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It is yet again time for another judging period of a Tableau Iron Viz feeder contest. This time around, authors were tasked with building a viz involving a safari theme, and as usual… they did not disappoint. Tableau also added more countries to the contest, and with the inclusion of China, the popular vote contest had to be retired. The popular vote has long been scrutinized by the community, but there still needs to be a winner and authors still deserve recognition for their hard work!

Last year, when I had the privilege to compete in Iron Viz, I tried my best to focus on the judging categories for each of my feeder entries: Design, Storytelling, Analysis, and Overall Appeal. Many entries are awe inducing in their design, but lack a clear story. Other entries pack a powerful analysis, but lack the attention to detail to produce a flawless design. Out of the 40-60 typical entries, there are only a handful that exceed expectations and hit the marks, these are my opinions on those entries…


I have a pretty simple question I ask myself when looking at the Design category: “Would I hang this on my wall?” Go ahead and look at every single entry (including your own) and ask yourself that question… you’ll have it narrowed down pretty quick to which vizzes are your favorite from a design standpoint. There is an idea out there that a home buyer can decide if a house is one they would purchase in about 5-10 seconds, falling in love with a viz design is very similar in my opinion.

Best in show – Jacob Olsufka; How Big are Animals Brains?

I feel like a broken record here, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Jacob’s designs are just second to none. Every element is completely thought out, not a single pixel has gone unattended. Font, icons, colors, everything is clean and elegant… this isn’t a viz that just got spewed out onto the screen. If #data17 in vegas has a viz bistro, this should be the centerpiece.

Runner up – Ken Flerlage; The Killings Fields: The Rhino Poaching Crisis

Ken was one of the first to publicly post his entry, and it was received extremely well, and for very good reason. Ken’s viz reminded me of a quote by Joe Sparano, a graphic designer for Oxide Design Co., “Good Design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” Ken’s design is great IMO, as everything just blend together so well that you don’t even notice how much work went into getting it just right. Notice how Ken’s text wraps around his imagery and visualizations… that my friends is a very annoying task to do in Tableau, but the juice is worth the squeeze for Iron Viz.

Honorable mention – Chris Love; Spring’s got Speed

I couldn’t write up the design category without giving kudos to Chris Love, who produced a stunning visualization without the use of any hi-res imagery. Great designs don’t need to have anything besides data to be great, and Chris proves that with his entry. If I were formally picking a winner of this contest, I would give bonus points for those who simply used Tableau and data to produce a great design, as Chris did here.


As with Design, I have a pretty simple theory I’m looking for in the Storytelling category, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” This mantra works in so many areas of our professional lives, and absolutely needs to be considered when producing a data story.

Best in show – Corey Jones; Plant Medicine: The Effects of Cannabis on Epilepsy

I mean… how can you not give best in show for Storytelling for the only viz that used the storytelling feature? Kidding aside, Corey does a spectacular job at narrating his viewers through his data story. The story headings are just informative enough without being visually distracting, and the hand written notes are the icing on the cake. Corey provides all the information, but tells the viewer exactly where to look and what the data means. In my opinion, Corey did the absolute best job at telling us what he was going to tell us, telling us, and then telling us what he told us.

Runner up – Ken Flerlage; The Killings Fields: The Rhino Poaching Crisis

Sorry Ken, I’m not going to show your viz twice, but I am going to give you more credit where credit is due! Many of the entries had stunning images with LOTS of text next to those images, and I think Ken did the best job at the balancing act of the data-image ratio; read more on that in a blog post written by Ravi Mistry. The viz does a great job in top to bottom storytelling, as Ken sets up with summary data, gets more details as you read, and ends with a call to action. Out of all the entries that looked similar to Ken’s, he did it best in my opinion.

Honorable mention – The Data Duo; Schistosomiasis: A Deadly Parasite

The Data Duo decided to do a collaboration viz, which I think technically disqualifies them, but nonetheless they produces a great visual story. Adam and Pooja consistently show us how a data story should be formed; summary–>additional context–>punchline–>call to action. Additional kudos for the clean design that uses high contrasting elements and big numbers to draw attention where it is needed. And for the record… the data duo are equally fun.


Is the data insightful? Did a good amount of work go into preparing the metrics for the visualization? Did the author take complex ideas and make them easy to understand? Those are some of the elements I look for when judging the Analysis category.

Best in show – Chris Love; Spring’s got Speed

I didn’t show Ken’s viz twice, but I will show Chris’ again as there is a ton of hidden detail that you don’t see on the surface. From what I can gather, Chris created his own statistic in converting event sightings into a miles per hour metric. Oh and before I hear something like, “Gauges? Really?”, these gauges work very well.. there is always a time and place for just about any kind of visualization. We are tuned to think of miles per hour in a gauge format, and since Chris has locked the gauge’s top and bottom range, interpretation is simple and clear. Overall I simply like the fact that a ton of work likely went into the analysis, and Chris has done a great job at making it easy to understand.

Runner up – Mike Cisneros; Dog vs. Man: A Battle of Names

How can you not love this viz? Is my name a dog name.. what a novel idea for a viz. Mike scores high in analysis for putting the viewer right into the data, a method that produces extreme engagement within data visualization. Mike gives his viewers an answer right off the bat… is my name more likely a dog name or a person name? Want to know more… scroll down and let me show you some other cool analyses!

Side note: I personally love dogs with human names.

Honorable mention – Lorna Eden; Big Life Foundation

Lorna could have gone into any category, but I think she hits the mark with her analysis over the other categories. She does a great job showing big important numbers, and then providing additional detail and context next to those numbers throughout her viz. Her viz has an important topic, and she does a wonderful job backing up all of her text with data visualization and analysis.

Overall Appeal

This is a hard category to judge… I’ve never known if it is simply the best of the three prior categories blended together, or as the label suggests, the viz with the widest reach that appeals to the largest audience. Either way, these are three vizzes that particularly stood out to me in all three categories.

Best in show – Shawn Levin; Biodiversity in Professional Sports

I’m a sucker for a sports viz, but I think this in an interesting dashboard for just about anybody.

From a design perspective; Shawn did an amazing job letting the data shine.. he didn’t need hi-res imagery to produce something visually appealing. Well placed fonts, mini charts, and expert use of color make this design stand out from the pack.

From a storytelling perspective; Shawn built a nice navigation structure with titles and lines that lead the viewer through his visualization. He starts with a solid summary, and then gets more detailed as you continue to scroll, which is great from a storytelling standpoint.

From an analysis perspective; Shawn packed in a ton of information into this visualization, and did a great job at making it easy to understand. He used appropriate charts to display his data, and even went the extra mile to product a curvy node diagram to analyze his data in the best way possible.

Runner up – Bridget Cogley; Safari Guide: A Pocket Companion for the Columbus Zoo

Bridget’s viz is right up there with Shawn’s IMO due to the sheer difficulty factor, and how she pulled together something so complex into a nice little package.

From a design perspective; Bridget has been known to pull out a ruler to make sure every pixel lines up correctly, and it shows here. She has thought out her colors, fonts, icons, you name it… they all have their place in her viz and I can guarantee you she spent significant time making those decisions.

From a storytelling perspective; I guess there isn’t a real story here, since she has essentially built a mobile application more than a dashboard, but part of storytelling is ease of understanding and navigation… which she nailed.

From an analysis perspective; Bridget scores highly here due to the difficulty factor of her workbook. To build something with multiple tabs, that all talk together, with custom navigation, with Google integration, ON MOBILE… is insanely difficult! If you drew up requirements for this workbook and handed it to most Tableau developers… they might throw up at the complexity.

Honorable mention – Pablo Saenz de Tejada; Save the Iberian Lynx

Something just stood out to me about Pablo’s viz.. I really can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it is because my favorite animal growing up was the lynx… maybe it was because I used to used Lynx brand golf clubs when I was a kid… or maybe it was because this simple dashboard is just really well done.

As stated earlier, the best designs are transparent, and I think Pablo accomplished just that. It’s the “I can’t put my finger on it” feeling that tells me his design hit the mark. The visualization has a nice amount of storytelling, and doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of text. All these things combined with simple charts that are easy to understand, and at the same time are impactful, make for a great analysis.

The Winner

A couple years back there was an amazing feeder entry by Adam McCann on UK & US artist preferences… it was an amazing visualization that had serious potential to win the feeder contest. Adam had already competed in Iron Viz previously, and the fact that he didn’t win this feeder kind of made me feel that former entrants most likely cannot have the chance to participate at conference again (damn).

Winner – Russell Spangler; Cats Without a Home

With this in mind, and assuming I’m in the room picking a winner with Tableau, I AM BANGING THE TABLE TO SEND RUSSELL SPANGLER BACK TO IRON VIZ. I would filibust that shit better than Leslie Knope did in season 6… Russell’s viz is just too good. I’m not sure Russell wants the stress of the contest two years in a row, but this viz deserves to get him there again.

Maybe I’m tired of writing, or maybe I’m at a loss for words, but this viz just has IT. When Robert Rouse won his feeder, everyone knew it was coming… his viz had IT and so does this one by Russell.


If you are still here, thank you for taking the time to read through my thoughts… and that is all this post is, just thoughts. Everyone did an amazing job this round and I look forward to seeing who Tableau selects as a winner! Until next time…

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