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How to look at the work of others and stay sane
See if this feels familiar: you browse the internet or social media for dataviz inspiration. You stumble upon one project, then the next, each more impressive than the other. At first, you’re excited. What a treasure trove of inspiration! So many techniques and examples to learn from! But then, as you keep browsing, an uneasy feeling creeps up on you. You start feeling anxious. You start comparing the work you see online to your own work. Eventually, you end up terrified that your designs are not good enough. Perhaps you even panic that you’ll never be as good as the other designers.
This happens more often than you may think.
I frequently talk to new people in the field, and most of them share one feeling: anxiousness when looking at other projects. This is a paradox in the dataviz community. On the one hand, it’s incredibly valuable to have so much visualisation work available publicly to learn from. Many other professionals don’t have this luxury. And at the same time, you can easily become discouraged if you compare yourself to others too much.
It can happen to any one of us, beginners and veterans alike. I’ve been specialising in data design for years, and this feeling still creeps up on me regularly.
Ok, so now what?
Let’s talk about coping mechanisms. Below are three concepts that help me whenever that anxious voice pokes its head.
Compare apples to apples. There are many people who’ve been doing this for much longer than you have. If you look at someone’s work who’s been designing data visualisations for decades and think that yours is nowhere near that level, you can go crazy. No one designs masterpieces when they begin in the field. Give it time. Remind yourself that it’s a learning curve at that everyone started where you are. Everyone.
Remind yourself of your unique value. Even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it, chances are, you’re uniquely positioned to deliver great results on the project you’re working on. If it’s an internal corporate dashboard you’re developing, no one knows the company’s context as you do. Certainly not that person who made an awesome chart on Twitter. Use that to your advantage. For me, it’s often the fact that I’ve been a rhetoric nerd for almost two decades now: it’s because of that that I have a unique approach to structuring information.
Steven Pressfield, the author of Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, says that when he works on a new book he lives in denial.
I convince myself that I’m the only writer who can do this. I know it’s delusional but it really helps.
Think of that next time you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Practice, practice, practice. There’s nothing that can give you more confidence than practicing the thing you want to get good at. Design charts. Practice the small techniques that you want to master. Do it again and again. Notice your progress. Celebrate. Then start over. That way, you’ll become more and more confident every year.
All in all, comparing yourself to others is only natural. We’re all human beings. But I hope you’ll be kind to yourself. And if you meet someone who’s new in the field and is struggling, talk to them. Tell them they’re not alone, and share what’s helped you.
Thanks for reading The Plot 🤗
See you next week,
The underbelly of electric vehicles. A great article by the Washington Post on what goes into making EVs, where it comes from, and at what human cost.
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