The Conjuring Universe: My 2-day Data Visualisation Project | by Skye Tran | Jan, 2021

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How the project has taught me to start where I am, use what I have, do what I can to relentlessly drive it to completion

Skye Tran
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  1. My best work materialised when I had to conquer a challenging yet inescapable task and not quite enough time for it.

Without leaving myself enough time to ponder (and potentially suffer from analysis paralysis), I decided to start with a topic that my sister and I both love. Why did I think about my sister? Because she has always been my best friend and anchor through thick and thin. If you’re having a mental block or self-doubt, then thinking about the people you love and creating something fun for them will definitely spark joy and motivation. This is also the most important message that I hope you should take away from this post.

Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash

Knowing that I work better when I am rushing for time, I set the goal to gather and analyse data, then design and build a dashboard within 2 days. My instinct told me that a 2-day duration would be just nice to stay motivated while feeling the pressure to be productive. Here is my plan of attack.

  • Day 2: Build charts + Finalise storyboard + Test

I appreciate the fact that I am self-critical. Not the best trait to have, I know. This has blessed me with the drive to upholding some decent standards, yet it also occasionally triggers worries from countless ‘what if’ scenarios. And I know it too well that if I don’t find a way to cope with my self-criticism, my 2-day project will quickly become a 2-week marathon. But how?

  1. Rough sketch over a detailed plan
  2. Results over utilising fancy techniques
  3. Adapting to change over following a plan
  4. Simple meaningful charts over complex visuals
  5. Seeking help over trying to figure out myself

Confession time: I am a fan of user stories. No, I am not talking about long-winded product reviews. What I mean is several short and sweet sentence following a general structure like “As a [end user role], I want [ability or feature of the product] because [of whatever benefits I can gain or hassle I can avoid].” You may usually find user stories being used to capture functionalities for software products. But I personally find user stories extremely effective to make sure users come first in whatever I am working on. Here is what I wrote for The Conjuring Universe storyboard.

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  • Follow the above-mentioned general structure above. It’s simple, concise and it just works.
  • Whenever you feel lost, always refer back to the user stories.

So far, things seem to be too good to be true, or so you thought. But let me share some insights about what went wrong and how I managed to pull myself out of the mess. Mistakes shouldn’t happen more than once, so hopefully, you can avoid making the same mistakes that I got myself into.

Creating the first sketch

I started my first sketch by looking at the data and doodling on a blank piece of paper. Nothing wrong with that if you are genuinely creative and good at drawing. But I know I don’t. Unsurprising, 30 minutes passed and all I have was some weird boxes with no concrete idea. Only 30 minutes left until I ate into my data collection time. Red flag! It’s time for Plan B.

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Collecting data

From the get-go, web scraping has been one of the skills I want to practise in this project. So I happily dived right in, wrote a whole bunch of Python scripts to extract data from several web pages, spent a lot more time to debug and test my scripts to make sure that they work.

Visualising data in Tableau

I had to admit that fiddling with the colour, the font, font size and trying to maintain a consistent format across different pages was annoying. Various options of customisation in Tableau also added to my confusion sometimes. I regretted having to learn the hard way on how to properly format a Tableau dashboard. But hey, it’s better late than never, right. Here are a couple of time-saving tips that might come in handy for you.

  • To avoid reworking on formatting, publish the template first to test how it actually looks on the final displaying medium. I didn’t do it early enough and had to individually edit the font colour as the colour in Tableau Public somehow appeared darker than what I have seen on my screen. Don’t be like me!
  • To drag multiple measures on and off the canvas, use the CTRL key instead of dragging them one by one
  • To duplicate a field using the same measure twice for a duel-axis chart, hold down the CTRL key and drag the pill right next to itself instead of getting lost while sifting through a bunch of other fields on the left menu (and accidentally dragging a field having a similar name)
  • To avoid configuring the navigation flow too soon because chances are you will adjust the sequence of the dashboards during testing. I did it too soon and ended up having to update it again and again. That just gotta wait until I am absolutely happy with the logical flow of the content.

It’s difficult to maintain great motivation for personal projects because you simply don’t get paid for it. But if I can learn so much from a 2-day project, so can you. Personally, I choose to believe that all learning, grit, passion and perseverance is building up to something. Taken individually, each tiny project might not feel super important to me. Yet, I realised I have picked up a ton of skills, which enabled me to take on bigger projects with greater confidence.

  1. Never wait for that perfect moment. Working with data has taught me that I don’t need to know everything before getting started. It has always been the other way round. Just dive right in and that’s how I slowly know a bit more from here and a touch more from there. You will never know everything and that’s how we all learn.
  2. Make sure the deadline you set is short enough to stay committed. Pressure has naturally forced me to focus on the final goal, eliminate unnecessary waste and think on my feet.
  3. Embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. Being able to recognise your weaknesses, bad traits and silly mistakes, then taking actions to make peace with them means you are well on your way to becoming the best version of yourself.

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