My Interview with Nadieh Bremer

Before we get into this one I need to set the stage. It's hotter than hades in my Melbourne Australia Airbnb and Nadieh's near Amsterdam having just returned for a trip that took her next door to the North Pole (Latitude 78). While challenging to arrange, we were able to hop on a Zoom call despite our distance.

When Nadieh travels she does so in style, but not the sort of style most are accustomed to or catching wind of from magazines.

If you have been following Nadieh’s journey into data visualization, then you have already read the post about her journey into data visualization. The interview below will be a continuation of her story with a focus on her experience as a freelancer.

I wanted to interview Nadieh to understand what life as a credentialed freelancer is like. I am a freelancer myself, but don’t have nearly as much clout. What sort of struggles did Nadieh experience while adapting to this work? What sort of work has she been involved with since starting? What’s next in her data visualization journey?

Let's get into it

Q. So Nadieh, why go freelance?

A. It was a combination of knowing what work excites me and opportunities coming my way that I didn't want to say no to anymore (we’ll cover one particular opportunity later).

Freelancing provides the variety I need to stay excited and engaged with my work. The closest I came to this type of variety before was when I was a consultant with Deloitte.

The consulting teams I was on were constantly challenged to solve hard problems and adopt new technologies. If you like change and challenges, then you need a role with a high amount of variety!

This variety works well for me, since I don’t like to work on a problem for more than four to five months. During that time, I give it my all and I don’t quit until I am happy. But, generally, one problem doesn’t require more time than this.

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Q. Is there a type of person who goes freelance vs. those who stick with the 9 to 5?

A. Certain positions, like product development, require the structure and predictability of a 9 to 5, which provides employees with what they need to focus on the difficult challenges faced in such as role. Plenty of people enjoy these positions for exactly that reason, but I know I'm not one of those people.

I much prefer the constant change consultants and freelancers experience. I am excited by the challenge of something new. A problem I have never faced before.


Q. What was the hardest part of taking the leap into freelancing?

A. I am an extremely risk averse person. It was tough to not know where the next paycheck was going to come from.

In January, my first month as a freelancer, I invoiced only $40 dollars. Not the most comforting figure to hit my bank account.

Q. What was the tipping point?

A. Alberto Cairo asked Shirley Wu and I to do something in the Data Sketches style for Google News Lab that was too much to do on top of my full-time role. I had to choose and I really didn’t want to say no to this amazing opportunity!

I spoke with friends, my boyfriend and thought long and hard about all the scenarios that could go wrong. I figured if it goes well, then freelancing is going to be something I could enjoy.

Thankfully, my employer let me change from full-time to part-time. This adjustment might not have happened if I wasn’t ready to leave upon going into the negotiation. They said they didn’t do part-time, so I let them know it was either that or I had to leave.

Q. What’s been the hardest part of freelancing?

A. Besides only billing $40 in January the legality of contracts is as challenging as I thought.  Thankfully my risk averseness has driven me to have all the insurances one could dream of and a little saving in case business ever slows down.

Q. How do you price you projects? Do you use hourly rates or value based?

A. Well, to track my time I use Toggl. I also make sure to ask for 50% up front and 50% upon final delivery to mitigate risk for both parties.

It can be hard to estimate the value of these projects, but for those that are well scoped, I am able to ask for a project price. For those projects not as cleanly scoped, we might not have clarity on the deliverable until the project is nearly finished. At that point, the client and I can sync up again to see what additional features can be squeezed in or what it will cost for more to be added.

Q. What has surprised you about your clients?

A. A couple surprising things have come up. The first is how hard it is to predict how long it takes to develop responsive, interactive, data visualizations. The second is the clients. I wouldn’t have expected to be working with such a wide breadth of interesting clients.

With my background, I expected to be working with more data science teams who would ask me to visualize the results of their models, but instead, I have worked with news organizations, NGOs and even airlines.

In fact, just finished my first true data art project for a Dutch airline, Transavia.

Q. What about Data Sketches? Is there a partnership on the horizon?

A. Shirley and I have talked about potentially partnering, but the benefits don’t out way the sacrifices involved with building a multinational business. Trying to present one seamless “storefront” just makes finances messier and limits our level of independence.

Plus, it is really nice hopping in and out of projects fluidly.

That said Shirley and I are currently working on our fourth project together as two independent freelancers. It’s the bigger projects that we have teamed up on most often.

Q. What’s next for you and your freelancing career?

A. No big plans. For me it isn’t the big things, it’s the little ones I look forward to.

I would like to find more surprising companies to work with, I would like to learn WebGL, and I’ll be touring New Zealand soon.

What’s most important is that I find fulfillment in my work.

Now a couple random questions.

Q. How did you come up with Visual Cinnamon?

A. Oh my gosh! Well, this is a kind of stupid story. I began sharing my work on a blogger site under my name and I knew I needed something more professional. Every possible domain with data visualization something or another I could think of was already taken, so I used a random word generator to help me think differently.

Eventually I stumbled across cinnamon. I like to bake and feel everything is more interesting with cinnamon. I also use to doodle cinnamon swirls all over my notebooks. Ha, so I have a lot of positive associations with the word.

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Q. Why do you believe everyone needs creative visualization?

A. Humans are visual. If we want to understand our data it needs to be visualized. If you want your data to be remembered you need to make it interesting.


Thanks for reading. I hope this interview with award-winning data visualization designer Nadieh Bremer has excited you about what is to come.

If you would like to work with a professional who can breathe life into your data in an award-winning way you want to talk to Nadieh. If you have a friend who works for an interesting company looking to make their data more beautiful, then pass along the memo to get in touch.