What Data Visualisation Experts Wish They Knew When They First Started

Eight accomplished data visualisation designers share their hard-earned wisdom

Evelina Judeikytė
Jun 25 · 10 min read

Let’s be honest — data visualisation is not easy to master. One of the underlying reasons is the dynamic nature of the field. Our understanding of what works and what doesn’t evolves every day thanks to research and experimentation. The general public’s knowledge of charts also keeps improving. Hence, our best chance of developing robust data design skills is through a process of trial and error.

The good news is that every expert in the field has gone through this process. By listening to their experience, we can make ours smoother. That’s why I reached out to eight data visualisation experts and asked them to complete the following sentence: “When I first started in data visualisation, I wish someone had told me …” This article is a compilation of their responses.

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Alli Torban

Data Viz Today

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Alli’s work, including her recent project creating data vis inspired wallpapers

Alli hosts a podcast called which is a goldmine of resources for both new and experienced data designers. I stumbled upon it last March and binge-listened to over 50 episodes in only a few weeks!

I then interviewed Alli for a blog post on the podcast. Among other things, I asked her to complete the sentence Her insightful response gave me the idea to put together this article.

Here’s what Alli shared with me:

Nadieh Bremer

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Explore more of Nadieh’s work on her website

Nadieh is known for her unique and impactful visuals, often with a touch of astronomy. I had long admired Nadieh’s work and also fell in love with her design process after watching her presentation at Data Viz Live last May.

Here’s the first tip Nadieh wishes someone had given her at the start of her career:

And one more thought on technical skills:

Joshua Smith

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Explore Joshua’s visualisations on his Tableau Public page

Joshua’s visualisation style is impactful because of his ability to tell stories. He mixes rhetorical principles with data visualisation to create a documentary-like flow. He also gave a talk at Data Viz Live last month that I strongly recommend.

Here’s what Joshua would have wanted to hear as a beginner:

Shirley Wu

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Shirley’s work featured on her website

I love Shirley’s work because it’s an elegant combination of hard-core technical skills and artsy creativity. Her most recent project — People of the Pandemic — is a disease simulation game that gained a lot of popularity last April.

I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get tips from Shirley, so here’s what she had to say:

Neil Richards

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A few of Neil’s visualisations on Tableau Public

Neil is a strong advocate of data visualisation communities. He plays important roles with the Data Visualisation Society and Viz for Social Good, and of course at work. Today, he’s one of the biggest out-of-the-box thinkers in the field, but that wasn’t always the case.

Here’s Neil’s story:

RJ Andrews

Info We Trust

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To see more of RJ’s work, visit infowetrust.com

When I look at RJ’s visualisations, it often feels like history coming alive. If you’re not familiar with his work yet, I suggest you start with Creative Routines — a small multiple of historic creatives’ daily rituals. I also love his discussion with Alli Torban on how to be consistently creative.

Below is RJ’s response to the same question I asked everyone else:

And a few bonus tips:

Lisa Charlotte Rost

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A few graphs Lisa created with Datawrapper. Visit her blog for more

Lisa used to create visuals for newsrooms, and now works for Datawrapper. She is an important voice in the data visualisation community and shares her insights on Chartable — the blog by Datawrapper. She also runs a fun virtual Data Vis Book Club that you should check out!

Here’s what Lisa had to say:

Eva Murray

#MakeoverMonday

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See more of Eva’s work on her Tableau Public page

Eva is a mentor and an inspiration for many people in the Tableau community. She’s mostly known and respected for the Makeover Monday project which helps hundreds of aspiring data designers to improve their skills each year.

Eva’s response summarises the traits that designers quoted in this article have in common.

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Did you notice how unique everyone’s response was? Each expert I interviewed struggled at first but for different reasons. They had to work hard to get good at what they do.

So if you’re a beginner in the field, don’t expect to have it all figured out right away. Maybe you’ll need to develop your technical skills more, work on a portfolio or pay more attention to the audience. Being good at such a multidisciplinary and dynamic field takes time. Keep practicing, and you’ll get there.

If you’re an experienced data designer, what do you wish you knew when you first started? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Evelina Judeikytė

Written by

Data Visualisation Designer 📊 • Co-host of Data Vis Paris Meetup • Public Speaking Trainer 🎙 • www.evelinajudeikyte.com

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

Evelina Judeikytė

Written by

Data Visualisation Designer 📊 • Co-host of Data Vis Paris Meetup • Public Speaking Trainer 🎙 • www.evelinajudeikyte.com

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

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