Episode 38: How to Use Writing to Improve Your Vizzing - Featuring Tiziana Alocci & Piero Zagami
Welcome to episode 38 of Data Viz Today. Can you write your way to data viz success? It might be hard to see how writing could improve your visualizations but in this episode, I'll lay out 3 compelling reasons WHY you need to start writing today. Plus, I'll share easy 3 steps to get you started.
This episode is inspired by the creative passion project Market Cafe Magazine that's created and independently published by Tiziana Alocci and Piero Zagami. Listen to what it takes to self-publish a data viz magazine!
Welcome! I'm Alli Torban.
00:23 - Today’s episode is all about using writing as a way to improve your data viz skills. The project that inspired this episode is the data viz magazine called Market Café Magazine that’s independently designed, written and published by Tiziana Alocci and Piero Zagami.
01:10 - In this episode, we’ll find out why Tiziana and Piero started a magazine about data viz, how they pull it all together, and how it’s changed their lives…Then I’ll jump into the reasons why YOU need to start writing about data viz too, plus 3 tips to get you started.
01:35 - Tiziana and Piero are both accomplished freelance information designers in London.
01:40 - In 2017, they were super active in their local data viz community - constantly going to events and conferences, and couldn’t get enough of consuming and creating visualizations. They started to feel this itch that they wanted to dig into the process of how designers were going about their craft, and share those stories in a unique and artistic way. The decided that they’d figure out how to curate stories from interviews with designers that they admire and make a magazine for the community to enjoy.
02:20 - But a little wrinkle…they didn’t have any experience in journalism or publishing. So they obsessively started building a database of practitioners that they wanted to interview, topics that interested them and that led to research on templates for the content, and they began briefing contributors, and working with sub-editors. It started to come together and they kept experimenting and trying…
02:55 - Being freelance made the process of putting the zine together a little easier since their schedules are flexible, but it still required a lot of sacrifice and long nights and a ton of visits to the post office.
03:05 - They have 3 issues under their belt now so they’re slowly getting processes in place and more streamlined. It’s been taking them a few months to put together each issue because they take a very artisanal approach to creating the zine: they do tons of print tests, color studies, and image manipulation to apply this cool and unique look of their zine where each issue features two new colors.
03:30 - But the 4th issue, due out very soon, has been 6 months in the making…Tiziana and Piero say that’s because while the mechanics are getting easier for them, they’ve found that they like pouring lots of time into researching right people to interview. Part of their secret sauce is interviewing all their contributors in person to make sure they can capture the human-side of every story. It’s admittedly time consuming and exhausting but non-negotiable in their opinion.
04:11 - They use Adobe InDesign to create the layout of the zine and then work with a third-party printer to do a limited run of each issue. They have a unique point of view in the way that they put it all together so it’s an experience for me.
04:40 - So crafting this magazine is obviously a labor of love, so why do it? Why write about data visualization? Tiziana and Piero have found that every time they interview someone, they not only learn about someone else’s experience who is probably socially and culturally different from where they come from, but they also get a fresh injection of knowledge and enthusiasm from this person. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before – talking to someone who’s really passionate about subject is very energizing.
05:30 - Ok so writing about data viz has been fulfilling for Tiziana and Piero, but why would you want to write? Here are three reasons why writing can help you improve:
It’s a creative outlet, you have complete control over what you write about and how you do it. You don’t need to create in the same way that you’re used to consuming it. And that exercise in creativity is great exercise for creativity in your visualizations.
When you write and share, you’re inviting others to engage with you. You make new connections and broaden your network. Especially if you do interviews or collaborations. You make some talented friends that you can learn from. Related to that, when you write about your experiences, you’re helping other people. Maybe you don’t want to write about something because you feel like other people have already written about it, but the one thing that no one has - is your experience. The events that have happened in your life and your reaction to them. Those are unique to you that can help someone else. And I believe that no matter where you’re at, you’re one step in front of someone else and you always need to be looking back to see who you can lift up.
You learn more about yourself and the topic by writing about it.
I noticed a tweet by Alberto Cairo not long ago, saying that he asks his Intro to Dataviz students to create personal blogs and write about their
weekly readings. And I asked him why he does this and he said that he’s learned
that the best way to memorize something and understand it well is to force
yourself to write publicly about it. He asks them to not just summarize the content of the book but to connect it to their own experience. Read more in this post.
I’ve definitely experienced the benefits of this. By researching a topic, like the episode on box plots, and then weave it into a story and add useful tips, I really have to dig deep. It takes between 10 to 20 hours of work for each episode. And I’ve learned so much more than if I just read someone else’s post or a Wikipedia article.
BONUS why: career builder, you’re creating a body of work that’s showing how you think and your expertise. That’s pretty valuable.
07:50 - Ok so those are some great whys, but how…I know that writing your own content is daunting for many reasons. But here are three quick steps that you can do now in just a few minutes that will make writing about data viz feel closer…
Announce a schedule and keep it. Tweet it, tell your friends, or just text your mom. Just someone who will ask you about it so that you keep moving forward with it.
Being consistent is really where you can see growth and reap the benefits. Two posts a year isn’t going to move the needle.
I remember Seth Godin, the famous marketing guru who has been writing a blog post every day for years, he said the fact that he lives every day thinking that I have to write something worth reading tomorrow completely changes the way he navigates through life. He notices the little the things, he’s more in tune with things that pique his interest. I thought that was an interesting take – just the fact that you have to say something worth listening to on a consistent basis can make you up your game. Change the way you think. So make a schedule and keep it. Consistently write about your data viz experience.
Think about who you’re writing for – narrow down your audience. It can really help you narrow down the topics you’re going to write about. Just start with an audience of one – yourself. Draw a circle that’s you – draw 2 or 3 lines coming out of your circle and write a few things that you like. Cooking, sports, podcasts, parenting, running, legos, videos…. Then draw a bigger circle around all of that. That’s your audience right now. You plus anyone else who likes the couple of things you like too.
I like short bits of data viz tips and podcasts. So here we are. I got a lot of questions about why I’d put a visual topic into an audio format, but that’s what I was interested in, and it turns out that other people are interested in it too! It’s not for everyone, but it’s helpful to some people, and that makes be really happy.
Tiziana and Piero like boutique artsy magazines, and stories about data viz designers. They gave me really great advice for anyone looking to start writing about data viz. They said, “keep it tight, specific to the topic you love, no matter how niche or weird (in fact, the stranger the better). Be honest, insightful, and establish a regular flow of content, so your audience can learn what to expect and when to find it.”
Create a template – this is a content creation secret that I’ve found that the best bloggers use. Have a few general themes that you rotate through. It’ll help keep you focused and feels less intimidating when you sit down to write.
Here’s an example: If you’re blogging once a week, first one is a new technique you learned, second week is the process behind a new viz, third one is your opinion on something you read or a piece of news, and fourth week is the best viz you came across that month and what you liked about it.
And within that kind of template, keep in mind that the best posts do three things: Inspire, educate, entertain. If you can do all three within a post, amazing. But I’ve found it easiest to focus on one to be the star and have the other two be co-stars. If you couldn’t tell, the star of this episode is inspire.
11:55 - So you got your schedule, you narrowed your topics a bit by your interests, and then write your template or general themes that you’ll use within your schedule. Then you sit down to write your post, think about what’s the star of this post – am I tying to inspire, educate, or entertain?
12:20 - My final takeaway is that if you consistently write about your experience in the visualization field, you can start reaping the rewards of having a creative outlet, making new connections and helping others, really learning and going deep on the details, and building your own body of work that can help your career.
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