Episode 10: Data Viz Critiquing

Tips on How to Provide and Ask for Data Viz Feedback

In this episode I share advice on how to provide data viz feedback tactfully and how to ask for it.

You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

What You’ll Learn in this episode

  • Why we should be careful about giving “drive-by” critique on social media
  • How to tactfully provide feedback to people
  • How to ask for constructive feedback when sharing our own work

Action Items

  1. Share a piece of your work to actively get some feedback, either publicly or privately. You could do this on social media (if you are allowed to share your work) or you can do this with colleagues or someone from another team. Actively ask them for constructive criticism in case they may hesitate to give you honest feedback.
  2. Implement a few or all the things from your feedback.
  3. Reflect on the process. Did you learn something new? Was it humbling? Did having others provide feedback help you get a fresh perspective on your own work?

Additional Resources

Get in Touch with Hana

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If you enjoyed this episode, check out this episode where I share tips on ways you can improve your data visualizations.

Episode Transcript

This episode was inspired by a recent post I did on social media. And it got me thinking about how we critique data visualizations that we come across in the real world and on social media. I wasn't very active on social media until a year ago. And I didn't even know then that people were sharing their data viz on social media publicly. 

But I got up to speed about how social media data viz critiquing used to be like by Jon Schwabish last year when we were co-hosting a show together called all charts considered on clubhouse. 

Jon is the founder of PolicyViz.com  and the author of several books, including better data visualizations, his more recent work. 

He's been in the data vis world for a while. And he was active on Twitter and social media. When people started to share their work online. And what started to happen was people started doing drive by critique. It's not surprising considering the nature of social media. It has this constantly scrolling to see the next post. So the amount of time we spend on one single post is pretty limited. 

And so it was easy for people to see a data viz pop up on their feed and for people to feel like this was an invitation for them to quickly drop their 2 cents about what they see in the comments section of the post, and then keep on scrolling. When someone shares their work online and publicly. I think some of us assume it means that they're looking for feedback and that they are open to receiving it publicly. 

While this may be true for some people who post. It's not a safe assumption to make and not conducive in creating a safe and friendly environment in the data community. First, we don't know what constraints people are working with when they produce their work. When we look at someone else's work online or we try to do a make-over version of the same work. 

We sometimes assume that we are working with the same constraints and choices, and then we wonder, well, you know, why didn't this person think of doing this? This is something I learned from the book. How design makes the world by Scott Berkun a book I picked up after Jon recommended it. 

Scott shared a story about boarding pass designs that really stuck with me. If you've seen a printed boarding pass before you'll know that it's neither their prettiest nor the most intuitive to read from the Traveler's perspective. The most important information usually is not displayed easily on there. And often the objects and the boarding passes don't seem to be aligned properly to any grid. So some designers have attempted to redesign boarding passes. And if you do a Google search, you can see really neat looking prototypes. 

These redesigned passes look a lot nicer and they seem more useful in terms of what information is displayed. And where that makes it more readable for travelers. And also nice to look at. 

But Scott points out. How many of these drive by designers didn't take into consideration the constraints of airports and airlines. A major one being that current boarding passes designs are restricted. By printers, which were purchased a long time ago. Many of these print at low-resolution use a fixed paper size, and are thermal printers. So they don't use ink. And you also have to put bar codes in a very specific place on the boarding pass by law. 

The cost of using new printers in order to print a better design boarding passes will likely not be worth it, especially considering now. The people have the option of using digital boarding passes. 

In addition to not being aware of the constraints data viz creators may have. We also should recognize that some people who are starting out in theirdata viz journey, Also share their work online while they're still learning. And it's a very brave thing that they're doing. 

So we also don't want to discourage them. If there are still learning and improving their database skills. But there's also the other extreme you want to avoid, which Ben Jones, the founder of data, literacy.com and author of several data books calls the love Fest, where people only give compliments. 

But don't provide any feedback that can help us grow. Or improve our work. here's some advice on how to give feedback when people post their work online. This advice is based on what I've learned from others in the date of his community. Like Jon Schwabish, Ben Jones, Cole Knaflic, Eva Murray, as well as some stuff I've learned from my own experiences and interactions 

one check your intentions and assumptions. Our intentions when providing feedback should be to help people improve and grow. Not to tear down someone's reputation, discourage them from pursuing the skill or showing off how much more talented or knowledgeable we are. 

Number two, ask for permission to give feedback first. If they haven't signaled that they are open to receiving feedback. Then reach out privately to get permission first before providing it, you can say something like, Hey, I saw that dashboard. You recently posted. And then you can mention something that you liked about it. 

And then say, let me know if you're open to receiving some feedback and I'll be happy to provide my thoughts. 

Now if there's some major, major issue with the database. Maybe the numbers don't look right or something like that. You can reach out privately to alert them tactfully. So don't assume that they're intentionally trying to deceive people. 

But say something like, Hey, I saw your recent database. You posted the other day. It looks great, but I think there's a typo that I wanted to let you know about. It looks like the percent breakdown doesn't add up to a hundred percent in this chart. So could you take a look. 

  Finally focus on constructive feedback that will help the person improve. And provide this tactfully. 

If you're interested in learning more about this, there's a great decision diagram. Ben Jones created on his website data remix.com that I will link in the show notes. And this can help further guide you on how to navigate the situation. If you decide that you want to give feedback to someone's work. 

I will also link to Jon's website and his YouTube channel as he has a series called data of his critiques, where you can learn from him on how to improve your database. And you can get a glimpse of what goes on inside a database experts head. 

The last piece of advice for people giving feedback is to remember, to be humble and recognize that we were all beginners in this craft at some point. 

Now I understand that some of you may actually want to get feedback. We all learn and grow differently, and I'm all about supporting whatever works for you. The thing is that now you may notice that people are becoming more careful about providing feedback publicly. And they will only do so when asked, which is great, but that means only to be more explicit in seeking out feedback. 

So here are some ways you can signal to people when sharing your work online, that you're open to this. You can say, I would appreciate any feedback in the comment section below or via DM. Or I plan on submitting this portfolio with my job application. So I would greatly appreciate any input or advice, please message me, or post it in the comments below. 

Or I'm learning blank tool, and this is something recently made for fun and wanted to share. I'm not sure if the colors are too distracting. Should I use a different pallet instead? What do you think? 

So by explicitly asking for feedback and letting people know how they can give it, we'll help you get some constructive criticism for your work so that you can also grow and improve. 

Before we wrap up this show as always, I'd like to share some action items for you to do. First share a piece of your work to actively get some feedback, either publicly or privately. You could do this on social media. If you're allowed to share your work, or you can do this with colleagues or someone from another team. 

Explicitly asked them for constructive criticism. In case they may hesitate to give you honest feedback. Second implement a few or all the things that you receive from this feedback? And then reflect on the process. Did you learn something new? Was it humbling? 

Did having others provide feedback, help you get fresh perspective on your own work?