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My Makeover Monday (Guest Post)



The following is a guest blog post from Meera Umasankar.  Meera is a co-leader of the Singapore Data Plus Women chapter, a Tableau Featured Author and Tableau Public Ambassador.   She is known for her distinctive designs and her dedication to the Makeover Monday project.  She lives in Singapore and can be contacted on Twitter @LosaniMeera.


Makeover Monday has changed my life, both professionally and personally.  My skills as a dataviz practitioner have improved immensely and I’ve made a ton of friends in the process.  This blog post is intended to highlight my journey, provide some details of what I have learned, but most importantly, inspire you to go out and join the project that has helped me and countless others.

The Beginning
In 2018, I worked for Tableau Ambassador and all-around fantastic person, Sarah Burnett.  That year, she had completed all 52 Makeover Mondays.  The visualizations that she created were incredible!  I was so inspired by her work, I decided to join the project.  Sarah worked hard to encourage me and empower me to not only join Makeover Monday, but also to engage with the larger Tableau Community.  In 2019, I set out on a journey to complete every Makeover Monday that year.

Before we move on, what is Makeover Monday?  Makeover Monday is a weekly project in which a single data set it provided along with a corresponding visualisation.  The goal is to build a better and more effective visualisation for that data set.  Hundreds of people create Makeover Monday visualisations each week and at the end of the week, Makeover Monday leaders review a number of these entries during a live webinar, referred to as the viz review (this occurs every Wednesday at 4 PM GMT).  Thousands of people have been involved with the project – it is truly a community of people that want to see others improve.

When I initially joined, I was very intimidated by all the amazing work that others were creating.  However, after a few weeks, I learned that the Tableau community was an asset and rather than be intimidated by their work, I used their work as inspiration.  The truth is, we have all been the newbie – we all had to start somewhere - being intimidated is not helpful but being inspired is.  It might be difficult to get started but once you are into it, it’s totally worth it!  I can’t thank Sarah enough for getting me started.

My First Week
The data set for my first week was NHL attendance, which I knew very little about as sports is definitely not my thing.  This one would be trial by fire.  I opted to show home versus road attendance for each team via small multiple line charts. 


It took some courage for me to publish this on my Tableau Public profile. I didn’t submit the viz on time and consequently missed submitting for viz review. Moving forward, I resolved to submit my work on time for review then use their feedback to revise my work (iterate).  

When I look back at this viz, there were so many things that I would change.  I would have added labels to the beginning and end of each line, realigned the BANs, title and the text, and also would have removed the white background from the title

My First Viz Review
My Global Press Freedom viz was the first to make it to the viz review. 

Before

Eva was running the viz review on her own that week and although I had received amazing feedback from the community, I was scared to death of what Eva would think.  Her feedback centered on visual best practices – using colors wisely.  She noted that using red and green together is rarely suitable for people with color deficiencies (color blindness).  She suggested that I utilize color blind friendly templates that are available all over the web.  I ultimately used a color palette I found from Coolors.co (which I now use when designing almost all of my visualisations).     

After

The Data Sets are Diverse
Makeover Monday is all about visualising diverse subject matter. Although I was not familiar with many of the topics, it was fascinating to take a deep dive into the data, analyse and learn more. This is why Makeover Monday is so special, because it’s just more than just visualising some random topic, it’s about forcing you to learn about a subject much like you would do in a work environment – you’re not always the subject matter expert.  

Complex Datasets
When dealing with dense or complex data sets, it is easy to get carried away.  As part of the Makeover Monday project, it is important to know that you don’t have to visualise everything.  Makeover Monday leaders encourage you to identify some of the key findings and build your own story.

The literacy data set was one of these complex sets.  I spent time exploring the data in order to find some insights.  With some analysis, I found that Africa had the lowest literacy rates of any continent.  I opted to focus my entire viz on Africa rather than trying to visualise ALL of the data. 


Viz Reviews
The weekly viz reviews continually helped me hone my craft. My chart selection, use of color, storytelling, analysis and much more have improved tremendously based on the viz reviews.  And it’s not just about the leaders reviewing MY viz, it’s about watching and listening to their reviews of others' work as well.  The amount of information I learned from the viz reviews would be impossible to quantify.  None of it would have been possible without the invaluable feedback from Eva Murray, Andy Kriebel, Charlie Hutcheson and SarahBartlett.

Being Creative
Not all of our work environments give us the flexibility or freedom to be creative. Makeover Monday has helped me to be innovative and to try things I may not ever do at work.

ChantillyJaggernauth has an incredible eye for design.  In fact, she spoke about it at TC19 - Design Secrets for a Non-Designer.  One week, I decided to reach out to Chantilly to ask her how she does it. The tip she gave me was game changing.  She said, “get design inspiration from infographics”.  What a fantastic idea!  I immediately took her advice and created a viz on America’s favourite seasons.


Prioritization
My passion for this project has resulted in better prioritization of my day-to-day activities.  It has become a part of my routine. Each dataset is published on data.world on Sunday. On Monday or Tuesday evening after work, I start analysing the data and sketching an initial layout of my viz.  I then create the viz in Tableau.  I do my very best to always submit for viz review, but if I don’t make it that’s ok too.  After the viz review, I take the feedback and iterate on my viz to implement their suggested changes.  And then I do it again the next week. 

I will note that it is key to time box yourself so that you don’t spend too much time on it.  Set yourself some time limitations.  The leaders of Makeover Monday often suggest spending just one hour.  I typically spend a bit more than that, but I’m careful to not be carried away. 

Connecting With People
So far, I’ve talked about my improvement in regards to creating data visualisations, but Makeover Monday has provided so much more.  This initiative has allowed me the opportunity to share my knowledge and joy with people all around the world! Despite being an introvert, this collaborative environment has boosted my confidence and has allowed me to connect with some of the most talented people in the Tableau community.

In 2019, I also got the opportunity to attend my first Tableau Conference.  It was also my first to the US.  I was so nervous and kept worrying that I wouldn’t be accepted as part of the larger Tableau community. However, that fear vanished almost immediately when I met so many great people from the community. People were all so welcoming and kind. I’ve made some great friends and now I feel incredibly close to this amazing community.


And community isn’t just about making fantastic friends, which I have, it is also about being inspired, having connections by which you can ask for feedback or get help with a problem, it’s about having people in your life that are willing to help you when you need it. 

A Greater Cause
Makeover Monday also provides us with incredible opportunities for the greater good.  One such example was Operation Fistula.  Many women are injured when having C-sections in poor conditions.  These are called fistulas and are especially prevalent in Africa.  These injuries are awful and what’s worse, I had never even heard of it…until I looked at the data.  Below is how I opted to visualise it.


Entries from this Makeover Monday ultimately led to raised awareness about this topic, but also helped Operation Fistula forge a strong relationship with the data community.  In fact, they were at TC19 where they announced the launch of their new program, Visualize Gender Equality.  Check out this article to learn more about their experience at TC19 and this incredible new initiative.

Makeover Monday has done numerous projects similar to this one where they have focused on the greater good.  One of which was related to SDG Goals and resulted in my favorite personal viz.

How Makeover Monday Has Helped Me
Faster turnaround:  having performed this exercise for a period of time, it has had a trickle down effect on all my day-to-day work and pursuits. It has helped me work faster and more efficiently therefore vastly improving my turn-around time on both personal and professional projects. 

Inspiration: I have been inspired by many others in the Makeover Monday community whether it be design, analysis, or storytelling.  I’ve not only implemented these improved skills with the project, but I’ve been able to implement them at work. It's incredible to see the variety of visuals that the community produces using the exact same data set!

Identifying my style: through practice and iteration, I have identified my own visualisation style.  This has led to more consistency in my professional life.

Door to new opportunities: The community outreach has opened doors to many new opportunities, one of which included my new position. I was approached by the HR department from my current organization through Social Media after they had reviewed my Tableau Public profile. The interview included questions surrounding my processes and approach to creating visualizations. Because of the amount of practice I had put in, these questions were simple to answer.  I was offered the job instantly.  And so much of this is due to my participation in Makeover Monday which has allowed me to build a strong portfolio.

Discipline: I have become much more disciplined through my work with Makeover Monday, which has directly contributed to the advancement of my career.

What Have I Achieved?
When I began working on this project, my goal was simply to get one of my vizzes on the list of weekly favourites, chosen by the project leaders.  I never imagined everything else I would have achieved.

  1. I made it to their list of favorites in my second week.  I have now been on the list of favourites 13 times.
  2. I have two Viz of the Days - both were Makeover Mondays.
  3. I was interviewed by Michael Sandberg and Grafiti.
  4. I presented at VizConnect.
  5. I have been featured as a Tableau Public Featured Author.
  6. I got top five in the third IronViz feeder competition.
  7. I participated in Tableau User Group Tips Battle at the 2019 Tableau Conference.
  8. I was nominated for Tableau Wannabe Vizzie Awards in three categories.
  9. I landed a new job.
  10. I was awarded with the Makeover Monday 2019 Rookie of the Year title.
  11. Finally, I was selected as a Tableau Public Ambassador.  This is something I would have never imagined could be possible in such a short time.  I could not have done it without Makeover Monday. 

As you can see, Makeover Monday can be life changing – it has changed my life!

Go For It
If you want to learn more about dataviz and take your skills to the next level, give Makeover Monday a try.  You will learn skills from the best in the business, be inspired by thousands, you will meet new friends, and your life will be changed as a result.  Thank you Andy, Eva, Charlie, and Sarah for everything.

For more information on the Makeover Monday project and instructions on how to get started, please visit https://www.makeovermonday.co.uk/.

Thanks,
Meera



Kevin Flerlage, January 13, 2020 | Twitter | LinkedIn | TableauPublic











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