Have Faith That What You're Doing is Important


Wow! I launched this newsletter on all my social media channels and 80 people subscribed within a week. Thank you all for signing up, I was shocked to learn that so many people wanted to hear what I have to say.

I would like to get to know you, understand why you subscribed. In the design world, it’s impossible to design something without understanding who it’s for. Similarly for this newsletter, I’d like to know more about you so I can write what’s relevant to you. You can reply to this e-mail to let me know.

  • What do you do?

  • What do you hope to learn from this newsletter?

  • What are you working towards in your life and career?

  • What was there something I made/wrote that resonated with you?

Ever since I wrote the article on “How Self-Employed Data Visualization Designers Make a Living”, my career has taken a shift. People started to ask me questions about starting their own journey in data visualization. They ask me how to stay on track on personal projects. Someone else saw my talk on this topic and asked if I was interested in joining a panel that would help students in their career development.

Suddenly, I am seen as a person who could help others start in this field. This was never my intention. I am always a designer above everything else. I never thought of myself as someone who could provide advice on this topic. I did my research on this because I had a strong desire to address the unknown. And it struck me that there’s something interesting about what it means to be an expert.

People often underestimate what writing can do for the writer. I once asked one of my social media clients the following:

“Do you think writers are an expert before or after they release a book?”

And this isn’t to say that you can’t be an expert before you write a book. But, I have no doubt that you develop more expertise through the process of writing. And I think that’s what happened with my article. It started with curiosity, a desire to solve a problem I had. Through the quest for knowledge, I acquired a new way of understanding dataviz work.

There were a couple times in the last two weeks when I questioned if what I was doing was worthwhile. If I should spend my energy doing something else that would contribute meaningfully to society. Can data visualization change the world? Is this the medium I should work with? What other strengths can I leverage to better society?

When I asked RJ Andrews if there is anyway to know if we are good at what we do. He said there isn’t. There’s often a long lag from when we finish our work to when we get feedback on it. But, he emphasized the following:

“you need to have faith that what you’re doing is important”.

After he said this, tears started to stream down my face. I was crying and I felt relieved. He said words that I needed to hear during a time when I was very lost. I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself as a person, I have a lot of doubts just like anyone else would. But, I try to not lose sight of what’s important. I work to solve user problems with my work. The most recent one I completed was looking at how to teach players how to think about winning a game. The game I worked with was “Bang!”, a board game I played over 100 times when I was in school. The game manual is heavy with text making it inaccessible. From my experience, people learn board games from experienced players, rather than directly from the game manual. So, I designed a visual aid to help experienced players teach the game to beginners.

Despite playing it so many times, I didn’t realize how little of the mechanics I understood. When I made a histogram of all the playing cards, I quickly saw which cards were more valuable due to scarcity. I started to see the game differently, I started to see it for what it was. This project allowed me to learn something important.

“How can my work teach others how to think?”

How can I reveal the mechanics of the world? How can we see the world differently? How can we teach people how to think about life, about the world, about political leaders? How can we teach people how music improvisation works? Or how to effectively string movements together in martial arts? Is this something data visualization can achieve? Is data visualization even the right medium?

This is where I am at now, focusing on this idea and seeing where I can take it. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next issue :)

About Jane

I am an independent data visualization designer and social media strategist based in Toronto, Canada. Through personal projects, I have taught myself how to create data visualizations. To see my latest work, check out my website.

Ever since I became an independent designer in 2019, I’ve had many insights about life, work, data visualization, design, and creativity. I have been documenting these insights as much as I can through various mediums. In 2020, I decided to start a newsletter where I can put all these insights in one place. This newsletter is meant for people who want to learn more about what it’s like to be an independent data visualization designer.

Please feel free to send me questions or topics you’d like me to explore by replying to this e-mail or by commenting to this post.

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