What makes a “viz of the day”?

First – an explanation. The majority of my visualisations are done using Tableau and published on Tableau Public (here). Available for all to see, it’s a great resource for experimenting and publishing work that you’re happy for all to see. Click on it today and you’ll see there are 190000+ authors, 25M+ views/month and over 20,000 visualisations posted per month. It’s a fantastic, free, public resource. Presumably “Viz of the Day” needs less explanation. Somehow, one of them gets picked each day to be promoted on the website and via social media.

To my amazement and delight, despite the odds above, I have been picked as “Viz of the Day” twice now in two months. The second of these was today, with my recent Brexit data visualisation. I’ll post it again here:

Dashboard 1-10

Now, that was the awkward bit, because this isn’t a trumpet-blowing post. Obviously to be “viz of the day” you need to have produced something reasonably competent and polished, but that’s not the be-all and end-all. Right now, there are some amazing pieces of work on there, for example there are many entries to the Tableau “Iron Viz” politics competition. Far more involved, detailed and visually stunning than mine, the key criterion is to make the reader go “wow”. They all meet this aim. But of course, none of these could be viz of the day, since this would be demonstrating favouritism for a publicly-voted competition. So, let’s make this point 1.

  1. The visualisation needs to be polished and finished, and in terms of technical skill, at least vaguely “ok”. I’m not good enough to enter visualising competitions yet (certainly not good enough to win them). But I think I have improved, through practice, to the level of “OK”. And I genuinely believe that Tableau Public like to promote new, keen users. They know who the Zen Masters are and probably feel that they don’t always need/want the same level of recognition!
  2. It helps if the topic is interesting / topical. I mentioned in my last blog post how great elections are for visualisation – being up to the minute, they are likely to contain and show information that people are genuinely interested to see. In the last week, our news and social media feeds in the UK have been full of Brexit and Euro football and very little else. I’m drawn to anything on these topics, especially anything which will give a different angle on our surprise exit from Europe (in both cases). So it’s no co-incidence that most visualisations I’ve experimented with in the last few weeks have been to do with the UK referendum, or about football. More great advice from Chris Love (Tableau Zen master) in his blog post here for the Information Lab.
  3. Social media following – I’m not suggesting it’s a requirement to be Stephen Fry or Taylor Swift, but there’s quite a community growing around data visualisation, and Tableau visualisation in particular. For example, search the #MakeoverMonday hashtag and you’ll find an increasingly large group of people who not only contribute regularly to Tableau Public but who feedback and interact with each other. Reputations, profile and “brand” of everyone involved is increasing week on week, and many participants will blog about their creations too: thought processes, technical tips, different iterations of the final project … or in my case a rambling question tangentially related to what I’m doing. If you interact from time to time and maintain a blog, regardless of increasing profile you will learn so much more all the time – be constructive, friendly and open, and you’ll find people are the same back.
  4. If in doubt about anything you’re doing, so long as it’s not awful, do something and post it. Most people will give nice comments if they like it, and ignore it if they are less impressed. I mentioned online today that my VOTD is down not so much to high quality but to a scattergun approach, but I was only half-joking. The more you put up, the more of your stuff will get noticed. And if something is recognised, often it won’t be the visualisation you think which will “take off” and get recognition.
  5. Luck. Large portions of it. Of course. (2) and (3) above help sway the odds to an extent, but it’s just “right place, right time”.

Do all these things and you might beat the odds to get Viz of the Day when you’re least expecting it. Or, if you don’t get the same luck, you might not. But you’ll definitely increase and improve your output.

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