yourself.

I didn't do them on Monday.

Early this year Eva Murray posted a suggested schedule which was: Data set is published on Sunday, do your viz on Monday, publish it with the hashtag on Tuesday.

Forget that, I thought.

When I got into MM in October 2020, I stalked the website on Sunday, waiting for the new data to appear. Then I'd slap a viz together (an hour or two) to get it out there before too many people published the same approach.

After a while, though, I wised up and found my own rhythm:

  • Sunday: Peek at the new data and think about what I might do with it.

  • Monday: Bring the data into Tableau, and play with some ideas. But more importantly, watch the posts on Twitter to see how others were approaching the topic.

  • Tuesday: Start building a viz in earnest that balances

  • What dozens of other students are trying

  • What I think is my unique perspective

Which brings me to my next confession:

I copied the homework. A lot.

The reason I didn't publish many vizzes at first? I was really intimidated by the sophistication of other people's work. "I could never do that," I said, so I didn't try.

Then I shifted my perspective. When a viz caught my eye, I asked "What specifically do I like about this viz?" Or, more to the point, "What element can I copy?"

Often there was an obvious chart choice, but personal styles differed wildly. So I kept a little notebook of specific techniques I liked: white space, title fonts, colors, images, tooltips, etc. The following week I'd try to work a new one in.

In a recent conversation between Lindsay Betzendahl and CJ Mayes, Lindsay shared a quote that really captured it for me:

“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.” -Yohji Yamamoto

After a while, I started to zero in on my personal style.

Import note: When a particular viz heavily influenced my design, I gave credit. This meant

  • Adding a link to the inspiration viz on my Tableau Public viz

  • Thanking the author on Twitter when publishing

I Was Planning a Breakup... But They Dumped Me First

Makeover Monday forced me to practice every week and to tackle tough data sets, some of which I had zero interest in (multiclass classification of dry beans, anyone)? During this time, I watched some amazing vizzers "graduate" from weekly Makeover Monday participation to focus on passion projects, Iron Viz (and Iron Quest), or their own personal career that didn't involve a lot of public vizzing. I had it in my head that I'd practice MM until the end of the year and then do some hard thinking about next steps.

But Eva and Andy, after giving us so much, did that mama bird thing and pushed me out of the nest. So it's on to the next thing. Part of that is this blog: I think a lot about the choices I make in vizzes, and I'd like to share that thought process (and invite feedback). Another goal for me is create more business-oriented dashboards, which makes me excited for the (teased) return of the Real World Fake Data project.

Thanks to Eva Murray and Andy Kriebel for providing this amazing resource, and to all of you who participated! I'm looking forward to the "Next Big Thing" in the Tableau community!

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