• bkornell

#IronViz 2022: Just Do It!

In 2021, I participated in Tableau's Iron Viz competition for the first time. I'd watched the epic viz-building showdown on a livestream several times: lights and music blaring, the competitors mousing furiously, hosts Keisha Rose and Andy Cotgreave providing the play-by-play. I attended my first in-person Tableau Conference in 2019 and was one of the viz-drunk idiots waving a flashing foam stick.

For years I thought, "No way in hell could I ever do that." But in '21, I decided that I'd like to be part of the excitement, even though I had no expectation of winning. As Sarah Bartlett notes in her excellent blog "Reasons to Enter Iron Viz 2022":

Do people enter marathons to win? No.

We enter to challenge ourselves, and it's a fun perk to know that you're participating in the same event as the best in the world. You can't play basketball with Steph Curry, but you can run in the same marathon as Albert Korir or viz along with Lisa Trescott (the 2021 Iron Viz champion)!

I didn't have much time for the 2021 competition, between work and a family vacation. I didn't make the top 10 (let alone the finals) or create anything that went viral. Honestly, I didn't expect to! With the time I had, I created something that was quirky, fun, and that used a technique that was new to me (transparent layers). As a nice bonus, Tableau event sent me a nifty pin for participating.

The viz that I created, on the theme of Data + Joy, was called "54 Instances of Joy". It was a single screen of very abstract data art. I promoted it with this text:

Joy is a Nigerian footballer. A WWII pilot. The first Native American Poet Laureate. He crashed 3,000 cars. Stood up for the rights of Aboriginal Australians. Raised a lion cub. Invented the Miracle Mop.

Sarah noted a number of excellent reasons to participate in Iron Viz in her blog. I'll add a few of my own:

I Got to Follow in a Data Hero's Footsteps

I was particularly interested in trying out "data art" in the vein of Neil Richards (@theneilrichards). I've heard Neil say that he doesn't do traditional arts like sketching or painting; he only works in the medium of Tableau!

Neil created an absurdly colorful viz on number one hits of the 1980s where he encoded everything by color, shape, and orientation. No text on the marks themselves. You're encouraged to poke around to learn about a mark that interests you (for instance, the big green west-facing mark in the center is "Karma Chameleon").

Important Iron Viz note: This style of viz will not score well on the official criteria of storytelling or analysis. But I didn't care. I wasn't trying to win; I was aiming to learn and have fun.

When I finished the viz, I credited my inspiration on Tableau Public. To do this when you publish a viz, click the pencil next to "Details" on the bottom of the page. It'll allow you to link to an inspiration viz. Send some traffic their way!

Also, if you share your work on Twitter, note the reference and tag the creator! As long as your work is an homage and not a straight-up copy, they will be honored.

I Got to Play with Data that Interested Me

If you don't know what to viz, try surfing Wikipedia. You're sure to stumble upon something (often an obscure something) that someone finds notable. In my case, I stumbled upon the Wikipedia page for Joy (given name). This led me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, where I spent hours reading up on people with weird and wonderful stories.

As Sarah noted in her blog, Iron Viz is a chance to champion diversity in who participates and the subjects we viz about. So I got very excited about highlighting the stories of women and BIPOC individuals in the data.

The "joy" theme was wide open last year, but this year's "arts" theme is nearly as broad. Dozens of entries were submitted last year on music, film, or television; subjects included Pink Floyd, Marvel Movies, Bollywood, New York Times best sellers, and so forth. Iron Viz is the best excuse to spend hours immersed in a topic you love.

I Knew There Were Others at My Level

Iron viz can feel intimidating, particularly once the Tableau experts start tweeting their masterpieces. This leads to two cognitive biases:

  • Availability Bias: We're influenced by recent examples that spring to mind. If a murder is featured on the news, you may assume murders are more common than they are in reality.

  • Anchoring Bias: We base expectations on the first number we learn about. If you walk into a store and see a shirt sold for $80, then a $100 shirt will seem expensive and a $50 shirt will seem like a bargain.

In Iron Viz, it may seem like only Tableau jedis are submitting (availability bias) and that the typical viz is of superior technical quality (anchoring bias).

Totally not true! Scroll through the gallery of 2021 entries. There are over 300 submissions, and they come from beginners, intermediate users, and experts. I guarantee you'll find work from other users at your level, which will help undo these biases.

So get out there and viz! If you submit that viz before the deadline, you too will be get your viz featured in that grand 2022 gallery. And if I spot it on Twitter (take a chance; put it out there!), I promise to give it a like.

Click here for info on the Iron Viz 2022 Qualifier!

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