Nadieh Bremer, the Data Explorer: Numbers Are Much More Rational than Humans
We talked to Nadieh Bremer, a Data Viz pro, who shared her immense love for the science behind data & gave advice for aspiring freelancers
Nadieh Bremer is a Data Visualization Designer and Data Artist. Before embarking on a freelance journey, she worked for Deloitte and Adyen, but left to pursue her own career and start a creative business, which she later called Visual Cinnamon. Now, she creates custom and unique visualizations of data for companies and individuals alike. You can find Scientific American and Google among her clients. Nadieh is coming to speak at JSNation Conference, June 6–7, 2019.
Hello Nadieh, and welcome to the interview with JS Nation. What brought you to Data Visualization and Data Art?
It all started with Astronomy. For a school project when I was 8, I read about the stars and our solar system for the first time and was hooked! I read every kid’s book available about the topic from our city library. When during high school I realized that I loved the exact subjects the most; math & physics, actually going to study a subject that I was passionate about seemed like a great step, since I had no idea what job I wanted to do afterward anyway.
I did learn that I didn’t want to stay in Astronomy after getting my masters; fascinating subject — hated writing papers. Fortunately, I came across the (just starting) analytics department of Deloitte Consulting and felt right at home, still doing analyses on data. And all our clients being external, we often had to give presentations, which thus naturally involved visualizations about the data and analyses we’d done. And after a year or three, going into more and more complex algorithms and thus visuals, I realized I loved the visualization of data even more than the analysis. And that’s when I consciously decided to dive into becoming a specialist in DataViz.
Why did you decide to pursue a freelance path? What are the challenges you faced while working remotely?
After Deloitte, I worked for Adyen for 1.5 years. But I noticed that I missed the diversity of having different projects, data and clients every few weeks or months. From personal projects, such as data sketches, which I’ll talk about in my presentation, I noticed that I loved doing the more creative kind of DataViz. And it seemed to me that I could really only combine those two things as a freelancer. And when Google came knocking asking if I wanted to do a project for them, I just knew I didn’t want to say “no”, took a real hard look at my financial state, and made the decision to try it out, and I haven’t regretted it a day since!
Challenges, well it was quite overwhelming to get started. Everything’s new! So much administrative stuff! What really helped me was to sit down with a few friends who were already freelancers, to ask for tips, and to read a few books. That’s how I knew I needed to get an accountant asap and try to never “sell” more than 25 hours a week since the rest “disappears” in overhead and other stuff.
Can you tell us about your previous work experience and your takeaways from your previous positions?
Right now I mainly work on two different things; either standalone data visualizations or visual stories, and unique prototypes. The work for Google was a DataViz driven story in which I created a page that takes the reader through the most translated words into English for 10 chosen languages. It combines both text and several interactive visuals to weave the story together.
For Scientific American, I always create static visuals (which I love creating since I don’t have to deal with browser bugs or screen sizes!) and are always related to a scientific topic. For the March issue, I actually pitched them an idea I had; to show how solar noon and “time” noon can be quite different depending on your location (and day of the year). It’s a one-pager that has 2 graphics taking you through the topic and showing different sides to the same topic.
What projects are you currently working on?
Being on vacation in South Africa during this interview, I tried to finish all client work before. But I still have a big one for Google (a new one) for which I’m creating another visual story about how people use Google to search and understand the behavior of their cats and dogs. It should come out on the US National Pet day, April 11th.
What other public talks have you given?
I’ve had the fortune of being in “the conference circuit” for 3 years now, and have given about ±10 talks a year, such as SmashingConf, Beyond Tellerrand, and OpenVisConf. One thing that all my presentations have in common is that they are about DataViz (obviously 😉) and try to both inspire the audience that there is a lot more possible in DataViz than just your “standard charts” and that there are many ways to “go beyond the default” to create more effective and beautiful visualizations of data.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in science? What advice can you give to aspiring girls wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
Honestly, I feel like I’m very naive, but I’ve never felt like I had it more challenging because of my gender. I guess I’ve been lucky in the environments that I’ve studied and worked in, but I’ve also worked my ass off to try and always come out on top. In terms of advice, I can only say is to not let men or “traditions” hold you back to pursue a career in the thing that you love to do.
You speak of data so beautifully, as though you’re writing a novel. How did you become so passionate about numbers?
Hmm, I don’t know. It’s all about a curiosity I guess. When I see data, I wonder what secrets it holds, what information it might reveal when “handled properly”. And typically I’m the first person “handling” the data, and I love the feeling of the unknown and what it might contain and that I can be the “explorer” to figure that out, haha. Furthermore, numbers are much more rational than humans. 😉
Do you have any other interests or hobbies that you can share? I’ve seen you’re keen on paper art. Can you tell us more about it?
Ah yes, I’ve always been creative in other ways. That’s why I love DataViz, it combines the exact studies with the creative side. I don’t know why I’ve come to love paper art. Not necessarily origami, but also kusudamas (the sphere like things that you create from a dozen or more folded pieces), and especially the works by Yulia Brodskaya. But it’s been a while since I last did that though. Other hobbies and interests include reading fantasy books, especially those by Brandon Sanderson or reading manga (specifically CLAMP), watching movies, or doing personal projects in DataViz.
Are you excited about the upcoming JS Nation conference in Amsterdam this year? What are you going to talk about?
I’ll be talking about the biggest personal project that I’ve done, data sketches. In which I and Shirley Wu made an elaborate data visualization each month around a specific topic and also wrote about the design process. I’ll share the lessons learned, and show how these projects came about. From their ugly beginnings to their hopefully beautiful final results.
The interview was prepared with the assistance of Marina Vorontsova, a copywriter from Soshace.com. Soshace is a hiring platform for web developers: hire a developer or apply for a remote job.