How did you get involved with data visualization?
I have degrees in mathematics and business and work-wise, have always been drawn to roles where these two disciplines intersect: using numbers to understand something and make better decisions.
My career started in credit risk management. For me, playing with how to show the data was a way to inject creativity into the process. Over time, I found that when I took time to visualize data in a thoughtful way, people paid more attention to it, thus reinforcing my desire and commitment to spend time on the visual design of the information.
Eventually, I joined the People Analytics team at Google. At one point, we were developing an internal training program and I was asked to build out coursework on data visualization. The course I created was eventually rolled out to all of Google and I travelled to offices all over the world to teach people how to effectively communicate with data.
In 2012, I left Google to pursue my emerging goal of ridding the world of ineffective graphs. Over the past few years, I’ve taught workshops to hundreds of teams across many different organizations and industries. One thing I’ve found interesting is that the foundational lessons of communicating well with data are universal; anyone can leverage these principles for greater impact. It was this realization (plus some prodding from my husband!) that eventually led me to write my book.
Can you tell us a little about your book?
“Storytelling with Data” codifies the lessons that I teach in my workshops. It also goes into much more depth, and has more in terms of examples and insight into my thought process around data visualization design. It’s written for anyone who needs to communicate with data.
I start off with a conversation about context and the importance of having a really clear understanding of who your audience is and what you want them to know—before you spend much time visualizing data or creating content. I introduce different types of common displays of data and discuss examples, and use cases for each. I talk about clutter: what it is, how to recognize it, and the importance of eliminating unnecessary elements from your visual displays. From there, I discuss how your audience sees and how you can use things like color, size, and position to direct your audience’s attention. I bring in concepts of traditional design and discuss implications on the design of data visualizations. There is a whole chapter devoted to storytelling (this one is my favorite!) and how you can use this powerful tool when communicating with data. Overall, the book is packed with practical tips and examples that can be put to use immediately when communicating with data.
What are the top three things attendees will learn in your session?
1. How to identify and eliminate the clutter that can cloud your message
2. How to draw your audience’s attention where you want them to look
3. The importance of story when communicating with data
What are three interesting facts attendees may not know about you?
1. My husband is also a former-Googler and he sat in the first row the very first time I taught the data visualization course at Google (we didn’t officially meet until a month later!)
2. I am the proud mother of two beautiful little boys and baby #3 is on the way (this latter part you’d probably figure out by looking at me!)
3. I am fluent in German
Cole lives in San Francisco, California with her husband and kids.
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