April 8, 2020

Data Scientist Annie Condon of Knauf Insulation Clarifies the Path to Having a Data Analytics Career in a Promotable Webinar


The worlds of data and science are, plainly put: massive. The resulting discipline of data analytics/science implies vast experience required to break in as a profession.

During her recent Promotable webinar, Annie Condon, a Data Scientist at Knauf Insulation, debunked the typically assumed path toward becoming a data analyst/scientist:
“Data science roles can often be about so much more than just the technical skill. There’s a lot of well-roundedness, and it sounds like looking at your guy’s backstories, there’s a lot of diversity in where you come from. So don’t undervalue that diversity. There’s a lot of opportunity for people who have communication skills or who have already worked with a certain type of data before, like actuarial data or sales data or even human behavior data.”
With diversity in mind, Annie submitted herself as a case study of a new entrant joining the data analytics/science workforce—considering her undergraduate degree in literature and notably: no coding chops! When she committed to the data analytics/science trajectory, she established herself by first achieving a master’s degree in data science (called predictive analytics at the time) from Northwestern University. Here, she completed a capstone course (a culmination project) which proved to be pivotal in establishing her professional footprint. Upon graduation, she acquired corporate roles that included getting hired by Northrop Grumman as a Data Scientist—where her capstone project was keenly received as part of her application.

All of these engagements accrued as relevant building blocks in Annie’s quest to become a critical data analytics/science practitioner. Step by step, experience by experience, she made her career arc—at the same time, toppling preconceived notions along her lifework’s journey. Annie valued her diversity by harnessing it.

Thanks again to Promotable who diligently blend their web-based workshops with informative perspectives through their organizing of regular talks online! Explore their channel on YouTube.


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April 3, 2020

Copywriter Brooke Randel Co-Creates a Family Memoir with Golda Indig—Her Grandma and a Holocaust Survivor



What are you working on—on the side?

For the last few years, I’ve been co-writing a memoir with my grandma Golda Indig titled Also Here. My grandma is a Holocaust survivor who, after being held in three Nazi concentration camps, never spoke about it. Then one day, she started telling me I should write her story. It came out of nowhere for me. I was a copywriter at a small agency in Philly at the time, creating scripts and billboards, brochures about sausage casings, that sort of thing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When I finally agreed to sit down with her, I was blown away by how much I hadn’t known. The horrors she faced, the depth of her courage and pain, how raw it all still was—it stunned me. I started doing research to fill in the gaps in her story and came to learn even more. For the first time, I could trace my family’s history and see the ways in which it has shaped us, our habits, who we are and how we function. The legacy of trauma is something we as a culture have just started scraping the surface on. In Also Here, my grandma shares how she sprinted, hid and stole her way to survival while I tell the story of what happened next. We are looking for a publisher now.

When I’m not working on the book, I write fiction and creative non-fiction, and am a reader for the Chestnut Review. No matter how different the style or subject matter may be, it all influences my copywriting and vice versa.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I wake up early and write before work. Sometimes, I’ll also write after work, at home on the weekends and occasionally on the bus between the two. The bus is an amazing place to reflect, observe and get ideas.

Part of the joy of writing for myself is that I have no deadlines or clients. So there’s no pressure to crank something out. I just write—and write and write and write until I have something worth re-writing.

Why have a side project?

Ironically, or perhaps hypocritically, I’ve actually written against the side project before. Too much celebration of it can make side projects feel like a mandatory for anyone in a creative field. There’s more to life than working, even creative work, and that includes sitting under trees, eating ice cream cones before they melt and teaching your nephew your favorite song.

But then, here I am, with a side project. Call it cognitive dissonance.

The reason I write outside of my copywriting work is because I enjoy it. Because I have extra creative energy to expend. Because I want to say something a little more complex than a four-word headline. Because, in the case of my memoir, my grandma kept asking me until I caved. For anyone debating whether or not to pick up a side project, I’d say don’t. Not unless it fills you more than it empties you, giving you something your regular creative work never could.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Brooke Randel.


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March 24, 2020

Embarking on a Journey of Data and Business Goals with Discover Financial’s Amit Shivale at a Promotable Webinar


A recent, data-themed webinar by data-skills school Promotable featured Amit Shivale, a Data Scientist and Product Strategist at Discover Financial Services, where he proactively tethers the value of data analytics/science to solving business challenges. To Amit, the journey here matters as much as the destination—especially when businesspeople don’t readily value or even consider the benefits that the disciplines of data analytics/science can offer. Throughout his presentation, there was this recurring recommendation:

“Bring the business partner along.”

Despite the fact that data is at the operational core of so many businesses, the value of Data Analytics and Data Science can still be dismissed by business people who may primarily rely on their storied intuition, according to Amit. To not break but recalibrate this pattern, he encourages making business stakeholders aware of the value of incorporating data-derived findings into decision-making early and often—much like the repeated urge to practice communication upfront and regularly. Following are the preferred and proactive dynamics that Amit advised:
  • Partner vs. Passive
  • Explain vs. Exercise
By partner, assert how data analytics/science can benefit the problem-solving process and do so at a project’s inception—when it’s ideal. By explain, describe what the in/outputs of data analytics/science mean with clarity, relevance and the appropriate level of detail (which a number of Promotable event presenters have commented on). As both partner and explainer, the Data Analyst/Scientist transcends the role of “Modeler” which is helpful but models themselves are insufficient. Amit urges pairing the role of Modeler with that of Partner and Explainer. When unified and practiced, the journey of business problem-solving becomes more meaningful—as companions rather than strangers.

Thanks again to Promotable who proactively tie in their web-based workshops with timely perspectives through their organizing of weekly talks online! Explore their channel on YouTube.


Support Design Feast on Patreon!
Your readership means a lot. Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you are able to contribute, please consider becoming a Patron to support this long-term passion project with a recurring monthly donation—every bit of support makes a difference in allowing me to generate all of this content on a regular basis. Thank you for your consideration!

March 16, 2020

Optimizing Data Visualization for Comprehension, According to Analytics Consulting Manager Malcolm McIlraith of Publicis Media


At a recent talk by Chicago-based data analytics training firm Promotable, data analyst Malcolm McIlraith gave a tactical talk about presenting your data visually. Once you/your team have produced findings, how do you convey them as clearly as possible? Malcolm suggests:
  • Mind the colors so they more than sufficiently contrast. If you reacted with “that’s painfully obvious,” exactly! When the color contrast is not apparent, it can muddle the findings derived from the data. Retina fatigue ensues.
  • A bar chart may be boring for its rote convention. But they prove effective—compared to pie charts because these residual graphics do not easily enable easy comparison of data sets. From Malcolm, “I’m on a lifelong crusade against pie charts.”
  • Be vigilant of how technical your audience is. Malcolm eloquently said, “Mathematical visuals are made for mathematical audiences.”
Out of Malcolm’s advice, his tip for designing dashboards, which he defined as “a set of interactive visuals focused around a specific topic,” was my favorite: “You are a nature guide, not a drill sergeant.” Depending on the kind of dashboard, the designer can act as either a tour guide, mountain guide, safari guide, wilderness guide or another mode. Whatever the “information landscape” (Thank you, Muriel Cooper, for this concept!), thinking and iterating through an information-layered interface in order to make it productively digestible and efficiently navigable remains the valuable process for everyone working with data. In as much as it takes discipline to achieve both data-driven integrity and insights, the same discipline is demanded of their communication.

Thanks again to Promotable who proactively align their workshops with timely perspectives through their organizing of weekly talks—now exclusively online! Explore their channel on YouTube.


Support Design Feast on Patreon!
Your readership means a lot. Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you are able to contribute, please consider becoming a Patron to support this long-term passion project with a recurring monthly donation—every bit of support makes a difference in allowing me to generate all of this content on a regular basis. Thank you for your consideration!

March 9, 2020

Walgreens’ Analytics Manager Steve Schept Clarifies Data’s Magic in Business and Tech


It takes work to make data useful. At a recent event organized by data-skills school Promotable, the speaker was Steve Schept, Senior Manager of Analytics and Reporting, Compliance and Privacy at Walgreens. A statement he made thoroughly resonated with me:

“It’s not magic.”

Steve’s context was the substantial work involved in data analytics to discover and determine insights. Collecting data—modeling and interpreting it are essential to make sense of information in order to communicate findings and help inform decision-making. The work scenarios of a data analyst/scientist that Steve identified as particularly labor-focused were:
  • Craft questions to help their understanding
  • Focus on the right information
  • Provide different visualizations to help facilitate, even appease, different angles of understanding the information
  • Make a narrative package of clearly communicating the why and how
These aforementioned scenarios are not unique to the work of a data analyst/scientist, because thoughtful analysis and storytelling are integral across professions. The driver of progress is putting in the effort throughout the process, including what tools are utilized.

Steve’s current tool of choice is data-visualization software, Tableau, which he generously demo’d as it applies to his and his team’s work in analytics. The ways this app seamlessly connected to a source of data and provided instant methods to help filter and visualize it looked and felt effortless—magical.

Yet, software remains only one piece of the workflow. The long-sought effects of understanding, awareness, etc., are indistinguishable from magic. But as Steve reasserts, it takes work to make magic (no matter the tools) in one’s work and the workplace. Only then can magic be believed. Here’s to keeping at it.

Thanks again to Promotable who proactively align their workshops with timely perspectives through their providing of weekly talks! Explore their channel on YouTube.


Support Design Feast on Patreon!
Your readership means a lot. Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you are able to contribute, please consider becoming a Patron to support this long-term passion project with a recurring monthly donation—every bit of support makes a difference in allowing me to generate all of this content on a regular basis. Thank you for your consideration!

March 4, 2020

Design Feast’s Makers Series—106th Interview: UX Designer and “We Should Get Together” Author Kat Vellos Researches and Advocates Lasting Friendships



I discovered Kat Vellos, a UX Designer, through her side project “Better Than Small Talk” (read her interview in my series on Side Projects), an activity centered on community and designed to reduce friction in making human connections. Her work explores social wellness, the challenges of friendship during adulthood, and how to create relationships that are authentic, durable and rewarding. She recently launched her new book “We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships.” Here, Kat elaborates on the importance of true friendship in the digital age and shares how she made her book a reality.



1. Congratulations on getting real your book “We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships”! How did you arrive at friendships as both a personal focus and passion?

I became fascinated with the topic of friendship after I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and found it to be a surprisingly difficult place to form strong, deep, recurring friendships. I started researching the topic with lots of people and discovered that a lot of other people cared about it and were having a hard time with this issue as well. Community building is a passion of mine and so I couldn't resist digging into this topic further.

2. In these times, how is friendship relevant and critical—more than ever?

Friendship is as relevant and critical as ever, perhaps even more so considering the loneliness epidemic that plagues our country and our world. We hear a lot of articles every day about how people are isolated and lonely, but we don't have as many pieces of media focused on the cure for that loneliness, which is connection—most frequently served in the form of friendship.



3. Regarding your creation of the gathering “Better than Small Talk,” you stated in my Side Projects interview that you made it “as a way to foster community, reduce isolation and inspire more open, authentic connections between people.” Was this one of the main motivations, inspirations, behind researching and writing “We Should Get Together”? Can you elaborate on this?

“Better than Small Talk” (detail above) was one of the first experiments that I did when I encountered difficulty with forming deep and resilient friendships. Many of the people who came to “Better Than Small Talk” sought it out because they were dealing with the same issue. Many of the conversations I had with them were what led to me researching and writing “We Should Get Together.”

4. Would it be correct to describe yourself as a Friendship Designer? Why or why not?

In some ways, yes. Maybe Connection Coach or Connection Designer is a better title. In the book, I offer a variety of intentionally-designed connection and friendship-building processes. “Friendship designer” is an unfamiliar phrase or concept because I don’t think that most people consider friendship something that needs to be designed—especially not when we’re young and our friendships “just happen.” But just like a person can intentionally set out to gather and coalesce a community group for a specific reason, similarly we can gather and coalesce friendship with the same intention and that is a form of design.

5. In your book, you advocate “hydroponic friendship”—love this phrase’s wording and the concept. Technically, how did you arrive at coining such an elegant term? Intellectually, what does it mean essentially?

I have a passion for gardening, and fun fact: I’m a certified Master Gardener in the State of Washington. Consequently, a lot of the metaphors that I use to think about life and to process information often come through gardening metaphors. What I kept finding in my research was that people lacked the perfect conditions for growing friendship: abundant time, close proximity and effortless intimacy. In gardening, you can grow plants without soil if you use water and nutrients. And so “hydroponic friendship” was concept that popped into my head one day when I tried to think about how to conceptualize a way to grow friendship despite lacking one or more of the resources that makes it very easy such as abundant time or living in close proximity to all the people you want to be friends with. Hydroponic friendship means applying intentionality, vulnerability and creativity the way that you might apply fertilizer and clean water to growing hydroponic plants. In that way, you can nurture and grow successful friendships despite not being in the same kind of “gardens” in which we grew our friendships as youth.



6. Your book-making process: What was the timeline for this project? What were tasks that proved integral in managing it as smoothly and productively as possible?

I worked on the project off and on starting in 2016. The first couple years were very exploratory, where I was having a lot of qualitative interviews (detail above), surveys and doing research into academic studies about loneliness and human connection. But I decided in 2018 that I wanted to finish the project by the end of 2019. And 2019 was when the bulk of the work took place. I found an…


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March 3, 2020

Operating in Between Science and Art: Business Analytics Expert Leon Blackshaw, Head of Data Science at IRI, Presents at a Promotable Event


As part of Promotable’s series of talks, Leon Blackshaw, Strategic Analytics Director of IRI, data provider to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, encouraged taking a approach blending science and art when driving value from analyzing data. At a high level, Leon represented the domain of science with a portrait of Einstein (1817–1955) and one of Picasso (1881–1973) representing the domain of art. I recalled these respective, yet iconic, musings:

According to Einstein → “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”

According to Picasso → “I can hardly understand the importance given to the word ‘research’ in connection with modern painting. In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.”

Einstein advocated simplicity. Picasso emphasized findability. Both are coveted goals—directly applicable to the world of data analytics and data science where dis/uncovering an insight from data is the goal. When working with data, simplify the path toward understanding and find the answers to the question posed. A couple of key calls to action that are motivating in themselves to keep working at making truly data-driven decisions.

To view Leon’s complete talk about CPG analytics and more, go to Promotable’s channel on YouTube.

Thanks again to Promotable who proactively connect their workshops with timely perspectives through their organizing of weekly talks!


Support Design Feast on Patreon!
Your readership means a lot. Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you are able to contribute, please consider becoming a Patron to support this long-term passion project with a recurring monthly donation—every bit of support makes a difference in allowing me to generate all of this content on a regular basis. Thank you for your consideration!