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Will Chase

Will Chase talks us through how he got into data viz, the difference between work and freelance projects, and walks us through his most recent, wonderful visualization of hurricane names.

Will Chase#

Making ‘The Retired’@W_R_Chase

Transcript#

Amelia:

Today we're going to talk to Will Chase. I'm really excited about this interview! If you want to give a really quick intro to who you are and, maybe how you got into the data viz field, I think that'd be great.

Will:

Yeah, thanks a lot. so I am a data viz designer, a little bit of everything. So I do, essentially, a lot of design, UX, product design, also data visualization development. Currently I work at Fidelity where I do the intersection of a lot of these things. More on the, sort of, product design side of things, but I'm also doing product design on data visualization. So it incorporates a lot of that. And then I freelance part time doing more creative work, more journalistic focused work. So visual storytelling, web design, data visualization development, and all those related things. How I got into this field is, probably like most people, pretty unique. I think a lot of people who got into this field came from sort of non-traditional backgrounds, since it's a fairly new field. So I started out in academia. I was in Biology for a while. I did Plant Biology and Microbiology. Eventually I sort of started transitioning to Computational Biology and that got me into coding. So I started doing more like data analytics, data science kind of stuff. And then I realized through that, that visualization was actually what I really enjoyed. So then I spent a couple of years doing visualization, sort of, working on my design shops, learning about things like typography and color while I was teaching myself to code. I coded in our first. And then nowadays I do most of my coding was JavaScript. Although I still do all my data analysis and a lot of static visualizations with R. I just recently have gotten this job. So I've been at Fidelity for about a year and I've been freelancing, to various degrees, for a couple of years.

Amelia:

Oh man. So I think you started pretty recently, right? And I feel like I've seen you on Twitter and you're pretty public about your learning process, right? Do you... you have this whole learn in public mantra of trying and posting about it?

Will:

Yeah. I mean, there's a couple aspects of it. So I think, for one, it's a great way to promote yourself, right? So a lot of traction I've got, like clients I've gotten, people I've met, opportunities I've gotten have been because I do post a lot of my work publicly. Both posting code and also tutorials and blog posts. Recently I've been streaming some of my work, making videos. and you know, that does bring a lot of attention from all kinds of avenues. And so, you know, on the one hand, it's definitely good. Like if you're learning, you're also building your publicity at the same time. But the other side of it, I guess I would have, that wasn't necessarily my main motivation for doing it. It was more that, I'm completely self-taught and so, when you're self-taught you rely completely on all these materials that people have produced, usually for free. So, when I was learning, it was all like blog posts or free books that people had made available, video courses, tutorials. And I still learn like that. And so, you know, I did feel sort of like it was a responsibility, not necessarily a requirement, but I felt like I should be giving back, and sort of doing the same thing so that people ould continue to learn from whatever I produced.

Amelia:

Yeah, I totally agree. I had a very similar, I don't know, reaction where I'm also self-taught and there's so much good stuff online for learning how to code. And that's a lot of the reason why I put posts now is it's kind of like pay it forward. Like a lot of people helped me. Yeah.

Will:

And it wasn't like that. I mean, you know, like this is a fairly recent development, right. I think like only within the past, I dunno, 10 years probably has there become such open access to stuff and enough diversity and enough quality content that it is... I don't want to say easy to teach yourself, but you know, certainly easier than it used to be.

Amelia:

Yeah, I heard someone on a blog on a podcast recently talking about the difference between teaching yourself and going to a coding boot camp where you can teach yourself because there's so many good resources online, but the hard part is when you have a very specific problem that you can't Google, you kind of just want an answer, which can be really hard. But then like just developing those skills of knowing how to Google for things and how to evolve are so important.

Will:

Definitely.

Amelia:

You freelance and you also do data viz at Fidelity. How are those two types of projects different?

Will:

They're extremely different. So, my work at Fidelity is, you know, like enjoyable, but it's definitely more of like a pay the bills kind of job. It's not something where I'm able to exercise a ton of creativity, just because, you know, it's a large organization, we have a lot of important stakeholders and, you know, the subject matter is more like in the business world, people are much more interested in like, what's the insight in terms of, you know, like, what's the impact of this visualization? What's the like net result of, you know, how is this going to change the company's bottom line? And so, it's usually much more about getting across an insight and that usually happens through fairly simple charts presented in a way that's easy to comprehend. So I basically take all the pent up creativity that I have and exercise that in my freelance job where I don't do any of that kind of stuff. So, in most of my freelancing or personal projects, you know, it's not always paid work a lot of times, these are personal projects as well, I do things where it's much more visual journalism focused, much more like, entirely custom charts, sort of experimental things. Things are a little bit off the wall sometimes. I'm usually trying something new all the time and incorporating new stuff that I've learned, and doing things that either fall pretty squarely within rhe visual journalism side or tend to sort of blur the line between like data art and data visualization.

Amelia:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I find that... I used to work on a product at a dashboard company, and a lot of what you're doing is... it's data viz, but it's like bar charts or line charts. So, It's really nice to have projects where you can kind of just go crazy. especially if you're building those skills at work and then you can kind of scratch an itch on the side. And I always found that any side projects I do on the side, I'd end up using those skills in my day to day work. That's really nice.

Will:

Yeah, for sure.

Amelia:

Let's walk through one of the projects you did recently, if there are any specific ones that you kind of want to talk through. From the brief all the way to the final product.

Will:

Let's see, Do you want me to like share my screen and walk through something?

Amelia:

Yeah, I think that'd be great if you have anything. Otherwise I can share a link after.

Will:

No, definitely. Let me pull up my most recent project. So this is, a project that I did sort of actually it's been going on for like a year, because I started collecting the data, back in like October or September of 2019. But I didn't really begin building this project until the Spring of 2020. So this is a project about retired hurricanes. So I think the story of how this started was that, one night I was like, just randomly got curious about how hurricanes were named, I think, cause we had like a big hurricane season that year. So I was looking up like how hurricanes get their names, and then took me to a Wikipedia page where I found out, which I sort of knew, but like I found out that, the names are using lists, in alphabetical order. And then they repeat every six years. So there's like six lists and then the list recycles. For example, this is the list that was used for 2018 and they go through all these names. And then, these are the other lists, but this 2018 lists will repeat again in 2024. When I was on that Wikipedia page, I saw something that was like retired hurricanes and it explains like anytime there's a storm that's like particularly damaging or particularly deadly, that name is often retired, out of respect for the victims. And so in 2018, for example, they retired Florence and Michael, and then those are replaced with a new name. And the next time that list is recycled. And on this Wikipedia page, there was a link to a sub page that was a list of all retired hurricane names. So I went there and it was basically like a giant data dump. Someone had gone through and collected all kinds of data on all these storms, like wind speed and category number of deaths, amount of damage, all that stuff. So I immediately got this idea to sort of, to visualize, the history of all of these retired hurricane names and do a story about this because it's sort of, you know, it's a self-selected list essentially of like all the worst hurricanes in our history. So I ended up making this story. The primary visual is this circular chart. So, this visualizes each one of the storms going from the 1950s up to 2018, and each of these names is one of the retired, hurricanes. Let me pull up the legend so I can sort of walk through that first. So each of these sort of arms that's going out from the middle has the destructiveness measured here. So the length of this line is the damage caused by the storm. And then the size of this bubble at the end is the number of deaths. The inner circle, with these diamonds, is actually showing the previous occurrences of that name. So I mentioned like the lists keep recycling until the name gets retired. So this is the year that like the main got retired, but, you know, before that it might've been used like a few times, you know, maybe only once or twice, and this is filled or unfilled as whether it made landfall. {Then at the end with these little diamonds around the corner or around the end of the edge circle, it represents the category of the hurricane wherever it hit. So initially I had just planned to do the overall category of the hurricane, just as like a colored dot or something, but then it occurred to me that hurricanes often hit multiple locations and that the peak category of a hurricane might not occur when it actually makes landfall. It might occur like out in the middle of the ocean. And so it's not really an accurate way to represent it. So I went through and recorded in four different locations } {\cf3 () } Eastern seaboard, Gulf coast, Caribbean, or Central America) what the peak category was when the storm made landfall in that area, or if it didn't. and so I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a circular visualization, like a big radial visualization, partially because, the visual metaphor here was, you know, like hurricanes obviously have this shape with a little eye in the center. And so the idea of a radial visualization kind of mirrors that shape, but the primary challenge was that normally radio visualizations like this work well in print, because you can, you know, like pick it up, bring it closer to yourself and like turn the page to, you know, see all the way around the edge. And my experience with them on the web was that, most of the times people just kind of punked this issue, right? They're like, okay, it'll just be an SVG and you can like zoom in and pan around if you want. But. It's never really good to read. Like it's always kind of annoying to try to read them. So yeah. You're tilting your head around or you're like, I hate zooming on things and panning it's always like weird. So, my main goal with this, one of my main goals was to make one that was web native and worked well and was easy to read. So I came up with this idea of zooming in. and then this enlarges all of these, and then you can use your scroll wheel to turn the whole visualization, so that you can sort of mimic that idea of like picking it up and turning it, or you can use your keyboard buttons.

 

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