New Year, New Goals


New Year New Goals | ProjectsHalfDone

Somehow we are already halfway through the first month of 2018! I hope it has been going well for you.

Like most, I’ve been contemplating my goals for the year and determining what are the most important aspects of my life that I want to work to improve. These goals tend to fall in to different categories for all of us; personal goals, fitness goals, and of course work related goals. As we spend something around 35% of our waking hours during our lifetime at work…this is a major category for most of us. I think it is important to discuss our goals and to put them out there so that we might be held accountable in some fashion. Without further ado, here are my 2018 goals as they relate to work.

  1. Protect my time – This means not saying “yes” to every single thing that walks in my door. This means not booking meetings during the time I’ve already dedicated on my calendar for writing. This means protecting my time from myself…meaning distractions, my phone, ect.
  2. Write more – I’ve been doing better about this in 2017, but I really want to make 2018 my year of writing. This can be blogging, writing an article, or just editing prior writing. Writing is one of the most important parts of most of our jobs here in academia, and I can certainly improve my practice.
  3. Stand up – I have a standing desk. I need to use it. Research shows that sitting all day is as bad for our health as smoking. I’ve seen evidence of the detrimental effects of sitting in my own physical condition in the last year, having injury after injury that all seemed to get better the more I moved and the less I sat.

I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but these are some of the things that I think will help me to be more engaged and productive at my job, as well as enjoy it more. I have other health and fitness goals, but I also try to limit those to manageable numbers that I can directly examine for progress.

What are your 2018 work goals? Do you set work goals or just personal ones? I’d love to hear about what you envision for the year ahead!



Eval17 | ProjectsHalfDone.png

This week I’m at the American Evaluation Association‘s annual conference. I’ll be presenting on data visualization with my good friend and colleague from Virginia Tech. I will post an update next week on all the amazing evaluation, assessment, and data visualization awesomeness but for now here’s a recap of my favorite AEA conference moments and why you should join AEA!!

Past Conference Highlights

  • MQP Selfies
  • Seeing my favorite people
  • Meeting Chris Lysy of FreshSpectrum
  • Chris drawing a cartoon I helped inspire
  • Learning from Stephanie Evergreen
  • Going to a speakeasy with Stephanie, Chris and the whole #dataviz crew
  • Statistics coloring books
  • Meeting a ton of new eval friends to keep in touch with throughout the year!

Stay tuned for this year’s highlights and join AEA!

Data Visualization Basics: Hex Code Tutorials

Hex Code Tutorial | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

Welcome back! I have gotten a bit behind on blogging as my institution just underwent our accreditation review, but now that we are past that hurdle I can refocus and get back to my Data Visualization Basics series!

Last time we talked about finding our institutional color palettes. Now we are going to see how to use that information and apply it to our data visualizations in Excel. I won’t repeat everything I said last week, except to say that branding yourself with either your company or your institution is critical.

Let’s start by making a basic bar chart in Excel. I made up some numbers about people that attended a non-existent program.

Basic Excel Graph | ProjectsHalfDone.png

There we go. Basic Excel blue. This tells me nothing about the institution, the program, or what to focus on. Now let’s change that. I’m going to brand this graphic with my ISU color palette.

Primary Colors.png

Looking at this palette I see some sets of codes and numbers that will be helpful. For this tutorial I’m going to focus on the Hex Codes, as I have a MacBook and am running Excel 2016, these are the easiest for me to use. So be aware, things might be different if you are on a PC or running a different version of Excel.

For this graph I want to recolor each bar with a different color from my ISU palette. In order to do this, I need to select an individual bar. When I first click the graph, all four bars are “highlighted” (the dots around the bars indicate they are selected).

All Bars | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

If I click just the top bar, twice (slowly, not a double click) it will become the only one highlighted.

One Bar | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Now, I’ll change the color. There are two places in Excel you can change the color. One is on the side in the “Format Data Point” menu, which you can bring up by ****** and the other is on the Home tab with the paint can. Either works just fine and both should give you the same color input options. I prefer the side bar menu which looks like this. Format Data Menu | Projects Half Done.png

As you can see, I have already clicked the paint can and that brings up the theme colors and other color menus.

From here we want to select “More colors”, because although I do see some red and yellow options here in this palette, these aren’t my ISU red and yellow colors.

More Colors | ProjectsHalfDone.png

When I select “More Colors” this is the menu that comes up. Yours may be on the color wheel, or one of the other icons at the top when you start. If you’re on the same version of Excel as I am, you should be able to click the icon with the sliders that you see in the above picture. From this menu I can put in my Hex Code. I’ll do this for the ISU red, using the numbers and letters we found in our palette.

Hex Code Entered | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

If you don’t see an option to input the Hex Codes, you can probably find the RGB numbers or sliders. Once I’ve put in the code, I can hit “TAB” or click “OK” and my bar will have changed to the exact ISU red I wanted.

OneBar | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Perfect! To recolor the other bars, I follow the same steps, but put in the different hex codes for each of the different palette colors.

Full ISU Palette | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Look how much better that is already. It clearly goes with the institution. If our logo or other branding is on the report, it will add cohesiveness and really emphasize what our graph is about. Furthermore if we are presenting this at a conference, using our university poster or powerpoint template, this fits a lot better than some basic Excel blue (no offense, microsoft). Here’s a side by side comparison:


Now, here’s a secret. If you’re working in a spreadsheet with a lot of different graphs or tabs, your custom colors will be saved under your “Recent Colors”. You might want to make a “University Palette” spreadsheet as a template that has your colors already in so you don’t have to put the hex codes in every time.

Recent Colors | ProjectsHalfDone.png

At my office we use the same excel sheet each year for a particular survey and just update the data longitudinally, so once I’ve put the colors into my “Senior Exit Survey Data” spreadsheet, each year I just enter the new data and the graphs and colors are already there.

I hope this helps you with your visuals. I’d love to see photos of your updated graphs with your institutional palettes. Tweet them to me @projecthalfdone!

Other posts in the Data Visualization Basics Series can be found here:

Data Visualization Basics: Color Palettes

Color Palette Basics | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

In the last few weeks I have gone over a few aspects of data visualization that help craft the foundations of visualizing your assessment data, but in my opinion none are more critical than color. Color takes a plain microsoft excel graph from generic to representative of your organization or institution. It’s the foundation of branding in most organizations, especially when those organizations are universities. If you’re from Virginia as I am, you know the difference between Virginia Tech orange and Tennessee Volunteers orange. Moreover, if you’re a Tennessee fan you know that there is only one correct orange and you will correct everyone in an off-color.

Before we get into the specifics of applying these colors to your graphics, let’s do a bit of an experiment. If you carefully look over your university’s page, you’ll notice the main colors but you will also see some that you do not recognize as your university colors, however those colors are most likely still a part of your universities color palette and were carefully selected to go with the main colors. Let’s look at my institution, Iowa State University.

Here is our main homepage. You clearly see our university red and yellow colors, complimented with some white accents in font and line choices. These are all part of what everyone in the midwest will recognize as ISU colors.

Data Viz Secondary Palettes | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Then if we move over to the library’s home page we see the ISU red banner, but then the tabs here are blue, green, and yellow. Yellow is an ISU color but not THAT yellow…and blue and green aren’t anywhere in a traditional ISU logo.

Data Viz Color Palettes | ProjectsHalfDone.png

What’s that about? Well, those colors are actually still part of the university color scheme, from the “secondary color palette”. All universities I’ve ever interacted with have at least one if not two color palettes. Here you can see ISU’s primary and then secondary color palette.

Primary Colors.png

Secondary Colors.png


Now we can see where those blues and greens come from. And seeing the colors all together really allows us to understand how these colors work together. Someone designed this for us. Our job is halfway done thanks to them!  Try searching your university followed by the words “color palette” and see what you find. I’ve yet to find a major institution without some type of color guidelines easily searchable on the internet. If you can’t find your colors, but your university does have a logo you can still get the colors with a bit of work. Feel free to drop me a line if you want some help or stay tuned as I will cover that in a future blog post!

Along with a general sense of the colors associated with our universities, we can also often find other “brand guidelines” that we are supposed to adhere to when representing our institution. How many of us have messed that up at conferences? For example at ISU we are never to use purple with any of our colors or in any presentations. If you’re at Virginia Tech as I once was, you know better than to use blue with any orange, lest you look like those hoo-vians from up north. (Kidding, UVA) If we are using the microsoft default palette…what are the first two colors to come up? Yes, blue and orange. Blue and orange doesn’t represent ISU and it certainly doesn’t represent Virginia Tech. So why are we putting those basic blue graphs on our assessment reports?? Let’s do a better job at representing our data AND our institutions in our reporting practices!

So go find your color palettes. In my next post we will learn how to get those exact colors into your data visualizations!

Other posts in the Data Visualization Basics Series can be found here:

Data Visualization Basics: Chart Variety

Chart Variety | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

Welcome to the third installment in my Data Visualization Basics series. We touched on this topic a bit in the last post but I wanted to cover it a little more in-depth today. While there are several great chart choosers out there, and I highly recommend a few, I do think it’s worth a more in-depth exploration of the different types of charts we could use for the same types of data.

Last time we looked at choosing the right data and finding those key points, but now we have to determine the best way to present that data. I’m going to start with percentages from categorical data as this is something fairly common in my assessment practice.

Let’s start with some categories.

Attendance Table | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Here we have a table that tells us a little bit about where our students are from. This is a nice, neat, straightforward data set. Two categories. Easy. You might be tempted to use a pie chart….but I will echo just about every other data visualization person out there and say PLEASE, NO. Unless these numbers were 75% and 25% or something similar, a pie chart is just too hard for us to interpret effectively. There are better ways.

One of my favorite methods is the icon array. I will cover how to make an icon array using a free online program in an upcoming post after this series. You can utilize these in several fashions but the basic gist is you’ve got 100 dots/blocks/images in 10 rows by 10 columns. I use these for up to 3 different categories, but no more. More than that and it gets hard to interpret.

Rounding Chart | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Another thing I like about icon arrays is that you can get fairly specific with your significant figures. Here I’ve changed the 37.25% to more accurately reflect those partial points.

Icon Array Filling | ProjectsHalfDone.png

This is my personal preference, but it’s not entirely accurate. It’s more accurate than the first example where I used rounding, but it’s still done by eye on my part, and therefore not mathematically 25%. We can fix this by…..putting a pie chart in your icon array (if you’re using circles)

Icon Array with Pie | ProjectsHalfDone.png

It hurt me a little to make a pie chart but I think it’s worth making an exception in this case. My preference is still for the partially filled circle or icon, but this is also an option.

Another common way to show these dichotomous percentages would be a standard bar chart.

Regular Bar | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Or even a stacked bar chart.

Stacked Bar | Projects Half Done.png

While this may seem boring, I would point out that if your report has several dichotomous variables, then I prefer to use a variety of chart types to show these percentages in different ways. It gets a little boring and redundant to have icon array after icon array, however at the same time, perhaps you should consider if those items are truly your key points. Remember, not everything needs a visual.

Next time we are going to talk about my favorite thing, color! And stay tuned for the post on how to make icon arrays!

Other posts in the Data Visualization Basics Series can be found here:


Data Visualization Basics: Choosing your data wisely

Choosing Data Wisely | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg


Welcome back to the second post in my Data Visualization Basics series. Today I want to chat about what data will best serve you for visuals.

With assessment data we often have mountains of excel spreadsheets filled mostly with quantitative data. A multitude of options exists for the purposes of visualizations, but sifting through these options is critical for effective visualization.

Before you create your visual, consider the key points of your message. What is the purpose of this assessment? What do you want your audience to focus on? Find those 3-5 main messages and focus on visualizing those. Too many visuals and graphics can be just as overwhelming as too much text. Find the balance.

Additionally, it is important to consider what facts are often overlooked. As someone working in assessment, we know our data well. We know what stands out and often we also know what important points are hidden in the reports we spend hours creating. Find the points that are hidden or muddy and see if a visual will help bring these to light.

When thinking about the types of data, some options for visuals are as follows:

  • Quantitative
    • Percentages
    • Likert scale data
    • Ranges with medians
    • Basic counts
    • Financial data
    • Zip codes
  • Qualitative
    • Quotes
    • Pictures
    • Pathways/Mind maps
    • Logic models
    • Comments sections
    • Timelines

With each of these, a wide range of visualizing options exist. Depending on what I am trying to do, I will consult a chart chooser to help guide my process. For qualitative data, Stephanie Evergreen has an excellent resource here. Ann K. Emery has an essential chart chooser that has great quantitative options, found here.

Once your data is selected and you’ve found your key points, utilizing the chart choosers can help ensure your message is presented in the most straightforward way possible. It also may help to play around with a few different charts and test them out on colleagues to make sure your message is getting across. The right data and chart are the first steps in quality visualizations of assessment data. Next post we will talk about color which to me is the critical element of many visualizations. Be sure and stay tuned!

Other posts in the Data Visualization Basics Series can be found here:

Data Visualization Basics: Applying Deiter Ram’s Principles of Design to Assessment Data

Applying Deiter Ram's Principles of Design to Assessment Data | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

This is the first in a series of Data Visualization Basics blog posts focused on visualizing academic assessment data. Before we begin I should also mention I am not a graphic designer. I’m an assessment person and a social scientist by training and I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of attention our reports get. I find that data visualization can greatly impact our messaging so I hope you find this useful for your work as well.

I want to start this series with some principles of design. These tenants were developed by the German industrial designer Dieter Rams. His products and designs have withstood the test of time because of his sense of design and attention to detail. He developed his method of design in to ten basic principles of that focus on the product.

I have taken these principles and translated them slightly for data visualization because although we are not creating a physical product, the end result is still something that must be well designed and useful if we are going to get the most out of our data.

Good (data visualization) design:


Is innovative

How you’re visualizing data now is very different than the 3-D graphs of the 90’s. We will continue to innovate and develop better design to tell the story of our data.

Makes a product data useful

Data was collected to be used. It was analyzed to be used. This is one of the biggest reasons to engage in data visualization. Our goal is for our assessment data to be useful. Well designed visuals allow us that platform.

Is aesthetic

We want our visuals to be aesthetically pleasing. We want people to do more than glance over them. We want them to engage with them and really understand the meaning. By utilizing an eye-catching visual we can engage the reader much more than with a typical paragraph or data table.

Makes a product data understandable

Sometimes all of those spreadsheets and rows and columns are a headache. Sometimes we miss connections. Good design helps us understand our data. It also helps others understand our key points for programmatic decision making purposes.

Is unobtrusive

Good visuals are unobtrusive. They don’t distract you with unnecessary 3-D images or animations or loud colors. They are a microphone, not a megaphone, for your data.

Is honest

Your visual should be an honest representation of your data. Don’t use a visual to make your data something it isn’t. Don’t dissolve whole categories just to make the visual fit. That’s not good design.

Is long-lasting

10 years from now we should still be able to look at the same report and understand it. Visuals aren’t fashion, they are tools that stand the test of time.

Is thorough down to the last detail

This means every aspect of a graphic is considered. The shape, the balance, the color, the font, the size and the data should all work together to provide the reader with your key points. Font is very often overlooked in so many reports.

Is environmentally economically friendly 

Given that many of our reports go online, or in email via PDF our designs are typically environmentally friendly.. It is important to note that our design efforts also be economical. This should be something you can find the time to do with minimal expense.

Involves as little design as possible

Less is more. You don’t need to overdesign, over color, or overthink your visuals. Only the essentials should go in to your visualizations.

When we engage in data visualization considering these principles can help guide our process and ensure that our end result has improved our data reporting process. By considering these factors we can create useful, honest, and clear designed visuals to showcase our data and drive home our critical message.

Do you have any other principles that you consider when doing data visualizations or when working with assessment data? Let me know in the comments!